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Kids’ Series Give Gentle Life Lessons Television Review

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“Caillou” and “Clifford: The Big Red Dog,” two new weekday PBS children’s series, have a get-acquainted marathon kickoff today on KCET-TV with four episodes each airing back-to-back. The two also join KVCR-TV’s schedule on Thursday.

“Caillou” (pronounced “Kye-you”) is a 4-year-old boy who lives with his mom, dad, baby sister, Rosie, and pet cat, Gilbert. Each animated episode is an unusually realistic reflection of a preschooler’s daily fun, family interaction, challenges, disappointments and misunderstandings as Caillou grows and learns to make sense of his world.

The show consists of three separate components: a gentle reality--Caillou’s family life--expressed in animation with bright, eye-filling watercolor artwork; live-action “fantasy” segments featuring puppet versions of Caillou’s toys and his cat that reflect the show’s messages for the day; and short video moments for further reinforcement, featuring actual kids dancing, singing and playing.

The result is entertainment that respects children, and something more: With its scrupulously scripted child developmental realism, “Caillou” is a virtual guidebook for parents and caregivers.

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In the first episodes, Dad’s well-meaning explanation for a dead bird in the yard confuses and scares Caillou about getting older, requiring parental reassurances.

Trying to be a good helper, Caillou makes messes; going to the doctor for an earache, or a first visit to the dentist, are scary propositions. He learns why parents can’t stay home and about different jobs grown-ups have, goes to a theme park for the first time, and has an unforgettable summer vacation with his family, camping out, swimming, playing in his own backyard.

Central to Caillou’s world are his loving parents, the antithesis of absentee or ineffectual moms and dads so common to TV. “Clifford: The Big Red Dog” focuses on positive messages with a fantasy approach. Based on the classic children’s books by Norman Birdwell, this animated series is about a red dog who is the size of a jumbo jet to match the outsized love that his owner, a little girl named Emily, has for him.

There are live-action segments in this show, too, of kids and their dogs, but most of the show is about Clifford and Emily, living in a peaceful island community with friendly pets and people--except for a snooty schoolmate and the occasional mildly cranky neighbor.

Each episode revolves around a learning experience for Clifford (voiced by John Ritter) and Emily that’s reinforced in a secondary plot involving Clifford’s doggy pals Cleo, T-Bone and Mac.

While the books’ simple illustrations don’t translate into particularly interesting animation, the idea of a gigantic canine playmate is bound to have as much appeal for viewers as it has for its many years of readers.

* “Caillou,” KCET-TV previews today at 7, 7:30, 8 and 8:30 a.m. Regular schedule, beginning Tuesday: Mondays-Fridays at noon. Also airs on KVCR-TV Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2:30 p.m.

* “Clifford: The Big Red Dog,” KCET-TV previews today at 9, 9:30, 10 and 10:30 a.m. Regular schedule beginning next Monday: Mondays-Fridays at 7:30 a.m. Also premieres on KVCR-TV Thursday at 4 p.m.

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The network has rated both series TV-Y (suitable for young children).


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