Recently, feeling a sudden burst of wistfulness, I decided to see if some of shows I had once adored had in fact been worth my time. Some of them were, in fact, good, while others made me feel stupid for ever having watched them. The following is a list of the shows I reevaluated, in the order of the ages when I originally enjoyed and outgrew them.

Reading Rainbow (Fetus-Five)

I’m convinced my mother spent some time watching PBS’s ode to literacy before my birth, because I was apparently born with an innate desire to watch this show. Upon review, its innocence remains in style, and the values it attempts to impart remain useful and in style much longer than LeVar Burton’s hair. One of the only things I remember from preschool is watching the end of the show and hoping a book I had read was selected as a suggestion for further reading. The poorly animated but somehow engaging opening sequence was underscored by a theme song that can only be described as simple celebration of the power of books. Unbeknownst to me before my research for this piece, the show actually lasted for twenty-one years (1983-2004), making it the longest-running series on this list by far. I can do anything, indeed. I’ll give it an A

Captain Planet (Four-Eight)

As much as we all might love his goofy theme song, Captain Planet is a really bad superhero. He can only help people when four cultural clichés and a South American with a monkey put their rings together, although it seems as though their own powers are much more spectacular than anything their hero does. Why would you call the blue man with the green hair when you can control earth? Fire? Wind? Water? Heart? Okay, maybe you call him if you’re Ma-Ti. Strangely enough, the environmentally obsessed series was created by Ted Turner, and actually featured our friend LeVar Burton (as Kwame) and Whoopi Goldberg as Gaia, who, upon review, serves no role except that of Captain Planet’s boss. For a superhero, he certainly had a lot of people to answer to. Its message was positive enough, but its execution, unfortunately, rings quite false. It’s not getting above a C-

Full House (Seven-Eight)

A lot of people seem to remember this show as being quite hilarious, what with the hijinks that result from having oh so many people in one house. Truly a novel concept. There was, in fact, a year where I thought it was kinda cute. But if I can outgrow a primetime sitcom at the age of eight, and while it’s still on the air, this does not say much for its quality. To review this show, all I had to do was turn on ABC family at noon, since its target audience must be too dumb to be enrolled in school. From its smack-in-the-face lack of subtlety (Message: don’t drive fast; execution: car accident!!!), to its complete neutering of Bob Saget – a man with a dirty, dirty mouth – to its perhaps unintentional ability to make stars of two girls who don’t deserve to have nine digits of net worth apiece, there was nothing good about this show. If, in the typically blunt episode about death, they had killed off Michelle, instead of Jesse’s inconsequential ethnic stereotype of a grandfather, then perhaps Full House would have been worth our time. There is no grade low enough for this. I bestow upon it a ®§%^$#

Where…Carmen Sandiego? (Five-Nine)

I was very sad when The Chief, Lynne Thigpen, died in early 2003. Sure, I was about to graduate high school and jet off to Princeton, and I was presumably a fairly bright fellow. Yet Thigpen’s passing affected me because she had been such an integral part of the one game show that had stumped me, and its young contestants, more than any other during my childhood. Most kids’ shows allowed their participants to succeed every so often. Only once did I actually see a kid catch Carmen Sandiego, a larcenous vixen with a vaguely Hispanic-sounding name and a face always hidden under her hat. Before I allowed myself to accept the fact that actual girls were pretty cool, it was Carmen that I really wanted to catch. Childhood fantasies aside, though, the show’s most ingenious conceit was their constant assertion that Carmen was so greedy she would force her henchpeople to steal ridiculous things, a fact that would be reported to us by The Chief at the start of every episode. For example: “Slick Vick has stolen THE EIFFEL TOWER!” Complete with some tender harmonizing by Rockapella, the level of urgency made every wrong so incredibly painful. In looking at some old episodes, I must not have been very smart in lower school, because the only reason Carmen always remained free was the contestants’ penchant for choking under pressure. Still, though, the death of The Chief reminded of how much I had wanted to find out where in the world Carmen Sandiego was. B

Family Matters (Seven-Eleven)

For better or worse, Steven Q. Urkel is one of television’s most famous black characters. As insufferable as he is, his ridiculous image is infinitely more positive than the picture that much of American television continues to paint of us. For that, Steve and the show that most referred to as “Urkel” gets a bit more respect from me. Its first few seasons, in fact, were actually quite funny, as the nerd was simply a goofy supporting character who lived next door. It was a fairly creative idea for a wacky neighbor. At the show’s outset, it was actually about the Winslow family and their mildly amusing lives in middle-class Chicago. It was unremarkable, but hardly worse than most sitcoms on television, and the fact that it treated the Winslows as completely normal (ie, less than five children, and a father who wasn’t half-doctor-half-comedian) was refreshing. But when Steve took over, it became a live-action Dennis the Menace, with Carl as Mr. Wilson and the rest of the family stuck as vaguely annoyed lookers-on. I suppose the moment when it went off the deep end was the introduction of Steve’s transformation chamber, and his alter-ego Stefan. By the show’s end, Steve was in space, engaged to Laura, and the show had been booted off of TGIF. I have no hatred for Family Matters, just a nagging dissatisfaction. C+

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (Seven-Twelve)

I assumed this show would look much worse after a few years away, but, surprisingly, it holds up quite well. It had a Full House-like lack of subtlety when dealing with some issues, but it also had some more poignant episodes, like those dealing with Will’s long-absent father. Did anyone believe that Will Smith, twenty-two when the show began, was actually of high-school age? No. Or that Carlton would turn down Princeton temporarily to attend fictional UVA? No. But Carlton’s finger-snapping dance to “It’s Not Unusual,” Hilary’s lack of common sense, and Geoffrey’s entire character (admittedly, ripped off from The Jeffersons’ maid, Flo) continue to make this show worth watching early in the morning on Nick at Nite. Additionally, the theme song is the best piece of music Will Smith has ever been near, which doesn’t actually say much, I know. B+

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (One-Never)

In the house where I lived the longest, there was, at one point, an entire room filled with Ninja Turtle memorabilia. I had every toy, every game, every costume, and every episode. In fact, I still have every episode, although the tapes are falling apart. I could still serenade you with the theme song, and, just two weeks ago, I spent ten dollars beating Turtles in Time at a Florida arcade. Clearly, this show has not relinquished its hold on me. I have long wondered how much acid it would take to come up with the idea to create a show about four giant humanoid turtles, a giant humanoid rat, a Darth Vader-like villain who wears spiky outfits, a talking brain with a giant naked suit complete with red underwear, and a female television reporter in a tight yellow jumpsuit that is not freaked out by all of this. Oh, and the turtles are named after artists from the Renaissance. As a lifelong pescovegetarian, the only time I’ve ever eaten meat for an extended period of time is the year after I realized Michelangelo liked pepperoni pizza. After looking at some of my faded VHS tapes, over reached the conclusion that it’s not perfect, it makes little sense, and the messages are so muddled by goofiness that they barely sneak through. Nevertheless, it is essentially a wonderful kids’ adventure show with a lot of imagination, drug-fueled though it may be. A-

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