Monday, April 6
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A Parent Reviews Children’s Television: Thomas & Friends

My son likes to watch kids’ shows on TV, which means I have to watch kids’ shows on TV. I’ve had plenty of time to form opinions on these shows, and now you get to read them. Today: Thomas & Friends.

Thomas & Friends

I like the idea of Thomas & Friends. I dig trains and I’m a bit of an Anglophile. I also enjoy reading the books to my son. But the show in its current format is frustratingly formulaic, even for a program aimed at young children. My main issue has to do with the storylines. The basic plot of every latter-day Thomas & Friends episode I’ve ever seen boils down to this:

  • Sir Topham Hatt (aka The Fat Controller) orders Thomas (or one of the other trains) to do something fairly simple.
  • Thomas predictably fails when…
    • His locomotive ADD kicks in and he wanders off to do something totally different.
    • He refuses to acknowledge that he needs help from other trains.
  • Sir Topham Hatt is cross.
  • Thomas sheepishly admits his failure and fixes his mistake just in time.
  • Roll credits.

I’ve joked about this before, but if Thomas & Friends took place in the real world, Sir Topham Hatt would’ve sent Thomas to the smelting yard in about a week. The show’s current producers seem hellbent on turning all of the trains — but Thomas in particular — into a petulant toddler. I can understand where they’re coming from, as I guess they want to make them relatable to the toddler set, but it makes for some really lazy writing and seems to be pandering.

OK, so let’s talk about the visuals. I know that for much of the show’s long history, Thomas & Friends used filmed models and that the full cutover to CGI is fairly recent. I have to say, since the PBS Kids Sprout network shows mostly new episodes, I’ve gotten rather used to the computer animation. The older ones I’ve seen are still fun to watch, but they’re a bit jarring with all the odd fixed facial expressions. I can totally appreciate the work that must have gone into putting those old episodes together, and I never thought I — an admitted CGI-phobe — would say this, but I think I prefer the look of the CGI episodes.

Music-wise, there isn’t much to comment on other than the ridiculously catchy theme song. Listen at your own peril.

I wasn’t aware until recently, but that music is fairly new. I saw this touted as the original theme on YouTube.

While it’s not quite as much of an earworm as the new theme, it’s objectively a better piece of music and I can see why so many longtime fans were cheesed that the producers changed it.

There you have it, one parent’s view of Thomas & Friends. Keep watching this space as I needlessly dissect more television shows aimed at kids!