Children’s television is a genre that covers such a wide variety of programming that it can be difficult to quickly compare programs to each other. That has possibly never been more true than in the case of the new CBC show The Adventures of Napkin Man. A blend of live-action and animated elements, the show follows a preschool teacher, Mr. Anthony, his class of students, and the character he draws in order to relate stories that focus on sharing feelings.
With regular and youngster-dedicated networks combined, kid-friendly shows are legion, and they all have a certain focus, but there aren’t many that make an effort to showcase emotions. The Adventures of Napkin Man exclusively deals with the varying emotions kids face, the particular struggles they are likely to encounter, and ways to explore and deal with the feelings everyone has at one point or another.
While the current trend is toward more and better educational programming, there is a clear void when it comes to addressing life in general. Not since Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood has there been a show that made this kind of effort at open and honest conversation with children about so many of the things that might actually be at the front of their minds on a daily basis (with the possible exception of Barney, which is absolutely unwatchable in every respect).
In a move that is striking in its irregularity, Mr. Anthony is played by Yannick Bisson, star of the Canadian show Murdoch Mysteries, which seems to never lose popularity. Not only is he the “star” of the show, but Mr. Anthony is not just your typical, concerned and caring preschool teacher, he is also willing to be rather silly. Taking on a kid’s show is already something you don’t see a lot of TV stars doing, but when you really have to look a fool, that’s pretty impressive.
The episodes run in the fairly common “2 per” 30-minute blocks. Each episode kicks off with some manner of activity that opens the door for one of the children to demonstrate their problem. Whether they are embarrassed, scared, nervous, or having any other uncomfortable feelings, Mr. Anthony has a story to tell, and they all involve Napkin Man. Mr. Anthony then proceeds to draw Napkin Man on, you guessed it, a napkin, and we’re off to see what adventure, always involving an animated, child friend of Napkin Man, we have in store. The overall effort to help get through the trouble also involves some manner of dance or wiggle Mr. Anthony performs in order to help get the feelings out.
The show is surprisingly engaging, due in no small part to Bisson’s natural charm and ability to meet the kids at their level. One of the best aspects of the show is that it often offers no “solution” at all, but instead simply recognizes and validates the way kids feel. Mr. Anthony and Napkin Man may have some tips to overcome fear, and may be able to point out examples of how a child already is brave when they didn’t even realize it, but being embarrassed, for example, may be the sort of thing that, for the most part, you just have to get through. At the end, we may have something we can work with if we have the same feelings again, but we might only have the knowledge that someone listened, and the experience that finding someone to talk to works.
With this sort of focus, most of the work is done just by identifying emotions, and as much as there may be strategies to learn and develop, just having an adult recognize that emotions leading to physiological responses might be a bit freaky does a lot of work on its own.
Now, most of that only means that the show has a lot of positives from a theoretical standpoint. More important is that it not only seems entirely engaging to appropriate age group, but my own test subjects are in love with the show already.
Here’s a show that I have to hope will eventually expand, because at some point we’re going to run out of emotions. I can’t guess what sort of commitment Bisson might have to the property, but this is a show that could branch out, move to a true 30-minute format, and you’d welcome the chance to get more of it.
Kids’ CBC presents a new preschool series about a different kind of superhero with THE ADVENTURES OF NAPKIN MAN! airing Monday to Friday at 9:30 a.m. (10 NT) beginning Dec. 30. Each episode takes children inside the classroom of fun-loving and compassionate preschool teacher Mr. Anthony, played by Yannick Bisson of CBC’s hit primetime series Murdoch Mysteries. Featuring a mix of live action and animation, children are taken on fun-filled adventures which help them to better understand and manage their feelings.
Using his special pen, Mr. Anthony draws Napkin Man, a superhero who leaps off the napkin and magically comes to life in an animated world. As the children look on, Napkin Man (voiced by Bisson) and his friends play out a story that sheds light on the emotional issue at hand. Through comedy and catchy original music, children learn to identify and label emotions, recognize the physiological symptoms associated with different emotions, develop fun and easy strategies to calm down and feel better, while discovering creative ways to solve problems that lead to negative emotions.