‘Cyberchase’: Using math, geopolitics and Christopher Lloyd to save the world

A cartoon man lies in a hammock, talking to another cartoon character standing nearby.
Christopher Lloyd, in hammock, as the Hacker on “Cyberchase.”
(PBS Kids)

In Christopher Lloyd’s most recognized roles, he’s known for driving a taxi and a DeLorean. But as the Hacker on PBS Kids’ animated “Cyberchase,” he’s often driving his ship, the Grim Wreaker, while concocting one scheme or another in order to take over the (cyber)world.

“Taxi’s” Jim Ignatowski and “Back to the Future’s” Doc Brown are beloved, but Lloyd has voiced the Hacker (don’t forget the “the”) since the show debuted 20 years ago. It’s not quite as old as “Sesame Street” or as popular as the departing “Arthur,” but “Cyberchase” is kicking off its 13th season on Friday with four new episodes on PBS Kids.

The Emmy-winning series helps build children’s math and cognitive skills while adding a healthy dose of environmental literacy. The new episodes spotlight the series’ heroes — Jackie (voiced by Novie Edwards), Matt (voiced by Jacqueline Pillon), Inez (voiced by Annick Obonsawin) and Digit (voiced by Gilbert Gottfried) — as they tackle timely topics like pollution, invasive species, sustainable design, biodiversity and more using their math and problem-solving skills to save the day and take down the Hacker. A theme throughout the season will be how the environment is interconnected, how one part can impact another and how even small actions can lead to big changes.


We caught up with the 83-year-old Lloyd to chat about his involvement with “Cyberchase,” voice acting and what he’d like to see the show tackle this season.

Cartoon kids in clear bubble helmets and a cartoon bug fly up to inspect a duck carving hanging from a tree's branch.
Jackie, Matt, Inez, and Digit approach another problem to solve in “Cyberchase.”
(PBS Kids)

“Cyberchase” has been going for 20 years. Shouldn’t there be more celebrating? How can educational kids TV get more push in society?

I don’t know. The fact that we’re still doing it after 20 years ... I don’t know how to push it. It’s kind of a quiet show in a sense. Not a big media thing. That might change in some ways, and it might be good or might not be good, but I don’t know. Funding. Keep that going, and good writing.

As the Hacker, you’re evil, or aspiring to be evil, but there are moments of, dare I say, good? Is that something you push for?

It just comes out, in spite of himself. I’m aspiring to have everything under my control [as the Hacker]. I get these ideas that are just there to make me look good and for me to be the genius that makes all this stuff happen. They’re evil, they’re antisocial — but he doesn’t care. Each episode, I’m out to make another conquest.


What drew you to the show initially?

I kind of just like the premise of it. Every episode they pull the rug out from under me. I fail every time. And they achieve that through the choices they make, which involve mathematics. They’re learning how to apply mathematics to real-life situations. And they had a mathematician always [helping with the writing and teaching moments]. It’s maybe a little subtle, but it’s cool.

You’ve had so many roles that dealt with relating to kids and young adults. Is that by choice, or just roles you gravitate toward?

I noted that the other day. I said, “Wait a minute ...?” I haven’t done anything to get those roles, but it’s true. I can’t really altogether explain that, but I don’t regret a minute of it because it’s made it possible for me to work with some great people and make some great films.

Acting is acting, but what have you learned about voice acting that you didn’t know when you started?

I didn’t want to do [voice-over work]. I thought, “I’m an actor,” you know? But it kept coming up and I’d get offers for things. I was kind of won over. It’s my voice, but I have to feed that with emotions and choices whether my face is showing or not. I have to do the same homework. The emotion’s gotta come through with the voice to make it believable. After a while I got kind of hooked on it. Sometimes they’d bring a camera to shoot me while doing it, and I tend to gesticulate a lot and move around. Sometimes the character that I’m doing hasn’t been drawn yet and they’d incorporate some of my movements. So with that aspect of it, it became kind of cool.

What do you think is the main issue right now that you’d want to impart to the kids who watch “Cyberchase”?

I think to be aware of changes that have to be made because of climate change. Whether they can hold it at a certain level or not, it’s going to change things. An awareness of that. An awareness of what democracy is about because it’s being challenged pretty strongly here and elsewhere. Putin and others saying it doesn’t work. It’s old. It’s worn out. I think that’s important, that they really learn the ideals of a free state, democracy and how you maintain that.