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In 'Odd Squad,' math gets nice and weird

'Odd Squad' is safely weird fun for grade school kids getting introduced to math concepts

When it comes to that added element that can refresh even the most time-worn TV trope, there's nothing quite like a pint-sized cast. If a bunch of chimpanzees could make a cult hit out of "Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp," then imagine the possibilities of real human kids.

"Odd Squad," which premieres Wednesday as the latest addition to the PBS Kids lineup, swipes a premise instantly familiar with anyone who's ever heard of "The X-Files," "Men in Black," "Warehouse 13" or any number of shows about clandestine organizations tasked with investigating the unexplained. Then it replaces the adults with kids. Did I mention the Odd Squad headquarters is all kid-sized too? Suddenly, the whole thing becomes a lot more palatable.

Not a lot of time is spent setting up this premise, a lesson bigger budget franchises would do well to pay attention to. There's a group called the Odd Squad, they check out weird phenomena, all the agents have names that begin with the letter "O." What more explanation do you need?

The series is the brainchild of Adam Peltzman and Timothy McKeon, whose individual kids show credentials are impeccable. Peltzman is the creator of "Wallykazam" and was the lead writer for "Blue's Clues" while McKeon has written for such crossover-appeal kids shows as "Gravity Falls" and "Adventure Time." And the casual weirdness the series revels in makes it a clear descendent of those influences. Kids in Odd Squad HQ glow bright green and orange for no apparent reason. And the agents' style of dress -- suits and red Chuck Taylors -- is reminiscent of David Tennant's Doctor.

This being PBS, there's an educational component to the episodes, focusing on basic math skills. But the math lessons are rudimentary (addition and subtraction in the two segments released for review) and don't interfere with the general sense of fun.

However, the numbers that will cause "Odd Squad" the most trouble are those on the calendar. The problem with all-youth casts is that inevitably they grow up. And as any parent will attest, it happens all too fast. Will the adventures of Agents Olive, Otto, Oscar and Owen be quite as cute when they're starting to grow out of their tiny suits? Or will the Odd Squad become a large, rotating cast secondary to the ongoing goofiness?

Ultimately, it's a luxury problem to be faced only if the show becomes a hit. For the time being, it's a safely strange introduction for grade school-aged kids to the world of math and the biggest mysteries that lie beyond.

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FOR THE RECORD

Nov. 25, 4:51 p.m.: A previous version of this post's photo caption misidentified some of the actors. The correct names are, from left, Sean Michael Kyer, Millie Davis, Dalila Bela and Filip Geljo.

Follow me on Twitter: @patrickkevinday

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