When the animated character Becky Botsford isn't dealing with fifth-grade homework or her family, she turns into WordGirl and fights villains while correcting their vocabulary in the TV show of the same name.
The Scholastic Media production began its third season this week on PBS KIDS GO! It received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in Animation in 2008 and was nominated for three Emmy Awards this year. It has also received a Television Critics Award for Outstanding Achievement in Children's Animation and a Gracie Award for its portrayal of a strong female character.
Voicing that role model for elementary-school-age kids is Glendale's own Dannah (pronounced Donna) Phirman. The voice of her dad is performed by Ryan Raddatz of Burbank.
The show is produced out of Boston, but the voice talent meets at a studio in Los Angeles.
Phirman originated the role of Becky/WordGirl and said starting the third season is nothing short of awesome.
"I've worked on a few animated shows, and this is the best," she said. "Kids and parents love it. It is so well written. I'm so excited! It's the best job in the world. It never feels like work."
Danielle Gillis, one of the show's producers, still laughs after seeing the same show several times, she said.
"Dannah always surprises me," she said. "She's clever and thinks on the spot. She can come up with the funniest things out of nowhere."
When coming up with her character's voice, Phirman said she tried to remember what her voice sounded like when she was about 10 and took her already high-pitched voice up a little higher.
Another fun aspect for Phirman is getting to voice several other characters, like the mother of villain Chuck the Evil Sandwich-Making Guy, voiced by Fred Stoller from "Everybody Loves Raymond."
"What's great about the show is the great cast members," Phirman said.
There are plenty of comedians, including Chris Parnell from "30 Rock" as the narrator; Maria Bamford of "kick Buttowski" as Mrs. Botsford; Jeffrey Tambor of "Arrested Development" who provides the voice of Mr. Big; Tom Kenny from "SpongeBob Squarepants" as Brent; John C. McGinley of "Scrubs" as Whammer.
And so it's not all work, Phirman said, adding that the voice actors take time to play tricks on each other.
"At the last recording, we noticed that it started getting darker and darker in the room and we looked in the hallway and Jeffrey Tambor had his hand on the light switch and was starring at us and laughing maniacally," she said.
On the more serious side, her character fights crime and defines two words each episode, Phirman said.
"A villain might use one of the words the wrong way, and WordGirl corrects him, but in a nice way," she said. "They usually have a conversation about it, then get back into their fighting stances, and finish their battle."
Phirman does a lot of work opposite Raddatz, who voices her father, Mr. Botsford, and her friend Scoops.
When developing Mr. Botsford, Raddatz tried to model him after a 1950s sitcom dad.
"He is naively enthusiastic — a send-up of the 'Dick Van Dyke sitcom dad,'" Raddatz said. "He is always in calamitous situations, and he still manages to have a great attitude."
Scoops, however, is always trying to find out WordGirl's secret identity, he added.
There are lots of fun and different storylines between these characters. And to that end, I'm proud of the show," said Raddatz, who also works as one of the show's writers. "It's entertaining for kids, and I think adults are enjoying the storylines too. That's the goal at least."
One of the things that impresses him is how well the animators add so much to what the voice actors give them, Raddatz said.
"The animators are in Boston, and the best part of all of this is writing a script, having fun performing it and seeing it six months later and seeing what the animators have done with it," he said. "They take our voices and stories and make them so wonderfully visual."
And with Ryan it's the same thing, Gillis added.
"They love the characters, and they are invested in the educational mission of the show, and that is so important," she said. "They want to teach kids new words and make them laugh."