During my current bout with unemployment, I've had way too much time to watch kids shows -- when you've got three kids under the age of three, your entertainment options during the day are somewhat limited. They've always been pretty obsessed with The Wiggles DVDs we have, so I was interested in seeing what Boohbah was all about.

The people responsible for creating Boohbah, Ragdoll Limited (and, to be more specific, its creative director Anne Wood), also brought us Teletubbies. Now, I've always been as confused by the mere existence of the Teletubbies as you probably are, but I changed my mind about them after watching my kids watch the show a couple times. The 'Tubbies talk, laugh and act like toddlers, and that -- combined with bright colors and basic repetition -- is what fascinates them. Even my youngest was fascinated with the show at nine months, and she almost never pays attention to what's on. So while I always preferred Sesame Street growing up, I'll concede that Ragdoll knows what they're doing.

Boohbah isn't exactly a response to The Wiggles, but they have the same goal in mind: get little kids off their butts to do some exercise, using songs and simple dances that even a toddler can learn. The similarities end there, though. The Boohbahs are five brightly-colored... things, "colorful atoms of energy" according to the marketing, that look something like a cross between a one-year-old and a juggling ball. Humbah is the yellow Boohbah, Zumbah is purple, Zing Zing Zingbah is orange, Jumbah is blue and Jingbah is pink. It's not worth the trouble to remember their names, since their color is the only thing that distinguishes one from the other, but one must do these things properly.

Every half-hour episode of Boohbah has four major segments. These are:

Warmup - After the stock footage of the Boohbahs emerging from their "recharging pod" (big cozy cocoon-bed) in the "Boohball" (big white ball of light in which they live and travel), they do a simple dance. One by one, each Boohbah stops running and spinning around, looks back and forth, and starts doing a single dance move in place. Once all five are doing it together, they start to speed up, then break apart and run and bounce randomly again.
The Storypeople -- A few children bring out a big present to a glowing "Magic Spiral", which morphs into "a present for the Storypeople" -- some object, like a paint bucket, a bubble machine, or a sofa, that they can interact with. The Storypeople are "two-dimensional characters for the children to play with and make stories with, and are simply named Grandmamma, Grandpappa, Mrs. Lady, Mr. Man, Brother and Sister, Auntie and Little Dog Fido. They're a multiethnic bunch of people, and aren't really supposed to be one big family, just placeholders who can't talk and enjoy playing around together.
Cut to Storyworld -- an outdoor scene, usually a grassy field surrounded by trees, where one or more of the Storypeople find the present and start using it. No dancing here, not even a plot to speak of. Just a simple story with smiling faces and the occasional narrative voice-over involving some kind of physical activity. These are the kinds of stories little kids might make up on their own with things they find around their homes or playroom.
Boohbah Dance - this dance is more complicated than the warmup, but still easy enough for little kids to learn on the fly. Generally the Boohbahs get into a formation on the floor and start moving together, or falling down, or something like that. They go back and forth, then change their order around and do it again. With five Boohbahs, this means they do the same basic dance at least five times, and by the end even a three-year-old could figure out how to dance along. Then they speed up, bounce all around again, and the Boohball takes off into the air and flies across the sky....
Look What I Can Do! -- alternatively, "Look What We Can Do!" depending on how many kids are involved. The Boohball drops glowing Magic Spirals onto the grass, and children (about six or seven years old) appear out of them to do simple dance-activities of their own. You might have a boy marching back and forth, or a girl spinning in circles, or two kids playing patty cake-type games with their hands. About three of these happen one after the other, then the show cuts to stock footage of the Boohbahs going back into their "recharging pods" until tomorrow's episode.

So, does Boohbah get kids to exercise? It's hard to say, since my kids haven't seen that many episodes yet, but my two-year-old seems to be getting into the dances now, or at least the parts where kids run back and forth across the TV screen. Like Teletubbies, the key to the show's appeal to very young kids is the repetition of actions and words and the ease with which they can play along.

Personally, I find it ironic that television, which is blamed for killing kids' desire to play and exercise on their own, is now being used to get them playing and exercise again. For the first couple decades that television existed, the only kids' programs were entertainment. Then the 1960s brought us "edutainment", programs designed to teach kids basic things like counting and letters as well as values and manners. Now we still have both types of shows in abundance, but I wonder if "exertainment" like The Wiggles and Boohbah is part of a new phase of programming, our last hope for getting kids who'd otherwise spend all day in front of a TV screen to get up and use their arms and legs for fun instead of just as tools to get more food from the kitchen.

Hey, somebody's got to do it.

Some information extracted from http://pbskids.org/boohbah/parentsteachers/faq.html

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