Screen Test

7. Reading Rainbow Promoting reading on TV would seem to be a contradiction, but Rainbowhas found the perfect formula for it, as well as the perfect host in LeVar Burton. In a sea of hyperactive programs, Rainbow is an enduring island of quiet literacy where books literally come to life.

8. The Adventures of Pete & Pete Two brothers named Pete chafe against authority, then grudgingly come to terms with it. The show is consistently funny, but the writers are out for more than laughs: Against a canvas of suburban cynicism they sketch some real insights. Pete makes parents nostalgic for their cynical teen years and shows kids there's light at the end of the puberty tunnel.

9. Family Double Dare In this game show, real parent-child teams compete in categories of smarts ("What is the capital of Australia?") and physical skill (which leaves everyone covered in mud, Jell-O, or green goo). Dare's deadpan style makes stunts like Toss Your Cookies hilarious for kids, but best of all is the sight of families doing something fun together.

10. The Nanny Most domestic sitcoms make children the butt of parents' jokes, parents the butt of kids' jokes, or generally pit the generations against each other. But this dysfunctional family actually seems to enjoy itself, thanks mostly to Fran Drescher's warmth and comic talent in the title role.


1. Aaahh!!! Real Monsters Three disgusting animated creatures live underground, making armpit jokes and calling each other "Nose picker!" Kids don't want to be educated or fascinated, the show's writers seem to say, just titillated. Monsters doesn't even rise to the level of grotesque — it's just plain gross.

2. Jim Henson's Dog City Actors in dog heads play dog cartoonists who converse with their canine creations. Dog cartoonists? Why didn't somebody think of this before? Because it's stupid.

3. My Brother & Me This unimaginative, formulaic family program boasts every standard sitcom cliché — the prissy sister, the smart-aleck friend — but not the charm of the shows it's trying to copy. Imagine Family Matters without Jaleel White's Urkel or Reginald VelJohnson's nurturing father figure.

4. America's Funniest Home Videos This barrage of stupid human tricks gives kids the distinct and unsettling sense that whenever they screw up, an adult will be there — not to help, but to laugh at them. America's cruelest videos is more like it.

5. Darkwing Duck The vaguely exotic Darkwing yuks and quacks through the usual animated adventures. Duck can be tasteless — like when the mad scientist induces brain damage with a hammer. But the show's biggest problem is that it's so frenetic you can't tell what's going on. Even if you want to.


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