I've been thinking a bit about Special Agent Oso ever since it debuted on Playhouse Disney recently. If you haven't seen it yet, well you probably don't have a toddler, so don't worry about it, you aren't missing much. Basically it's about a stuffed panda bear named Oso that helps kids with tasks like brushing their teeth or checking out a book from the library or finding their shoe in their dirty room. It's very colorful, it's got a catchy song, it's got pretty good intentions and it catches my daughter's attention, but there are still some things that bother me about it.
For one, I feel like it was developed by focus groups and committees. It liberally takes ideas from other successful kids shows and puts it all together into one package. A little bit of Spanish? Check. Talk to the audience? Check. Bad catch phrase? Check ("all part of the plan, more or less"). Merchandising friendly characters? They're supposed to be stuffed animals so, yeah, big time check - not to mention the merchandising potential for Paw Pilot, Oso's electronic helper thing or Numero Dos, the voice that comes out of his watch that seems to be his boss. Put all these elements together and it feels a little disingenuous to me.
One of the things that I was joking about today is how there are these little ladybug looking cameras that catch the kids having trouble with some task and send a signal to Special Agent Oso and how they seem very big brother-y. Sure, in the show they are being used for good, but what if they fell into the wrong hands? I mean, Special Agent Oso is about as "special" as it gets, it doesn't seem like it would be hard. But what actually kind of bothers me about them is that it portrays constant, secret surveillance as something positive to kids. I'm half joking about this and I'm sure that it wasn't their intention, but it does seem a little insidious.
But overall, I think Special Agent Oso has a good enough message that it trumps the committee feel and weird big brother issues. It teaches kids how to work through problems in a logical manner - three special steps is all it takes, apparently - and that isn't bad. But adults won't get much out of it if you have to watch it as well. It's not cloying or insulting like Barney or the Wiggles, but there isn't much for you here, though I'm surprised Disney's research didn't figure out a way to shoehorn something under the radar for adults in there.