Max and Ruby, for the purpose of this review, is a television show aimed at the pre-school audience. Originally it was a series of books written by author Rosemary Wells. I'm not going to critique the books since I've seen few of them but will concentrate on the televised version.

Max and Ruby is a production of Canadian outfit Nelvana, in combination with the nice people of Chorion, the British company known for buying any children's entertainment within reach. It was first shown on Canadian Treehouse TV in 2002 (pilot in 2001), from where it escaped and made it to Nick Jr. in the States. Which reminds me of a previous escapee, about whom the Canadian government has apologised on several occasions. Never mind that the author of the books is American, I think another apology is due for the TV series.

Here's the summary of a typical twelve-minute episode.

Ruby is sitting at the kitchen table trying to write a story. Max is playing cowboy. Ruby wants "peace and quiet".


- Max, in costume, says "cowboy!" in the kitchen.
o Ruby sends Max to his room
- Max finds a harmonica and returns to the kitchen
o Ruby takes Max to another room and gives him a "quieter" toy. Pours herself lemonade. Writing one line is thirsty work.
- Max finds a hobby horse and herds the other toy through the kitchen
o Ruby sends Max outside; gets cookies for herself. Writing one line makes you hungry
- Max finds a wind-up lobster (wtf?!), which finds its way onto the kitchen table
o Ruby takes away the toy
- Max says "cowboy" again (that's all he says in this typically monolectic episode)
o Ruby loses her writer's block and writes about a cowboy.
*** Everyone is funny happy ***

Moral of the story: How about YOU go to YOUR room for peace and quiet, bitch!

Ruby, we are told, is seven years old and, as we soon discover for ourselves, is the bossiest bitch in the known universe. She always knows better. She will not admit to having been wrong. Max is forced to play dress-up or doctor with her but she will not play his games. She spoils perfectly innocent games that come within ten miles of her so much more important activities like, oh, showing her womanly skills to the Bunny Scouts (did I mention that Max and Ruby are bunnies--fat, fluffy, white bunnies?).

Max is a three-year-old with the vocabulary of a two-year-old and the syntactic ability of an infant. He utters one word at a time, and rarely more than one per episode. He is also completely obsessed with single objects or activities. If I had to evaluate his cognitive ability and worldview, I'd find names for his condition in the textbook, oppositional-defiant being the most salient, though, having that THING for a sister, that may well be explained as a defensive mechanism. Max has four main expressions: A stupid smirk that makes you want to slap him; A gleeful-mischief expression; a guilty-but-don't-really-care face; and a confused "what the hell's your problem" face.

These children have a grandmother but, as far as I can tell, have no parents. The goal, I understand, is to show how children resolve conflict among themselves, without adult intervention. Which is rather laudable and a total failure since one of them is a self-righteous bully and the other is a budding sociopath (beyond the point at which these descriptions broadly fit all seven- and four-year-olds). Sure, I see where the books' author is coming from since I have a pair that act like Max and Ruby at times but that is not behaviour that I would wish to encourage and present as normative.

I said I'd not critique the books but this must be the work of an author who's stuck in her perfect Garden State childhood of the 1950s and has never heard of women's lib. Since she's also had a hand in the creation of the TV series, she is far from blameless. Max and Ruby may appeal to adherents of the values espoused by the Christian Right in its squeaky cleanliness and everyone-in-their-place small-town wholesomeness but it does nothing for me as a parent. Still, I can see how a book with this subject material could be seen as charming or cute. What I don't see is where this reactionary, white-bread dreck manages to be relevant in the 21st century.

I suppose that the main problem with the show as a TV entity is that the books, as appealing as they may make otherwise unsympathetic characters appear, made a particularly poor transition to the screen. On TV the series has the least likable protagonists of any kids show since Barney. The television writers should take a look at Ni Hao, Kai-Lan, which at the time of writing was showing on the same channel, to see how the same sort of subject matter can be treated intelligently. As far as I'm concerned, promoting conflict resolution through serendipity and presenting it as a value encourages passiveness and indifference to consequences.

Max and Ruby contains few moral lessons, is a festering cesspit of gender stereotypes, is not terribly funny, and is created using 100% transparently low-end CGI. This television show is easily the most insipid piece of "entertainment" inflicted upon us by our northern neighbours since Celine Dion. And this time they've come for our children.

I can't help the fact that I have a two-and-a-half-year-old who loves Max and Ruby. But I do not encourage its viewing. My recommendation: Avoid.

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