Being a parent has always come with tough decisions, and in a world that is inescapably uplinked and plugged in, one of the dilemmas most commonly agonised over is screen time.
How much is too much? Should we even be trying to shield our offspring from technology when recent advances have meant that we can reasonably expect dependable financial advice from our smart toasters?
The prescription often advised by experts, is one we’re familiar with – moderation. Which puts TV time at a premium, so why not experience it together as a family? With that sentiment in mind, the intrepid goggleboxing parents at Dubai Week have put together this list of kid friendly TV programmes, available on UAE Netflix now, that all the family can enjoy.
Words by Miles Buckeridge
This show is just one big warm fuzzy hug. From the pastel print and water-colour animation through the soft tuneful theme song, to the soothing Northern Irish accents of the main cast, it’s campfire marshmallows for the soul. Lovingly narrated by The IT Crowd’s Chris O’Dowd, the show follows the adventures of young puffling, Oona, and her baby brother, Baba.
They’ve got a whole cast of delightful animal chums, like Mossy the pygmy shrew who brings welcome mammalian banter, and a massive appetite. Disclaimer: it might negatively impact your opinion on seagulls, if until now you’ve held them in some sort of regard. It’s also the perfect antidote to a (kidless) binge of Black Mirror.
Two series. 26 episodes. Ages (officially) 2+ (but we know of at least two separate one year olds, and their parents, that adore it).
Ask the Storybots
This is a Netflix Original show, and it’s genuinely hilarious. No, you shut up, it is. Catchy whacky songs fill the single series so far – like ‘Think Green‘ (in fact think Flight of the Conchords as a style guide) and celebrity guests like Jay Leno, Whoopi Goldberg and Kevin Smith.
The premise is simple – The Storybots (Beep, Bing, Bang, Boop and Bo) are little animated adventurers tasked with answering questions posed to them by (not animated) children. The queries need a quest for knowledge, a bit of a sing-song – and a learning experience for all at home. Check out the episode ‘Why is the Sky Blue?’ for some mind-blown emoji real talk. Also Hap, the Storybot’s line manager = life.
One series. Six episodes. Ages 3+.
The Boss Baby: Back in Business
If you’ve seen the movie, The Boss Baby, you’ll know what to expect. The Netflix series surfaces sans Alec Baldwin voicing the titular character, but retains the same humour and on-point writing from the big screen outing. Boss Baby is an undercover infant-sized employee of Baby Corp, a secret organisation focused on pushing the baby agenda – an endeavour hampered by the nefarious meddling of cats and cat-enablers.
What this series does spectacularly well, and it’s been a hallmark of DreamWorks’ (the show’s creators) output since the like of Antz and Shrek almost 20 years ago, is dual layered comedy. Wholesome gags for the little ones, and then some meaty (pfft) double entendres that float over younger ears, to those on the heads of bigger kids also watching.
One series. 13 episodes. Ages 5+.
“Smart is the new cool,” says Laura Barnard, an author from the UK and mother of a six-year-old. And being smart, in the hope that it ensmartens others (is that a word? We clearly weren’t paying enough attention to the show) is 50 per cent of the mission directive of this programme. The aim to entertain occupies the other half – with that beautifully white-toothed American charisma, that despite our best efforts, is impossible to dislike.
A fictional narrative of the ministrations of an all-female government organisation called NOV8 (pronounced “innovate”) frames the educating. It’s not our favourite watch on the list, but the girls from the show are great role models for empowering young women and like Barnard says, we “like the message.”
Six parts. 26 episodes. Ages 7+.
Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom
Ben & Holly were names that kept popping up in our research discussions with parents. The title made it sound like a daytime TV chat show, or a gritty drama about an ice cream brand embroiled in a bitter copyright infringement lawsuit. Thankfully for kids aged 3+ it is instead a cartoon about an enchanted world of elves (such as Ben) and fairies (like Holly).
Confession time. Despite the hype, we weren’t initially enamoured by this series. It’s very similar to another show made by the same production company (about a girl named Peppa), and you can infer what wish from the deliberate absence of that particular show from this list. However, we must admit our opinion on BAHLK changed somewhat as soon as we were introduced to the Wise Old Elf. Despite his questionable parenting credentials (out of his three children, two of them are pirates and one is a Viking), he’s an absolute boss. In our opinion, well worth sitting through a few episodes to catch him holding court. We’ve started the hashtag #WiseOldElf2020, keep it going.
One series. 26 episodes. Ages 3+
It’s another show with an emphasis on, yes we’re going to use that word, edutainment (shudders). The programme is a mix animated and live action footage themed around wildlife and nature. The plot of each episode normally involves the imperilment of a wild animal – which real-life brothers Chris and Martin Kratt must race to save (in a not-so-real-life dramatisation).
Wild Kratts made the list because there are a lot of genuinely interesting facts being dished out by various members of the cast. Except for Jimmy Z. Dear old lovable, eerily similar to Shaggy from Scooby Doo, Jimmy Z. Looks like he smells strongly of joss sticks. You know the type. And there is a bit of a nostalgic Mystery Machine vibe to the ensemble, but with less creepy janitors and more dolphins in distress.
One series, 26 episodes. 4+
Literally anything with Lego in the title
The Lego entertainment universe is vast. Right now, on Netflix in the UAE – you can catch Lego’s Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu, Lego’s Jurassic World: The Indominus Escape, Lego’s Avengers: Reassembled, Lego Nexo knights, Lego Friends, Lego’s Elves: Secrets of Elvendale, Lego City and Lego’s Bionicle. The proliferation of these shows was given a huge boost by the success of the 2014’s The Lego Movie, which was a box office smash and a hit with all ages.
When you watch these franchise series and spin-offs, there is a real sense that somewhere up high, there’s a very active brand co-ordinator, that ensures all the material carrying the Lego name is tightly written and engaging. To the extent that Adam Pitt, a content manager and father of a six and four-year-old in Dubai, said “I often find myself telling my wife not to turn [Ninjago] off in the middle of an episode when they decide to go play in another room.” We do too Adam, we do too.
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey
The curveball. It’s not really a kids programme per se. It is however, a visually stunning tour around the universe (in a ship of the imagination) and a fascinating, informative introduction to the history of science. It’s pitched at a perfect level – neither patronising nor over complicated and it’s presented and narrated by the magnetic, Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
DeGrasse Tyson is a man who could give you reverent chills simply by reading the list of possible side effects from a packet of prescription medication. So getting him on a subject that he is passionate about, and that subject just so happens to be the profundities of the universe, is a recipe for perfect family viewing.
One series. 13 episodes. Ages 5+