James Patterson, the wildly popular author of books for small fry and big folks, has created a preteen children's show, "Kid Stew," whose four half-hour episodes may be seen locally beginning Saturday on KCET. (More episodes are planned.) Produced out of South Florida PBS, it has a shaggy, shoestring, regional charm — there are banyan trees — absent from slicker, bigger productions. Which is exactly why I'm recommending it to you.
A mix of quasi-educational sketches, musical numbers, magic tricks, silly riddles, interviews with creative adults and young people, the show advertises itself, in each episode's cold open, as being "by kids, about kids and for kids." ("It's about books, and arts and creativity — and fun," they add.)
Now, I would watch, and watch fanatically, a show made entirely by kids, about kids and for kids. "Kid Stew" isn't that — the adult hand is obvious. But some of it does have at least the flavor of being written by a clever 12-year-old, and perhaps was. In any case, I am grateful for that flavor, artificial or natural.
The cast is appealing, the ones who can't really act as well as the ones who can. No one is cute in a professional manner — this is not the School of Disney, just upstate — though Luke Nappe, who can rock a fake mustache and presents a series of commercials for awful things reminiscent of Dan Aykroyd on early "Saturday Night Live," could have a career if he wants it. As correspondents, they are natural and at ease.
There is a historical segment in which kids in a time-traveling phone booth — possibly in homage to "Bill & Ted" or "Doctor Who," or perhaps an unconscious lift or even a coincidence — meet a famous person from the past (another kid, in costume) and make suggestions that fulfill the future, as Mr. Peabody did.
There are "international" travel segments that, except for stock footage, never get out of South Florida. There are interviews with area authors (humorist Dave Barry and novelist Carl Hiaasen, from Patterson's generation; comic book scripter Brad Meltzer). There are visits with artists, fine and popular, young and old; trips to a dark-ride studio and a museum of pinball; a piece on cosplay and a demonstration of competitive stacking, which is done with cups and was news to me.
The cast dresses in appropriate costumes and mimes to songs that were old before any of them, or quite possibly their parents, were born — "Communication Breakdown," "Shining Star." (There are some original musical numbers as well.) They present "Breaking Ewws!," "the news show where the truth is always gross."
There is a giant brain with the soul of a Borscht Belt comic that makes jokes like, "How do neurons talk to each other? Cellphones," between giving up real information on how a brain works. And there is a dog called Ozzie, whose only job seems to be to jump off a chair when someone says, "Come on, Ozzie."
It is enough.
When: 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
Rating: TV-G (suitable for all ages)