I do, however, try to keep the kids away from the TV. I watched a ton when I was their age and now I lack the attention span to participate in any activity that demands intellectual investment. Last weekend, however, the family was over and the situation was dire: hot, hungry, irritable, dirty, nap-deprived, yada yada. And the kids seemed a touch cranky as well.
So I went against my sole nurturing instinct and turned on Nickelodeon, at the precise moment a Drake & Josh rerun flickered to life. Instantly, the room hushed. Before too long, it rang with the gleeful cackles of my niece and nephew, who responded to the pratfalls and triple-exaggerated reactions of the titular stepbrothers as if they were comic masterminds on par with Paula Poundstone or Gallagher. Later, we caught an iCarly episode in which the preternaturally poised heroine -- a 13-year-old web magnate, kinda like a non-cognitively-impaired version of the first Rocketboom chick, coolly navigated any number of harrowing everyteen situations that would've prompted Punky Brewster to reach for the Drano.
Yeah, Nickelodeon's onto something here, which people who pay attention to such matters likely realized four or five years ago. It's an easy formula: Take a well-scrubbed, camera-ready scamp who can sing, surround him/her with a gaggle of friends, and deck everybody out in distressed T-shirts and skinny jeans. Throw in the occasional double entendre ("don't spank me with my own cucumber!") and pop-culture reference (Drake and Josh do an amplified riff on the classic "I Love Lucy" assembly-line scene that works surprisingly well), and you've got 22 minutes that are easier to digest than a fruit roll-up.
I credit Nickelodeon and the show's producers for approaching the task of entertaining kids responsibly -- like the FCC would permit them to do otherwise, right? There are only gentle nods to product placement (the top of Carly's computer bears a pear insignia and she touts her "PearPod"), while the network tends to distance itself from dubious role models (as witnessed by "Zoey 101" star Jamie Lynn Spears' swift excommunication after she done went and got knocked up at age 16).
Both "Drake & Josh" and "iCarly" are set in a cynicism-free universe in which kids and teens are free to act dopey, engage in wacky hi-jinks, treat every adult as dim and hysterical, and forestall their lines until the laugh track dies down. The shows never preach, save for an occasional stray line such as "you gotta start focusing more on school," and they only depict the sunny side of adolescence. There's nary a zit or cyber-bully or test-prep blitz to be found here, and that's the right call. Kids have to confront these issues soon enough; we might as well give them a televised respite before reality kicks in. My one hypersensitive-shrill-liberal complaint: It'd sure be nice if the shows acknowledged the existence of non-Caucasian ethnicities.
My niece and nephew, of course, appreciated "Drake & Josh" and "iCarly" on a much more primitive level. What they saw made them giggle, and thus it was good. Meanwhile, they appeared to be equally riveted by the ads.
Lemme tell ya, you marketers are a savvy lot. Of the 12 commercials I counted during a mid-week rerun of "iCarly," seven featured some kind of animation, whether spacey graphics whooshing to and fro during a Skechers spot or pigtailed petunias jumping rope as SoyJoy made yet another weak attempt to challenge Big Chocolate. The commercials were sufficiently engaging during the episodes I watched with the young'uns, in fact, that the one non-kid-focused-ad -- a misplaced local spot for some kind of continuing-education program -- prompted my niece to turn to me with a "what the..." smirk on her face. She's one of us.
Other featured brands included Burger King (some kind of Crayola tie-in), Frosted Flakes (the Grab-and-Go packs will apparently help us "work hard and eat right") and Hubba Bubba Glop Strawberry Gush (with which I plan to regrout my shower tiles this weekend). Separately, I was thrilled to learn that Hollywood has answered my persistent cries for a "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" sequel. There were so many questions left unanswered by the first one.
Anyway, "iCarly" launches its new season in September and "Drake & Josh" returns with a holiday-themed flick a few months after that. Parents could do a lot worse than to indulge their kids with an hour or two of this every week.