The boys and I are about to enter the final stretch on Avatar.
They've been getting an episode a night, conditioned on good behavior and nothing else going on. Around 7:30 we sit down in front of the computer. David is usually on my lap. Some episodes are better than others; the boys love action and fighting scenes, and tend to cover their ears or run out of the room when things get mushy. But they look forward to it all day.
Season Two and the middle part of Season Three? Possibly the best mass-market animated series in this age range, ever. It's up there with Season One Justice League Unlimited and the better Samurai Jacks. These are the cartoons I really wanted to watch when I was a kid! Instead we got Scrappy Doo. Tchah.
Like Samurai Jack, you can sometimes see them straining against the Standards. One major character dies, albeit offstage. There are a couple of eps where they go in a very dark direction for 20 minutes, only to bring it back from the brink in the last 2.
Anyway. We just finished the "recap of the first 2 and 3/4 seasons before the final climactic four-episode story arc" episode. (Recap eps, apparently, are a well-established and much beloved / hated anime trope.) This had the characters attending a play about their own, now somewhat-legendary adventures. Since the characters are currently on the lam in Bad Guy Land, various amusing distortions ensue, with much foreshadowing and lampshade-hanging. It's good stuff.
Makes me wonder about the Flynn Effect. No, I don't think watching Avatar will make anyone smarter. But young kids today are regularly exposed to narrative complexities that my generation had to wait until high school or college for. Avatar is copying, in an age-appropriate way, narrative techniques used by The Sopranos and other mega-series. How will stories be told in 2030?
I don't want to overstate the importance of good kids' TV. For one thing, there's still not that much of it! For every Avatar or Samurai Jack, there are a dozen of Ben Ten Alien Force or [shudder] W.I.T.C.H.
Still... it's a small but real pleasure of modern parenting.