Goodbye, Farewell, Amen: Ten Episodes of Trapper John

I awoke on January 1st 2016, to a bright new year, but also to the death of Wayne Rogers. Wayne Rogers played Trapper John Mcintyre on M*A*S*H, a show which early on helped to define my sense of humor, and made me realize that I could never practice medicine. M*A*S*H is my go to show. It is what I watch when I am sick, it is what I watch when I am homesick or nostalgic. Continue reading Goodbye, Farewell, Amen: Ten Episodes of Trapper John

GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #8: Movies, TV, and Music

Holiday break is a popular time to binge watch movies and television shows, and to play music while people are off school or work. What are some of the GeekMoms’ favorite media?

Image: Arista Records
Image: Arista Records

Free to Be… You and Me
Prices vary
If you were a kid in the ’70s, you may have watched or listened to Free to Be… You and Me. It was a fantastic movie, and also a record album. My mom even has the piano music book with original illustrations. The message of the project, spearheaded by Marlo Thomas, is that every child is fine, just the way they are. It’s fine to be different, it’s fine to cry, it’s fine to be a boy who likes dolls. It’s good to be nice to other people, and to be a responsible friend. These are messages that are just as important today as they were in the 1970s. Plenty of other famous people participated in the project. Kris Kristofferson, Michael Jackson, Mel Brooks, Harry Belafonte, Alan Alda, Roberta Flack, Carol Channing, Shel Silverstein, Tom Smothers, Dionne Warwick, Rosie Grier, and others all lent their skills and/or notoriety to it. Share this movie, CD, or book with your favorite children today, showing them that you love them, just as they are.

Continue reading GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #8: Movies, TV, and Music

Practice Makes Easier Panic Attacks

It’s no secret here on GeekMom that I suffer from anxiety and depression. I’ve had it all my life, but it wasn’t until the past couple of years that I had a name to go with what I suffered through. I’ve learned so many tools to help me, but none of them offered any relief during the worst of my panic attacks. It’s kind of like learning a new math equation but only being given the opportunity to practice it during the test. It doesn’t make any sense to me.

Have you seen the quote that goes something like this?

I drink green tea. I meditate. I burn candles. But I still want to slap someone. Continue reading Practice Makes Easier Panic Attacks

The Unexpected Way ‘Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood’ is Helping My 8 Year Old Autistic Son

Image: PBS Kids
Image: PBS Kids

In our house, viewing Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood usually starts something like this. The show clicks on, the music starts. My daughter, 3, starts dancing in anticipation. My son, 8, with high-functioning autism, starts whining and complaining that it’s the most terrible show in the world. Then it starts, and they’re both silent and rapt for the duration.

When I first saw ads for the show, I was a little reluctant. Riffing on Mister Rogers? With cartoons? It felt a little sacrilegious. Then I learned that the show was not just a rehash of Mister Rogers, my most favorite kid’s show, but a collaboration with people like Angela Santomero from Blue’s Clues. For our son Liam, Blue’s Clues was pretty much his favorite show in the world during his toddler years, in spite of being a very picky TV watchers (the show didn’t often feature his favorite thing in the world: cars). What I’ve always loved about Blue’s Clues is that it’s rooted in psychology, treating kids not as dumb little monkeys in need of entertainment, but as growing human beings in need of education and direction. It’s a lot to ask for a TV show, but it’s worked.

There’s a great NPR piece about the show that I caught when it aired, and this quote sums up what makes the approach so special:

“They developed a whole curriculum based on Fred’s research and teaching,” says Linda Simensky, vice president of children’s programming at PBS. “It’s very carefully designed for a certain age group to get the rules of how the world works—to see what happens when things go right and when things go wrong.”

But that said, I’m going to admit, after viewing a few of the episodes I wasn’t a huge fan and didn’t quite get the hype. The show is cute and simplistic, employing many of the “play along” techniques Blue’s Clues became so famous for. Every lesson is a song, teaching kids ways to remember common solutions for every day problems.

That changed very quickly.

Learning Through Songs and Repetition

What started happening with those lessons, though, rather stopped my husband and me in our tracks. Many of Liam’s most common challenges come from tantrums. Autistic tantrums. That’s when, no matter what happens, the tantrum continues and continues—I think his record is three hours—regardless of the outcome. In these moments he’s in a red zone, and there’s very little we can do to get him back to the present outside of just waiting for it to be over.

One day, he had a particularly bad red zone tantrum, and he hurt a lot of feelings—including his sister’s. I found myself giving him advice from Daniel Tiger’s neighborhood: “It’s important that you don’t just say you’re sorry—say sorry, and ask how you can make it better. Being sorry is about more than words, it’s actions, too.”

He did. Even if a little grudgingly.

Then a few days later, Michael and I were having a disagreement. Not a full blown argument, but it was clear that we were both very frustrated. Our daughter Elodie came up to us, put her little hand in mine, and sang, “When you’re feeling frustrated, take a step back and ask for help.”

Michael and I goggled at each other. Did she just use Daniel magic on us? She did.

Parenting a kid who doesn’t listen and spirals out of control is hard on any day. And finding way to remain calm as a parent, let alone as the kid going through it, is perilous. We forget (and many other adults do, too) that while he looks and speaks like a big kid, when it comes to reasoning and social skills, especially in times of stress, he’s like a toddler. As I once read in a book about kids with these kind of challenges, being a parent to an exceptional kid means sometimes being their frontal lobe. Now, I don’t have time to be my own frontal lobe let alone his some days. But Daniel Tiger helps.

“Wow,” said to Michael one afternoon. “I think Daniel Tiger is helping us with Liam.”

He Likes It, He Really Likes It

Image: PBS Kids; Katerina and Daniel
Image: PBS Kids; Katerina and Daniel

Then, one day, Liam turned to us and said, apropos of nothing. “I think Katerina is autistic; she’s my favorite. She has a hard time with things sometimes, and she likes ballet more than anything.” Well, that’s interesting.

Our daughter Elodie loves Daniel, and she sings the potty song (“When you’ve got to go potty, stop and go right away. Flush and wash and be on your way!”) every time she goes to the bathroom. Liam’s aware of what we’re doing on some level, but we’ve found that the sound, short advice can really cut through some of the worst of his behaviors.

Short, helpful strategies, based in real research and proven techniques. For days I’m too tired to remember what to do when Liam is going off the rails because the cream cheese was spread wrong on his bagel (true story) I can take a deep breath (take my own step back) and calmly translate the words of Daniel Tiger: “Take a step back, Liam. I can help. What do you want me to do?” He might roll his eyes at me, but it often stops him in his tracks and in this instance he doesn’t hit me or shout or stomp away. He says, “Can you get me a knife? That way I can fix it. Or maybe you can if I can’t.”

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is streaming on Netflix right now.

Natania is a member of the Netflix Stream team.

Ready to Get Your Downton On?

Stop the presses: there appear to be children in this photo. Image source: PBS.org.
Stop the presses: there appear to be children in this photo. Image source: PBS.org.

Hello, my lovelies! It’s time for another season of our poshest, soapiest soap opera. I’ll be recapping each week’s episode here; look for my posts on Monday mornings.

If you need to brush up on last season, I recapped it at Bonny Glen. Here’s where we left off:

The primary task of every character this season was to decide what world to live in: the old pre-War England, or the new. Robert has clung to the past like a toddler clutching his mother’s leg. Even Carson has accepted change with more dignity than his employer. Thomas, too, seems stuck in a past built on pecking order and rank. I wondered if his trip to America would open up new prospects for him, but it seems he came back more hidebound and bitter than ever. He wants esteem in the old order, and it’s fading away before he can climb to the top of his ladder. Cora seems to be fading away right along with it; she’s much less vital a person than she was during the war. Violet may not approve of all the ways in which society is changing, but she’s rolling with the change much more amiably than might have been expected, and I didn’t think Martha’s barbs about “your world is ending, mine is beginning” were entirely fair or accurate. Violet is accepting social change tolerably well; it’s Martha’s style she objects to, and her idiom. And her personality. And her face.

Mary has decided to orient herself toward the future for the sake of keeping Downton intact for her son—and that’s an interesting twist on progressivism. She’s open to new ideas only because she wants to maintain the status quo. It’s a nice little paradox and I’d like to see Mary grapple with that problem rather than her question of whom to marry whenever she feels like marrying again. But in the end, it’s the outliers I care about—Edith and Tom.

And here’s a master list of my previous Downton Abbey recaps, both here at GeekMom (Seasons 2 and 3) and over on Bonny Glen (Season 4). Episode numbers are PBS reckoning, not UK.

Season 4 • Episode 1 (UK 1/2) •  2 (UK 3) • 3 (UK 4) • 4 (UK 5) • 5 (UK 6) • 6 (UK 7) • 7 (UK 8) • 8 (UK Christmas Special)

Season 3 • Episode 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Season 2 • Episode 5, “The Canadian Patient”Episode 6, “The Spanish Flu” •  Christmas Special (2011)

Phineas and Ferb Creators Talk About Taking on Star Wars

PhineasandFerbStarWars
Image provided by Disney Channel.

Building on the success of last year’s Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel episode, creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh set their sights on a new crossover subject, this time with the Star Wars universe. Those plans have now come to fruition with Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars, a brand new animated special that parallels the events of Episode IV: A New Hope.

GeekMom had an opportunity to talk with the two of them about the special, their inspiration, pleasing fans of both franchises, and the challenges that they faced when coming up with the story.

GeekMom: What was the inspiration for taking on the Star Wars universe? Were you looking to do another crossover episode after the success of the Marvel one?

Povenmire: That emboldened us to ask. We had just finished [the Marvel episode] when the announcement was made. Our post-production supervisor was in a mix with us and she’s always wired in on a BlackBerry and she said, “Oh my gosh, I just got an alert. Lucasfilm bought by Disney.”

Marsh: It took about 30 seconds for Dan to draw a picture of Doofenshmirtz as Darth Vader, take a picture on his phone, and text it to the head of the studio with a note.

Povenmire: “I smell a crossover!” It was literally the very first thing that I did upon hearing that. And the head of the studio texted back immediately and said, “That’s a great idea. We were just talking about that.” So it got fast-tracked rather quickly, and we were glad for that because to us it’s such a culmination of our boyhood dreams of playing in that sandbox.

GeekMom: How closely did you work with with Lucasfilm on the project?

Povenmire: They were very, very easy on us as soon as they heard that our version of it was not going to be making fun of theirs, but having our characters in and around their story and leaving their story and their characters alone. Once they saw the reverence with which we were treating their characters I think they were really happy to let us go on it. And they had very few notes. I think in the grand scheme of things there were many more issues with Marvel because we were using their characters in ways they had not used their characters yet.

Marsh: The Marvel universe is so much more fractured legally and rights-wise.

Povenmire: So compared to all of the rules going on there, this was so much easier.

Marsh: And the Lucasfilm guys got to see what we did with the Marvel episode and I like to think that that gave them a lot of confidence, because they looked at it and realized, “Oh, they’re not going to go out and mock these characters.” And it was clear that we love Star Wars, the whole universe, and the guys in it.

PhineasandFerbStarWarsCreators
The force is with Povenmire (l) and Marsh (r). Image provided by Disney Channel.

GeekMom: What about them? Were they fans of your universe as well?

Povenmire: The ones that we dealt with were familiar with the show and just such nice people. I did sort of an impromptu pitch with them. I came in just to meet them, just like for a meet and greet, and the head of the studio said, “Can you pitch them the whole story?” And we hadn’t quite worked out the whole story but I was like, “Okay.” And I just started pitching, and as I was pitching I was actually solving story problems. There’s a couple of things I pitched in there, lines that I pitched in that room that were just ad libbed that got a laugh and I kept them in. Like, I think Doof says, “You can lead a dianoga to garbage but you can’t make him drink.” I did that and it got a laugh and I was like, “Oh, I’ve got to remember that.” And I wrote it down and it’s in the episode.

GeekMom: Were there any challenges fitting Phineas and Ferb into the world of Star Wars?

Povenmire: There were some challenges. When we decided to do it the way we’re doing it, with a parallel story, it was a lot of work to get that story working and connecting to Star Wars the way we wanted it to connect. We don’t write scripts, so our first draft is really the first storyboard pitch. And when we did the first storyboard pitch we realized we were really missing a lot of Phineas and Ferb’s characters. We worked this all out so the story worked and it was gratifying to see that, but Phineas and Ferb didn’t feel like Phineas and Ferb, they just felt like two kids. So we had to go back and put in the kind of stuff that they would do and the kind of stuff that Candice would do. We really had to do a whole pass where we brought it back into our world. We’d been so involved in the Star Wars part of it and making sure that the mechanics of the plot actually worked. That was the hard part. We know Phineas and Ferb. It’s easy for us to punch it up in a Phineas and Ferb way. So it was very challenging, but very rewarding.

GeekMom: Are you happy with the results?

Marsh: That would be a radical understatement.

Povenmire: It’s one of my favorite things we’ve done since we started doing the show.

GeekMom: Being fans yourselves, did you put any references or Easter eggs in there for other fans might get?

Povenmire: It’s chock-full of Easter eggs for Star Wars fans. We tried to make it so that it was still funny and it still moved along even if you’ve never seen Star Wars. And we’ve actually shown it to some kids who had never seen Star Wars before and they still liked it. So I think that’s still working. But if you’re a Star Wars fan there’s so much more humor in it for you. There’s so many things that just go by and you realize, “Oh! That’s where Boba-Fett started looking for Han and Chewie. And that’s why the dianoga let go of Luke in the trash compactor. And that’s when the trash compactor started closing. Doofenshmirtz pressed that button. And oh, that’s how the Death Star plans got stolen from the Empire in the first place. It was Perry the Platypus.”

Marsh: That was really the trick, though. And one of the reasons why we spent so much time on it. It had to work on all those levels. It had to be satisfying for Phineas and Ferb fans, even if they didn’t care about Star Wars. It had to be satisfying for Star Wars fans even if they didn’t care about Phineas and Ferb. And it had to be satisfying for both. And we really agonized over which jokes to tell and how to include it all. We knew that not only were the fans were going to be critical but we are those Star Wars geeks and those Phineas and Ferb fans ourselves. So it had to be something we were excited about.

PHINEAS, FERB
Image provided by Disney Channel.

GeekMom: Is this now going to be considered canon?

Povenmire: At the end of the crawl at the beginning that sets up the story, you know, with the John Williams music behind it? It tells the whole story and there’s one line at the end that says, “And none of this is canon, so just relax.” But we did it so that it could be canon. It doesn’t interfere with any of the canon.

GeekMom: Did you get to use any sound effects or voices from the original film?

Marsh: We were given access both to the sound effects library and much of John Williams music.

Povenmire: We had access to about seven minutes of the John Williams original score, which was great, which we loved being able to use. And almost all the sounds effects are original Star Wars effects. Unfortunately, we were unable to use the actual voices of the original cast members because they’re all shooting Episode VII.

Marsh: And they don’t sound like they did when they were in their 20s.

Povenmire: So we got sound-alikes for the young Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill. And some of them are just incredibly talented.

Marsh: Harrison Ford is good enough to fool Harrison Ford’s family.

Povenmire: I think so. I was very impressed.

Marsh: He asks you when you start, “Which age Harrison do you want?” Because he can do them all absolutely perfectly.

GeekMom: What else can fans look forward to?

Povenmire: Swampy and I have a cameo in the show as the tractor beam operators.

Marsh: And we are brilliant. We elevate that script.

Povenmire: It’s not just our voices but it looks like us.

GeekMom: So you basically just did this to get yourselves into Star Wars, right?

Povenmire: We’re just trying to make ourselves laugh, is basically how it works. That what we’re going for.

Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars premieres on Disney Channel on July 26 and on Disney XD on August 4.

Parry Gripp Talks Star Wars, Crowdfunding for Nerf Herder, and The 7D

SLEEPY, DOC, HAPPY, GRUMPY, BASHFUL, DOPEY, SNEEZY
Disney’s The 7D is a contemporary, comedic take on the world of the Seven Dwarfs. It premieres this Monday, July 7, on Disney XD. Photo: Disney Channel.

Forget Snow White and her many big-budget Hollywood films (like this one and this one). The Seven Dwarfs are the ones making a big comeback.

Disney World recently opened the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a rocking roller coaster that’s so popular, it typically has a 70-minute wait. However, for those not traveling to “The Most Magical Place On Earth” anytime soon, there’s The 7D.

The upcoming Disney show will re-introduce the Seven Dwarfs to an entirely new audience. Along with a new look and new storylines, there will be new music. That will be provided by Parry Gripp, vocalist/guitarist for the geek-rock gods of Nerf Herder and well-known YouTube sensation. (For instance, check out “Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom” and “Baby Monkey (Going Backwards On A Pig)” for a whole lot of cuteness and a little bit of earworm.)

Recently, I got the chance to talk to Gripp about his music, his membership in the Star Wars Fan Club, and his role in the upcoming Disney show, The 7D.

GeekMom: So how did you get the Disney gig?

Parry Gripp: What happened is that someone at Disney became familiar with my YouTube videos—I have these goofy videos like “Hamster On a Piano” and “Baby Monkey (Going Backwards On A Pig)”—and they said, “Hey, we should bring this guy in and have him pitch show ideas.” So they called me out of the blue, I went down there, and I was talking to someone about pitching ideas, but the head of the music department at Disney Television Animation, Jay Stutler, grabbed me and said, “Hey, why don’t you pitch some song ideas for these different shows?” And Jay is the guy who is responsible for all of the great Sophia music and Jake and the Never Land Pirates, and all of the music for Disney Television Animation is so great. Anyway, it was a real honor that he asked me to do that. He had me pitch ideas for a bunch of different shows and The 7D was the show that clicked with my style.

GM: The theme song is quite perky and fun! How important is music to the show? Can we expect stuff like that in every episode?

PG: Music is very important to the show. I wrote a lot of songs for this first season. I think I wrote 120 songs! It’s a lot of songs, but some of them are really short. I’d say that it’s really important, but the style actually varies quite a bit. I would say that most of the music is not quite like the theme song, which is really rocking. A lot of it is kind of whimsical, depending on what the circumstance is. One of my favorite songs is about the Jollywood Spa, where the Queen goes. This is just a total disco song. It sounds like it’s from 1978 or something. That was really fun to do. There’s really a variety of music. In general, I’d say that the music is very upbeat and fun.

GM: It’s a very musical program, though?

PG: That’s true. And I don’t do the orchestration, but there’s a lot of really beautiful orchestration that kind of carries the story. I’m not responsible for that. That’s a guy named Keith Horn, who is marvelous at it. He’s taken themes from the different songs and worked them into the underscore.

GM: Most of our readers haven’t seen the show yet, since it debuts on Monday. So how would you describe The 7D?

PG: It is really funny. I would say that’s the main thing. It’s very funny with fast-paced humor, the voice actors are all hysterical, and the writing… I think that little kids will like the show because it’s cute. But the comedy works on two levels, so I think that adults are going to like the show, too. Tom Ruegger, who’s the creator of the show, is a genius at this. He created a show called Animaniacs years ago, which is a famous and wonderful series. I think that if you like Animaniacs, you’re really going to like this show. It has a similar slapsticky, fast-paced humor to it. I’m really excited. I think it’s going to be great.

KEITH HORN (COMPOSER), PARRY GRIPP (COMPOSER)
Composers Keith Horn (left) and Parry Gripp (right) at a screening for The 7D. Photo: Rick Rowell/Disney XD.

GM: I want to talk a little bit about Nerf Herder. There’s an album coming soon, correct?

PG: That’s right; we’re working on an album. It’s sort of a hobby for us, so us old-timers can hang out together and goof around.

GM: Why did you opt to go the crowdfunding route for the upcoming album?

PG: We kind of thought, well… a lot people are doing it, what an interesting way to go about making a record. I don’t know that we would have made a record if we didn’t do it this way. How do I explain this? Like, we could have gone to a label and said, “Hey, can you give us some money?” Or we could have paid for it out of our pockets to do it. But this idea of kind of getting inspired… and crowdfunding kind of makes it exciting for the band. It just seemed like kind of a fun thing to try.

GM: Obviously, Nerf Herder has geeky roots… and I know that you were a member of the Star Wars Fan Club a long, long time ago.

PG: Yes, that’s true! I’ll have to send you a picture of my card—my “May the Force Be With You” original membership card. And the thing that I have, that my sister and I have been sitting on for years, is… for some reason, we got an extra membership pack from the Star Wars Fan Club. This is probably from 1978 or something like that. We’ve got this cardboard tube and it says “Star Wars Fan Club” on it. It almost looks like it’s hand-typed or something and it hasn’t been opened yet. So we’ve kind of been keeping it like a time capsule. I don’t know when we’ll open that.

But when Star Wars first came out, it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Every weekend during the summer when it came out, we would go to the movie theater and see it multiple times. And it’s cool to be working for Disney now that they own Star Wars. It’s really exciting.

GM: So are you excited about Episode VII?

PG: Oh yeah; I’m excited about it. The original three episodes are the ones that I personally love, because that’s sort of what I grew up with it. But I’m excited for anything to do with it. I’m sure it will be great.

GM: Back to animation: I know you got to be animated on Phineas and Ferb? Will you make it into The 7D at some point?

PG: I don’t know. I don’t really like looking at myself on-screen, so it’s fine with me if that didn’t happen. If they animated a hamster or something and called it Parry, that would be cool. My voice is in it a lot; I get to sing a lot in the show, which is great for me and that is plenty good.

GM: What Disney character is your favorite or do you most identify with?

PG: I’d say that with The 7D, I relate mostly to the character Happy. I’m a pretty good-natured guy and I like signing and I like happy stuff. That’s the interesting thing about The 7D, I kind of relate to all of the characters at different times. Like when I’m behind on my deadline, I get pretty “Grumpy.” There’s a character on the show called Lord Starchbottom, who is sort of the cool assistant. He’s always freaking out about stuff, and sometimes I feel like that one. Mostly, I’d say Happy.

Check out Parry Gripp’s YouTube channel for all sorts of quirky, perky songs. Otherwise, look for The 7D on Monday, July 7, 2014, on Disney XD and later this fall on the Disney Channel and Disney Junior.

Once Upon a Time‘s Showrunners Know How to Keep a Secret

OnceUponaTimeCast
Once Upon a Time Season 3 promotional poster. Courtesy of Disney/ABC.

The following post will include a discussion of the big tease from the last few minutes of Sunday night’s Once Upon a Time season finale. The reveal in question has been all over social media since the show aired, but just in case you somehow missed it, be warned that there will be spoilers ahead.

Last month at WonderCon in Anaheim, I had the chance to participate in a round-table interview with Once Upon a Time showrunners and executive producers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. We talked about the remaining episodes of the third season and what was in store for the characters. We also asked them about their plans for season four. Little did I know, I happened throw out a question that could have spoiled this season’s biggest surprise.

Just for fun, and because I’m a fan, I figured I’d ask the guys about whether they had any plans to bring the characters from Frozen to Storybrooke. I didn’t expect it would be soon (certainly not this season), but I thought it might be a possibility in the future, given the massive success of the film. Their answers were full of the telltale stammering and awkward pauses that I should have recognized right away as a sign I’d hit on something big. I should have, but didn’t. Elsa’s brief cameo at the end of the finale was as much of a shock to me as it was to everyone else watching.

So I went back and listened to the interview again. While stopping short of outright denying that they had any plans to include Anna and Elsa on the show, they did make it sound like the possibility was a long way off. Bear in mind that during the interview, they mentioned that they’d just come from the editing room after finishing the final cut of the finale, so it was fresh in their mind when they were talking to us.

“It is our favorite movie of the year,” Kitsis said of Frozen. “It is in our wheelhouse—a frozen heart and two sisters having to get together. So, of course. We would … I mean … [stammers]. It’s like the genius of our job is we get to play with all these great toys like Snow White and the dwarves and Peter Pan and the Wicked Witch. So Frozen, we would love to someday to be able to get into that.”

And by “someday,” what he really meant was “three weeks from now.”

Horowitz’s tactic was to widen the scope and avoid the question entirely.

“I think with a lot of these Disney movies like Frozen or any of the Pixar movies, they draw on many different source materials that we love and that provide a really rich opportunity for adding characters to our world,” he said. “And maybe we’ll get there, maybe we won’t.”

Turns out, they did.

OnceUponaTimeElsa
This teaser poster appeared on ABC’s official site within moments of the show’s final twist.

With all the hype already surrounding the reveal and speculation about who will play her, it’s worth pointing out that Kitsis hasn’t forgotten who the show is really about. He said that the writers constantly debate the best way to introduce new faces while remaining true to the old ones.

“The debates always kind of come out of the story we’re trying to tell with our core characters that are in the show and have been there pretty much from the start and what can kind of fit into the bandwidth of the story we’re telling,” he said. “So it’s never done just for the sake of, ‘Oh, we’ve got to bring in this realm or this world.’ We’re trying very hard to kind of weave a coherent tale that can go between many, many different worlds and characters.”

I may have been duped, but that doesn’t mean I’m not enthusiastic about the possibility of seeing a live-action Elsa let it go in Storybrooke. The excitement may be tempered somewhat with concern that they do the Frozen sisters justice (I’m assuming Anna will make an appearance as well, though that has yet to be confirmed), but for now I’ll just keep rewatching that final scene with a smile on my face.

The Musical Treasures of Jake and the Never Land Pirates

MR. SMEE, SHARKY, BONES, CAPTAIN HOOK, IZZY, SKULLY, JAKE, CUBBY
Disney Junior’s Jake and the Never Land Pirates is packed with pirate music and adventures. Image: Disney Junior/Craig Sjodin.

It’s important for all of ye landlubbers out there to know that “pirate rock” is a very real thing. Aye, ’tis true. In fact, this style of music is a major part of Disney’s animated hit Jake and the Never Land Pirates, thanks to resident pirate rockers Loren Hoskins and Kevin Hendrickson.

The duo is probably best known to fans as Sharky and Bones, two of the show’s animated characters—in more ways than one. See, Hoskins and Hendrickson are featured both in cartoon and live-action form in every single episode. They also provide all of the music for the show, including Season Three’s newly revamped theme song.

However, these two swashbucklers are actually seasoned pirate rockers, having formed the Portland, Oregon-based pirate rock band Captain Bogg & Salty back in 1999. After releasing four albums with that band, Disney recruited the duo to make pirate music for the series. It’s since become a full-time job for the two, and has yielded enough booty to fill the Jake and the Never Land Pirates soundtrack.

Recently, I got the chance to talk to the dynamic duo. Avast, me hearties and heed what they say about the show, the music, and some of the treasures hidden in Season 3.

GeekMom: Can you please explain the pirate rock genre?

Loren Hoskins: No—I mean, yes I can! Kevin and I, when we started making pirate rock in the late 1800s, we kind of based it on: “What if you gave the characters in Pirates of the Caribbean the ride electric guitars and amps and microphones? What kinds of songs would they sing?” So, it kind of built from there. It’s fusing a lot of the fun of rock, kind of Kinks-style rock or different rock genres, kind of garage-y at times, but mixing it with the literary tradition of Treasure Island and all of the swashbuckling adventure and storytelling that comes along with that.

GM: Are people surprised to hear that the band has been around for so long?

Kevin Hendrickson: Yeah. We haven’t had a lot of opportunity to tell people that and witness the surprise of it, but definitely. People are surprised that we’ve done this type of music for so long—specifically, pirate music.

GM: Do you still play live?

KH: We’ve done some performances as Sharky and Bones live. As recently as last summer, we performed in Central Park. The summer before that, we performed at Disney World, at Downtown Disney for a 10-day run. It comes sporadically, but we do have a good time doing that.

GM: Do you foresee a national tour? I know it’s not Disney, but I recently took my son to Yo Gabba Gabba! Live! and it was a blast. Will there be anything like that?

LOREN HOSKINS, KEVIN HENDRICKSON
Disney Junior’s The Never Land Pirate Band stars Loren Hoskins as Sharky and Kevin Hendrickson as Bones. Image: Disney Junior/Craig Sjodin.

LH: There is a tour right now that is called Disney Junior Live On Tour! Pirate & Princess Adventure. The second half of that show is all Jake, and it features a lot of the music from the show, with all of the great stage crafts, characters, costumes, stage magic, and all that stuff. We’re not in that show, but it was a real treat to go and watch it and see us up there, but not be us. Like, to have the characters come to life like that was really amazing.

But we’re just so busy keeping up with the stories and all of the cool, new twists and characters that are coming out for the show… and then, there’s a new re-branding. They’ve given us license to rock out even more and kind of up the swashbuckling angle. It’s been pretty exciting.

KH: The live-action Sharky and Bones that are in the Disney Junior Live show are fantastic, by the way.

GM: Can you explain a little of the musical process for each episode? For instance, for the three-part episode that’s coming up this Friday; do they hand you a bunch of scripts and ask you to come up with songs?

KH: Yes they do. They give us scripts and then Loren and I work together to create the songs well in advance of receiving the animation.

GM: About how long does it take to come up with an episode’s worth of songs?

LH: It depends on the episode, but what’s funny is that we’re often working the beginnings of one script and the ends of another at the same time. It’s hard to know exactly, but Kevin and I kind of have a ping-pong approach where we’ll pass ideas back and forth. And then, we finally go: “That’s it, we’ve got it, this is it.” Sometimes that snaps together in one day, sometimes it takes a week or two. It just depends on the song and how we want to bend it to the story.

KH: As far as finishing the music, composing and putting together a whole episode usually takes about a week.

LH: I was just talking about the writing of the songs. The production of the song takes another week or so. Then those end credit songs, the ones that play with the music videos at the end of the show, are ones that we’ve spent a lot more time on. Before they’re cut down to one minute for the end credits, they’re full-length songs. So we record a full-length song—write, record, and produce a full-length song—and then cut it down to one minute for the music video. Then, it can pop back up and show up on the album as a full-length song. Those take a little longer.

GM: Why did the show’s theme song change this season?

LH: We just wanted to up the energy a little bit, make it a little more kinetic.

KH: It was a way to make the third season a little special, too. We were getting a lot more scripts that had big adventure moments in them and they were kind of starting to add a little more Pirates of the Caribbean to the scripts or something, so they wanted us to respond to that with some more energetic music—add a little more rock to it.

GM: What music are you both listening to right now?

LH: I like The Black Keys a lot, as far as a modern band. I also love listening to the old Disneyland records. I love the old stuff, the old children’s stories and song records. They’re a great wellspring of ideas and just remembering what it’s like to play. So I’ll often put the old Disneyland record of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or something like that—not to really be thinking about pirates, but just thinking about adventure music.

KH: I tend to listen to older, 1980s new wave like XTC or Oingo Boingo.

GM: How much of your pirate wardrobe is from your actual wardrobe?

KH: None.

LH: About 40 percent for me.

A special extended episode of Jake and the Never Land Pirates will air this Friday, February 28 at 8:30 a.m. (ET/PT) during the Disney Junior block on the Disney Channel. A new music video for “Lead the Way Jake” will follow on Saturday, March 1.

Maker Shack Agency is TV for Your Maker-in-Training

MakerShack
Gianna LePera, Kalama Epstein, and Gregory E. Freeman star in the Amazon original, Maker Shack Agency. Image: Amazon Studios/Electus Digital.

Looking for something new for the kids to watch? Maker Shack Agency can solve that problem!

Back in August, I mentioned that Amazon was planning to produce Maker Shack Agency, a children’s series that follows three teenagers who use gadgets to solve problems in their school and community. The pilot is now available for free, through Amazon Instant Video.

Now, it’s important that you not only watch this pilot, but vote on it. And you’re going to want to do that—at least if you have a maker-in-training at home. Amazon uses all of that customer feedback to decide whether or not to order additional episodes of its original programming.

For adult viewers, Maker Shack Agency may be a bit on the goofy side. However, to quote GeekMom Kelly, “12-year-old me would have loved it!”

That’s because Maker Shack Agency has Disney Channel production values, with a similar writing style and taste in jokes. Even though the pilot was directed by Alex Winter (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, dude!), the show doesn’t really try to appeal to an older crowd. That’s OK, though; we don’t have to like everything that our kids like. After all, I wouldn’t expect my 7-year-old to sit through two minutes of something like Parks and Recreation. However, Maker Shack Agency is a show that I wouldn’t mind him watching, because of the science, invention, and gadgets highlighted in the pilot episode.

Despite being geared towards pre-teen and teen audiences, my son was pretty captivated and giggling within the first few minutes of the pilot. A “pantsing” and lunch spewed all over the principal (played by The Office‘s Brian Baumgartner) will do that to a 7-year-old. It also didn’t hurt that my hockey-loving son saw the main character being driven to school in a Zamboni. (And yes, I was fairly intrigued by that as well.)

For all of the goofiness though, Maker Shack Agency does have tons of science, tinkering, and general maker goodness.

It focuses on Wolfie (Kalama Epstein), Merle (Gregory E. Freeman), and Jo (Gianna LePera), three teens that come up with all sorts of inventions to help out their school and their community in general.

MakerShack-logo
Image: Amazon Studios/Electus Digital.

The pilot finds the school being terrorized by Floyd Butscomb (Zachary Conneen), a rather angry kid looking to be the student body’s sole candy supplier. The kids decide to enlist Wolfie and Merle (a.k.a. the Maker Shack Agency) for help. The dynamic duo builds a “Fart-O-Meter,” which can sense when the tootie-plagued bully is nearby. Of course, when that runs out of gas (I said it!), Jo steps in with her super-cool robot to save the day.

Flatulence, candy, and robots: What more could you ask for? Maker Shack Agency uses bodily functions and more of the typical tricks that would pull in its target audience. You can’t really fault them for that. However, the underlying themes are great—and pretty unique for any television comedy currently being produced.

Overall, I think my 7-year-old was a bit on the young side for Maker Shack Agency. He does have a hearty interest in STEM, but some of the speedy dialogue and concepts seemed to go over his head. That said, it kept him entertained and sparked a great conversation between the two of us about the gadgetry and inventions highlighted in the episode.

It’s certainly not perfect, but Maker Shack Agency is exactly the type of program I’d like to see become a regular TV show. What will the kids come up with next? Hopefully, it will include an accompanying website and/or book with projects. The opportunities are endless. Take a peek and if you like it, make sure to vote at the Amazon Originals website. However, you’re going to need to do that fairly soon. The pilot for Maker Shack Agency will be available to stream for free through the voting period, which ends on March 8, 2014.

Amazon Instant Video is available on a variety of smart TVs, game consoles, mobile devices, Blu-ray players, streaming media players, and more. Check out Amazon’s website for a complete list of compatible devices.

How Voyager Got Me Through It All

voyager becca
Image By Rebecca Angel

The only time I stood up to my bullying stepfather was about Star Trek: The Next Generation. The show was on and I walked to the kitchen for ice cream. Returning, I went for the remote, but my stepfather took it first and changed the channel.

I told him that I was watching Star Trek. He replied something snarky like, “You snooze, you loose, kid.”

There were many ways this man held dominance over our lives, and being annoying about the TV was a small one. My usual response would have been to shrug and walk to my room to read a fantasy novel because I really hate fighting. But something snapped.

“I. WAS. WATCHING. STAR TREK!!!!” I screamed.

There was silence for a few seconds. My stepfather didn’t say a word, he just put the remote down and walked out of the room. I sobbed into my ice cream and watched the rest of my show alone.

Only a few short years later, I was a teen mother with a beautiful daughter. I had dropped out of college to take care of her, with my boyfriend going to school and working to take care of us. It being winter in Syracuse, New York, I was trapped in a tiny apartment with the baby. My (real) father came to visit and noticed we had no TV reception. With two different Star Trek series going on at the time, this was not acceptable. He started sending me video tapes with episodes of Deep Space Nine and Voyager.

Oh, how they got me through it.

Although DSN is great, Voyager captured my heart like nothing else. I wanted to be a crew member under Captain Janeway! She would know I was strong, capable, and intelligent—words that our culture does not tag onto teen mothers. The Doctor made me laugh. Chakotay made me swoon. The plots made me think.

Once the warm weather set in, our little family moved to Albany so my (now) husband could attend graduate school. We had TV reception. No matter what was happening in his lab, my man knew that Wednesday nights were Voyager nights. His job was to keep the kid (soon to be kids) out of the living room while mommy watched her show. If there was mint-chip ice cream brought home that day, happiness would increase. And sometimes, sometimes, the children would go to bed easily and I might even get a foot rub while watching my intrepid crew in space. Sci-fi fan heaven.

Being a parent is hard. Being a wife is hard. Being a young woman in this culture is really hard. Voyager showed me week after week that using your brain, working as a team, and caring for the people around you were the way to solve all problems. While lost in space trying to get home, no one on that ship cared what each other’s pasts were. They were only concerned about everyone doing their job to the best of their ability. I took that to heart.

As a child my role model was Sara Crew who taught me to have self-respect no matter how people treat you.

As an adult, I needed a new role model, and I found her in Captain Janeway. Thank you to the creators, writers, directors, actors, and everyone else involved in Voyager. You got me through it all.

How Netflix is Fuelling My Preschooler’s Independence

My Son's Netflix Viewing History © Sophie Brown
My son’s Netflix viewing history. Image: © Sophie Brown.

The arrival of Netflix into our house has completely changed the way my family consumes television. The most obvious reflection of this is how infrequently we watch live broadcasts nowadays (sports notwithstanding). More importantly, Netflix has given my preschooler enormous control over what he wants to watch and is encouraging him to make independent choices in a safe environment.

In the past, I have always helped my son decide on what television programs and movies to watch. Once he reached an age where he had his own opinions on such things, this was mainly for two reasons: dexterity and suitability. If he wanted to watch DVDs, he needed my help to get them out of the case, put them into the PS3, navigate the menus, and switch them over. With live TV, it was all too easy for him to inadvertently switch onto something not suitable for his age, meaning I had to constantly keep possession of the remote control and one eye on the TV.

In contrast, Netflix Kids allows him to browse through programs without the need for handling fragile discs. The kids section does away with episode titles in favor of screen caps that allow him to browse visually. It’s easy for him to navigate on both the iPad and PS3 and because it only lists kids content, I can leave him to choose his own media while I get on with work. It was a godsend over the long summer break. Of course, there is always the slight risk of him finding his way out of the kids section and into the general Netflix area, but as that requires pressing a specific sequence of buttons, none of which have any interest to him, he has never tried. There is simply too much choice in there for him to even consider looking elsewhere.

As time went on, I found that although he started out using Netflix to watch the shows he already knew (Thomas, Dora, Handy Manny, etc.), he would also discover new shows that appealed to him without passing through my unintentional filtering process (“that looks rubbish”, “I didn’t like that as a child,” etc.).

Although at first it was nerve-wracking to let a preschooler make those kinds of decisions, Netflix has never once let me down in terms of content and as a result, my son’s independence has skyrocketed. The suggestions it brings up have helped him make lots of new selections and the range of educational programs listed is impressive and reassuring. Now with the recent introduction of profiles, I have set my son’s account up so that it defaults into Netflix Kids and he can now access Netflix entirely by himself on both the iPad and PS3. Later, I can access the viewing history on his profile to check what he’s been watching, if I was out of the room for a while.

A lot has been written about the increasing number of “helicopter parents” and the way our society has become more and more obsessed with controlling our children’s every move. Finding ways for children to become independent is becoming harder and harder, if we want to avoid being seen as bad or even neglectful parents. While my mother was walking home from school and even lighting the living room fire from the age of five, such a thing is utterly unimaginable to parents of my generation. While I’m certainly not advocating allowing your kindergartner to start playing with naked flames, encouraging increasing independence as children grow is vital for shaping responsible adults capable of good decision making—and Netflix is one small, safe step along that road.

I found myself fascinated by my son’s viewing choices and decided to share some of them here as a suggestions list for readers with preschool children hunting out new content on Netflix. I can’t honestly say I like them all, but my son does, the content is appropriate, and that’s often all that really matters. Let us know what shows your preschoolers are watching and if you’ve found any ways to encourage their independence.

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood:
This animated show from PBS Kids teaches preschoolers social skills such as turn taking, helping others, dealing with emotions, and sharing. It has really helped our son handle his emotions better in social situations such as daycare, preschool, and trips to the park.

Peep and the Big Wide World:
Another animated show from PBS Kids, Peep and his friends teach basic science skills to young children. A chick, a robin, and a duck explore their world and learn about measuring things, the weather, animal behaviors, and more. My son loves Peep so much, he asked for his last birthday party to be Peep-themed and there’s simply no higher praise.

Leapfrog:
This is a set of half-hour mini-films from the team behind the bestselling learn-to-read toys. The stories feature Scout the puppy, whom Leapfrog users will already recognize. Each episode tackles a different subject related to learning numbers, letters, and shapes as well as improving vocabulary. Kids learn about literary concepts such as opposite words and synonyms in a way that’s easy for them to understand; my son’s skills with letters has improved exponentially since watching these.

Mighty Machines:
This live-action show uses footage of construction sites, airports, race tracks, and anywhere else machines work to teach kids about all the different kinds of machines in the world and what they do. The machines all speak to each other and the viewer in the first person as they explain what they are doing and why each job is important. This show is brilliant for children who are interested in vehicles, as it shows many activities that most parents would struggle to take their child along to see in the real world, such as a building being demolished or an jet airliner being cleaned.

The Simpsons Pay Tribute to Miyazaki

Two animated universes will collide on the small screen this Sunday, January 12, in a new episode of The Simpsons. Fox has released a sneak peek of a scene that honors the films of anime master Hayao Miyazaki. The Studio Ghibli founder recently announced his retirement from filmmaking; his upcoming release The Wind Rises will be his last, he says. See how many references you can spot in the clip above.

For those playing at home, there were nods to Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, and Howl’s Moving Castle (and possibly even more we didn’t catch).

The episode, which is titled “Married to the Blob,” features a romance between Comic Book Guy and a manga creator named Kumiko. As if we didn’t already have enough reason to watch, it also boasts guest stars Harlan Ellison and Stan Lee as themselves.

Mighty Med: Saving the World Through Fandom

MightyMed1
Courtesy Disney XD

In Disney XD’s new show Mighty Med, two ordinary teenage boys become invaluable assets at a secret hospital for superheroes. What makes them so special? Their lifelong love of comic books, superheroes, and video games, of course. If, as the saying goes, knowledge is power, then these two “normos” (the Mighty Med equivalent of muggles) may be the most powerful heroes of all.

On a recent visit to the set, I had a chance to talk with executive producer Jim Bernstein and supervising producer Andy Schwartz, as well as cast members Bradley Steven Perry, Jake Short, and Paris Berelc, about the wish-fulfillment aspects of the show and what viewers can expect in the first season.

“Our idea is that these kids have some special abilities that make them useful,” Bernstein says. “I think that’s sort of the message of this show. You don’t have to be like a lawyer or something. Everyone has something special and interesting about them. You might be a really good artist. You might love stamps. And that interest that you have makes you really valuable and special and you might be able to do something really cool with it.”

In the pilot episode, we meet best friends Kaz (Perry) and Oliver (Short). Kaz is the impulsive one who acts without thinking, while Oliver is more cautious and tries to keep him out of trouble (Bernstein and Schwartz describe their dynamic as “the gas” and “the brake”). Their relationship is put to the ultimate test when they accidentally stumble into the world of Mighty Med and discover that the stories and characters they’ve been reading about all these years are actually true. After they step in to help an incapacitated hero and figure out how to defeat an invading villain, the hospital’s chief of staff, Dr. Horace Diaz (Carlos Lacamara), is so impressed he offers them after-school jobs, much to the annoyance of his resentful nephew, Alan (Devan Leos).

“They make a perfect duo,” Perry says of Kaz and Oliver. “And their knowledge of comic books and superheros and everything not only makes them good doctors, but makes them who they always wanted to be. Although nobody ever understood them and how they could be such fans and kind of put them down, like, ‘Reading comic books is a waste of your time.’ They can now prove themselves.”

Sounds pretty awesome, right? Except, there’s one big catch to this dream job: the boys can’t tell anyone about it.

“It’s hard for them and they want to tell people,” Perry says. “And sometimes it slips about this job they have. And they walk out and want to just be like, ‘I work at Mighty Med!’ But they can’t do it. They’ve got to keep it secret.”

MightyMed2
Courtesy Disney XD

Still, silence is a small price to pay for getting to be up close and personal with your idols. For Oliver, there’s an extra benefit that makes it the job even better–—he gets to work alongside his ultimate superhero crush, Skylar Storm (Berelc). Skylar has just recently lost all her powers and is forced to stay at Mighty Med while the doctors figure out how to get them back. Fortunately, the boys are there to show her how to get along in the “normo” world.

“It’s even more of a dream come true for Oliver, because he loves Skylar Storm,” Short says. “He didn’t know she existed, so when he sees her in real life it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh! What’s going on?’ It’s the greatest thing for him. So that’s another really fun thing about the show.”

Berelc has worked previously as a model and has training as a gymnast at the highest level, but this is her first screen role. She does all her own stunts, and though Skylar doesn’t have any superhuman abilities, she can still manage some major “flippage,” as Berelc puts it (“There’s a lot of flippage coming your way, everybody,” she teases). Besides the physical aspects, she says she can identify with the way Skylar is forced to cope with this major, life-changing event that keeps her stuck on Earth, far from her home.

“I’d say that we are both, in some ways, vulnerable,” she says. “You know, because when I first came here—because I’m from Wisconsin—I was like, ‘What’s up with California?’ I was very new to it as well. I eventually did find friends, like she does with Kaz and Oliver, to help along the way.”

Bernstein and Schwartz say they are pleased with all the casting choices, but they got even more than they anticipated in Berelc.

“We could not be more thrilled having Paris,” Schwartz says. “I mean, we write things and then maybe we write ‘she flips.’ That’s it, two words. And then all of a sudden you look on stage and she’s doing a million cartwheels. I don’t even know what they’re called. She laughs at us.”

She was also the key to figuring out how to incorporate the show’s target demographic (teens and tweens) into a workplace setting.

“We didn’t want to have a hospital where it’s a bunch of kids running around,” Schwartz says. “It wouldn’t have felt authentic. But then you also don’t want to do a show that’s primarily targeted towards kids where it’s all adults. So to us the key to the entire show was Skylar Storm, in that you have a girl who’s there who’s a regular and who you legitimately feel she should be at this hospital. And she’s a kid. And now, we start to fill out our world. And that was really important to us.”

MightyMed3
Courtesy Disney XD

Speaking of filling out the world, in case you’re wondering (like I was) whether the show will take advantage of the Disney-Marvel corporate synergy, it doesn’t seem likely. The creators aren’t completely ruling out any appearances by Marvel characters in the future, but there won’t be any big crossovers in this first season. For now, they’re having too much fun creating their own universe and playing around in it.

“For now we’re sort of enjoying the experience of creating our own superheroes, not being necessarily limited by the powers or the names,” Schwartz says.

“We’ve also gotten a lot of feedback that kids actually like the fact that we’ve created our own superhero world,” Bernstein adds. “And I like it too. It’s fun for us. I mean, if part of the whole idea of this show is these kids discover a secret world, then it should be our own world.”

Schwartz continues, “Stories could come from [creating] a superhero who could have x power, whatever it is, and now what would it be if this went awry? And we get stories from there. Most of our stories are character-based in that way. And one of the things, Jim and I, we love doing, is putting little headers at the beginning of scenes. Like, ‘Open up and say “ahh,”‘ and the guy breathes fire and it’s like, ‘You’re totally normal.’ We love that because it takes the medical element, it takes the superhero element, it takes the fun element. We love combining that stuff.

“We try to put a couple of those in every episode where there will be just a quick little moment with a superhero who has a funny power of some kind,” Bernstein finishes. “We live for that.”

Mighty Med premiered as a special one-hour event on Monday, October 7 at 8:30 p.m., ET/PT, on Disney XD.

Ed. note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Andy Schwartz as an executive producer. His correct title is supervising producer.

Crashing the Set of Crash & Bernstein

CrashandBern1
Courtesy Disney XD

I’m sitting at a kitchen table on the set of the Disney XD show Crash & Bernstein talking to a puppet about the upcoming second season and the only thing weird about it is that it’s not weird at all.

I admit I was a little apprehensive when I first heard I’d be interviewing Crash, one of the show’s two lead characters, who just happens to be made out of felt and foam. If you’ve never seen the show before, it might help to explain that the premise centers around a boy named Wyatt who has three sisters and desperately wishes for a brother. That wish comes true when he visits a store called Build-a-Bestie and his creation comes to life.

“Will I be interviewing Crash in character?” I ask the show’s publicist in between chats with the other members of the cast. I’ve done interviews with non-human characters before, and it can be tough to get past the schtick to the real person inside. I’m interested in talking about the process of bringing characters to life, especially if they’re lifeless to begin with, not engaging in an extended improvisation exercise.

“Whatever you want to do,” she says. “Tim’s great to talk to, either way.”

“Tim” is Tim Lagasse, the veteran puppeteer who performs Crash on the show. On set he is never without his alter ego, even in between takes. Like me, the show’s cast was a little nervous about how to interact with him when they first began filming season one last year. But now with an entire season under their belt and a new one about to launch, it’s become completely natural.

“Crash is a real person to us now,” says Landry Bender, who plays Wyatt’s overachieving sister Cleo. “Even the grips and the lighting guys, everyone looks at Crash instead of Tim. Like, he’s just this random guy sitting on the floor talking and we’re listening to Crash. Just the way he communicates with us, it’s real.”

As Wyatt, Cole Jensen has had the most experience working with Lagasse and Crash. The 12-year-old actor says they’ve developed a sort of rhythm in their scenes together. Crash acts on impulse, searching out fun, and reacting to situations without concern for the standard rules of behavior while Wyatt is usually the one who tries to rein him in.

“Tim and I are in almost every scene together,” Jensen says. “Every scene that he’s in, I’m in. Every scene that I’m in, he’s in. So we’re always working together. We just kind of know each other so well.”

Not only has the cast had to adjust to acting opposite a puppet, they’ve also had to get used constantly answering questions about it from fans and nosy journalists like me.

“Oh yeah, I get asked that all the time,” says Oana (pronounced “Wah-na”) Gregory, who plays the oldest Bernstein sibling, Amanda. “And I usually give a similar answer that it’s weird. It’s so weird. But it’s so much fun. … At first I was like, ‘Who do I talk to? The puppeteer or the puppet?’ But I’m super used to it now. It’s funny.”

CrashandBern2
Courtesy Disney XD

When I finally get around to sitting down with Lagasse I decide to go with the flow try not to be thrown off by the little purple guy on his hand. It’s a good thing, too, because he tells me he is automatically drawn to anyone who displays an aversion to the puppet.

“If anyone walks on set and they’re not playing with me, they are my best friend,” he says.

Then Crash takes over. “Me! Me! Me! Over here! Talk to me!”

“I will drag you kicking and screaming into playing my game with me,” Lagasse finishes.

The transition between them is seamless. It’s not a ventriloquist act; Lagasse doesn’t make any attempt to disguise the fact that he’s the one doing the talking. But when Crash’s mouth opens and that voice comes out, something kind of magical happens.

“Kids will come in and they’ll buy it right away,” Lagasse says. “And people bring little kids to visit and I’ll just stand here like this with the puppet on and they don’t see me. [In Crash’s voice] ‘Hi kids! How are you?’ [Resuming normal voice] They might look at me once and that’s it. Because they want to play. They have that sense of play. They haven’t lost it yet.”

Before landing the role of Crash, Lagasse had previously performed mostly for younger children—he’s worked on Sesame Street and other PBS shows—but he was thrilled to get the chance to do something with a more mature (well, at least comparatively) sense of humor.

“Having done preschool for most of my career and then coming here it’s like swinging three bats. Like, ‘Wait, I can say that? I can do that? You mean I can hit the kid in the face and that’s fine? Really?’ Things that you’re never able to do in preschool.”

There’s a bit of the more playful, even mischievous perhaps, elements of Crash’s personality evident in Lagasse himself. When we talk about the show’s new set—an overgrown field in front of an abandoned fireworks factory, just across the stage from the apartment set where we’re sitting—he lights up. It’s not exactly the kind of place a parent would prefer for a hangout, but it’s an ideal playground for a precocious 12-year-old boy. Or, as Lagasse puts it, “Heaven.”

“You can do jumps and break things. There’s a fake car sitting around. You can pretend you can drive a car, sit on the hood. No one’s going to get mad at you for ruining the paint job. Who knows what’s left inside. We’ve actually never opened the warehouse. I’m hoping an episode comes up where we go in the warehouse and find some things.”

In addition to the new set, the second season of Crash & Bernstein will feature more action, new characters, and a brand new nose for Crash. The season premiere, “The Nosejob Job” will reveal the results of an online poll which allowed fans to “Pick Crash’s nose.”

In true adolescent-boy fashion, Lagasse thoroughly enjoyed the pun. “I said it as many times as I could in the short period time we had,” he says, and then demonstrates with Crash. “‘Hey everyone, pick my nose! Don’t forget to pick my nose! Only you can pick my nose!'”

Where Lagasse ends and Crash begins isn’t always easy to tell, but one thing is for sure, despite the inherent difficulties and physical demands of the role, he’s having the time of his life.

“It is challenging,” he admits. “I get a lot more massages. I take a lot more Advil. I’m getting weird muscles on my legs. But that’s the gig. I knew what I signed up for when I first went to school for it. This is not easy. But I didn’t do it because it was easy; I did it because it’s fun. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”

Crash & Bernstein returns with all new episodes beginning Oct. 7 at 7:30 p.m., ET/PT, on Disney XD.

Meet the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Phil Coulson

GeekMom’s countdown to the premiere of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on September 24 continues with a series of profiles of the characters you’ll be meeting on the show. Click on the show’s tag at the end of the article to see all of the posts so far. For more on the other members of the team, you can read their profiles at the links below:

FitzSimmons
Skye
Grant Ward
Melinda May

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Photo courtesy AgentsofSHIELD.com

Our final character needs no introduction to fans of The Avengers. Since his first appearance in 2008’s Iron Man, Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) has been an integral part of the Marvel Universe on screen. Fans may argue about their favorite or least-favorite Avenger, but everyone loves Coulson. And what’s not to love? Earnest, wry, clever, and cool under pressure, he believes in fighting the good fight and doesn’t let a little thing like death get in the way.

In a post-Battle-of-New-York world where “gifted” individuals are becoming more prominent, Agent Coulson’s mission is to protect humanity from the constant threat of supernatural forces. To that end, he recruits a team of elite specialists to track and investigate any unusual activity and to ensure that dangerous technology doesn’t end up in the wrong hands. He’s also got some pretty cool toys at his disposal: like a cherry-red vintage Corvette he calls Lola, and an elaborate private jet affectionately nicknamed The Bus that serves as the team’s flying headquarters.

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Photo courtesy AgentsofSHIELD.com

How could Coulson be alive after the events in The Avengers? That’s one of the big mysteries of the show. There has been plenty of speculation on that subject, but don’t expect any straight answers right away. Ultimately, we don’t much care how they brought him back; we’re just glad they did.

Meet the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Melinda May

GeekMom’s countdown to the premiere of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on September 24 continues with a series of profiles of the characters you’ll be meeting on the show. Click on the show’s tag at the end of the article to see all of the posts so far. For more on the other members of the team, you can read their profiles at the links below:

Fitz and Simmons
Skye
Grant Ward
Phil Coulson

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Photo courtesy AgentsofShield.com
We’re saving the best for last, but in terms of popularity with fans, we predict today’s profile subject might just give Agent Coulson a run for his money.

Agent Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) may seem content with her quiet desk job when we first meet her, but by the time the first episode is over it’s pretty clear what a waste of talent that is. We know that she’s a legend within S.H.I.E.L.D., an expert in hand-to-hand combat, a pilot, and a former associate of Coulson’s. The rest is a mystery, including why she left the field in the first place. Is Coulson pushing her too hard, too soon, or is she more ready to return to combat ops than she thinks? We’ll have to wait and see.

Speaking of badass female characters in the Marvel Universe, is it too much to hope that we might one day see her team up with Agent Romanoff? We fans can dream, can’t we?

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Not just a pilot. Photo courtesy AgentsofShield.com.

Meet the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Grant Ward

GeekMom’s countdown to the premiere of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on September 24 continues with a series of profiles of the characters you’ll be meeting on the show. Click on the show’s tag at the end of the article to see all of the posts so far. For more on the other members of the team, you can read their profiles at the links below:

Fitz and Simmons
Skye
Melinda May
Phil Coulson

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Photo courtesy AgentsofShield.com

Today we profile Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), black-ops specialist and professional manly man.

Our entry point into the world of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Ward initially believes he’s been recruited by Maria Hill (guest star Cobie Smulders). That is, until his security access is bumped up to Level 7 and he finds out who’s really behind it. Naturally, the revelation leads to the some of the same questions we have.

Ward’s skills in combat and espionage, as well as his experience going up against a mysterious group known as The Rising Tide, all make him an ideal candidate for Agent Coulson’s elite team. His only weakness, as he freely admits, is that he doesn’t play well with others. But even that can be exploited, for the benefit of the mission or simply for comedic effect.

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“There’s two ways we can do this…” Photo courtesy AgentsofShield.com

Agent Ward’s nemesis looks to be underground computer hacker Skye (we profiled her yesterday). The two have a crackling chemistry, despite a mutual distrust and general animosity towards one another (something which doesn’t escape Coulson’s notice). It’s certainly fun watching them spar in the pilot, and we look forward to seeing more of it in future episodes.

Meet the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Skye

GeekMom’s countdown to the premiere of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on September 24 continues with a series of profiles of the characters you’ll be meeting on the show. Click on the show’s tag at the end of the article to see all of the posts so far. For more on the other members of the team, you can read their profiles at the links below:

Fitz and Simmons
Grant Ward
Melinda May
Phil Coulson

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Chloe Bennet as Skye in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Today we are featuring one of the show’s most enigmatic characters, identified in the pilot only as Skye (and that might not even be her real name). When we first meet her, Skye (Chloe Bennet) is at odds with S.H.I.E.L.D., believing (not without reason) that the organization’s motives for tracking down “gifted” individuals aren’t always pure.

Equipped with a laptop and some high-tech hacking software in a tricked-out van, she monitors superhero activity and broadcasts defiant messages on behalf of a shadowy group called the Rising Tide. But the nature of her affiliation with the group and her true loyalties remain a mystery.

Much of what happens with the character in the pilot ventures into spoilerish territory, so for the benefit of those who don’t want to know too much, we’re going to keep the details classified for now.

Let’s just say that she’s a skilled hacker, a conspiracy theorist, a superhero enthusiast, and definitely someone you’d rather have working for you than against you. We also can’t help but notice how the sparks fly between her and Agent Grant Ward, but more on that in his profile tomorrow.

Meet the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: FitzSimmons

GeekMom’s countdown to the premiere of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on September 24 continues today with the first in a series of profiles of the characters you’ll be meeting on the show. Click on the show’s tag at the end of the article to see all of the posts so far. For more on the other members of the team, you can read their profiles at the links below:

Skye
Grant Ward
Melinda May
Phil Coulson

We’re kicking things off with two characters who pretty much function as a single unit: Agent Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Agent Jenna Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), sometimes referred to collectively as FitzSimmons, the science wizards of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s research division.

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No one looks this good on their ID Badges in real life. (Photo credit: ABC)

Fitz is the team’s resident engineer, who always shows up with the right gadget for the occasion, while Simmons specializes in biochem, an important role in a universe where the right formula can give anyone superpowers. Between the two of them they can scan, analyze, hack, concoct, formulate, or jury-rig just about anything. Need a crime scene recreated in the form of a 3D hologram? An antidote for a deadly toxin? A trace of an untraceable signal? These are the agents you want to call.

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Coulson really knows how to assemble a team. (Photo credit: ABC)

In addition to their British heritage (Fitz is Scottish; Simmons, English) and a fashion sense seemingly inspired by The Prisoner, the dynamic geek duo share a passion for technology and scientific discovery, which makes up for their lack of experience in the field. Though prone to bickering and often a source of comic relief in tense situations, Fitz and Simmons take their jobs very seriously.

Disney Channel’s New Series Wander Over Yonder is “Bugs Bunny Meets Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Wander
© Disney

You might not know the name Craig McCracken, but you know his work. The Powerpuff Girls. Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. Dexter’s Laboratory. The Emmy-winning animator-writer-director-producer was among the handful of multi-hyphenates who helped turn the Cartoon Network from a low-rated basic cable channel into a major international brand in the late ’90s. Now, McCracken has moved over to Disney, where he hopes his latest cartoon series, Wander Over Yonder, will enjoy the same kind of breakout success.

Wander Over Yonder stars Jack McBrayer (30 Rock) as a free-spirited intergalactic traveler and April Winchell (Mickey Mouse Clubhouse) as his trusty steed, Sylvia. Together they visit a wide variety of planets and often come up against the bombastic villain Lord Hater (Keith Ferguson, Gravity Falls) and his “Watchdog” Army of animate eyeballs.

On behalf of GeekMom, I recently had the chance to meet McCracken, Winchell, and some other members of the creative team at the show’s production offices in Glendale, California, and got a sneak peek at an upcoming episode.

“What we’re doing here is an insanely silly show,” McCracken said, almost apologetically, as he introduced the episode to a small group of journalists. “It’s very surreal. It’s very sweet. And it’s really, really shamelessly cartoony.”

He wasn’t overstating it. The episode, titled “The Greatest,” was full of the kind of absurd humor, frenetic energy, and harebrained logic you might see in a classic Warner Bros. cartoon. It featured Lord Hater attempting to conquer a planet full of happy, friendly little creatures, only to be foiled by his own insecurities when Wander challenges him to defend his self-proclaimed title as “The Greatest.” After the 11-minute episode ended, it was clear why McCracken described the show to us as “Bugs Bunny meets Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

CRAIG MCCRACKEN (CREATOR/EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "WANDER OVER YONDER")
Wander Over Yonder creator and executive producer Craig McCracken  © Disney

After the screening, I talked with McCracken about some of the other influences on the look of Wander Over Yonder, from the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine to ’70s psychedelia to the Muppets to modern anime. Along with the show’s art director Alex Kirwan (who has the coolest office I’ve ever seen, filled with colorful art, sculptures, and even an entire gallery wall where animated sequences are continuously projected into ornate gold picture frames), McCracken referenced hundreds of images and other sources of inspiration, including a Croatian children’s show called Professor Balthazar. Put together, this strange visual cocktail feels like something nostalgic, yet totally new at the same time.

For the design of Wander himself, McCracken harked back to a specific image from his childhood. “I guess if he was really based on anything, in the late ’70s there was always those weird furry hippy guys that were kind of just these fur balls with feet and they would hold signs and they were protesting about something,” he said. “He started off as one of those. And then when I first drew him I’m like, ‘He kind of looks like a furry Blue from Foster’s with feet. So I don’t want to do that shape again.’ And then he developed a head and a body and he kind of just became this stick-figure guy. And I always like designing characters that kids can draw very easily. So Blue was a very simple shape. The Powerpuff Girls were very simple shapes. Wander is basically that stick figure that kids draw on the corners of their flip books.”

Each episode will find Wander and Sylvia traveling to a different planet or location in space, but McCracken emphasizes that the designs and concepts for the worlds will always be in service of the characters and the story the writers want to tell. For instance, one episode finds the normally aggressive Sylvia forced to become more gentle and nurturing when she and Wander have to return an egg to its mother. In another, Wander agrees to deliver a package for someone and becomes consumed with curiosity about what it contains. Yet another episode will take us inside Lord Hater’s vast, skull-shaped ship (which McCracken describes as “what a 14-year-old would want the Death Star to be”) when Wander is taken prisoner and then escapes, to the extreme chagrin of Hater’s lead henchman, Peepers.

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Wander and Sylvia  © Disney

Another major facet of the show’s development came from its star, Jack McBrayer. McCracken already had the idea for the show before McBrayer was attached, but their initial meeting helped crystallize the main character in his head.

“Jack has had an influence just by being Jack, really,” McCracken said. “Whenever we’re doing any show, kind of the first episodes you’re kind of feeling your way around the character and what they can do and after you record a bunch you start to see little things that they might do that you hadn’t thought of when you were conceiving the show. And then you go, ‘Okay, we’ve got to exploit that. We’ve got to do more of that.’ And so it’s kind of the nature of doing it, making more episodes and seeing what floats to the surface and what’s really funny for the characters to do.”

I also had a chance to sit down with Winchell to talk about the show and the central relationship between Wander and Sylvia.

Winchell has provided voices for hundreds of animated characters, but she’s probably best known as the voice of Clarabelle Cow on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. When I told her how excited my children would be if they knew I was talking to Clarabelle, she leaned into my tape recorder and recorded a personalized greeting to them in Clarabelle’s voice (I came home a hero that day, I can tell you). But of all the the co-starring role of Sylvia is probably her most prominent yet. She said she was excited to have a chance to take on something new and different from the “moms and monsters” roles she’s played so often.

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The voice of Sylvia, April Winchell © Disney

“To find something in between, where the strong one is a female character, I think that’s really cool,” Winchell said. “I just really like that it’s a female character that can fight. I think that’s one of the things I really like about it. It’s a real complete relationship. There’s female energy. There’s male energy. There’s optimism. There’s cynicism. It’s like a real, very dimensional relationship.”

Although the show has yet to officially premiere, Disney Channel has been running a few “first-look telecasts” and Winchell has started hearing reactions from friends who have seen it. “One 11-minute episode and I get email all day long. ‘Where are you from? What do you do? What does she eat?’ People are just fascinated. It’s really exciting.”

But anticipation can also be daunting. McCracken’s notable profile among fans is only compounded by the fact that his wife and co-producer is Lauren Faust, a writer-animator-producer with a following of her own. You may have heard something about her last gig, an obscure animated series called My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

“It’s a double-edged sword, because you know, you’ve got fans they’re comparing you to what they liked last time,” Winchell said. “When the titles came out, the 30-second titles, [people said] ‘Oh this isn’t as good as Foster’s!’ You’re like, ‘It’s 30-second titles! What are you talking about?’ So there’s people who are prepped to hate it and there’s people who are prepped to like it. But it doesn’t really matter because it’s all going to shake out. Do you know what I mean? So the important thing is that people are excited to even debate it and discuss it. And the fandom that’s already there is thrilling. It’s really thrilling to see so many people talking about it.”

You can catch the series premiere of Wander Over Yonder, including the episodes “The Greatest” and “The Egg,” on Disney Channel, Friday, September 13 at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT.

Amazon’s Maker Shack Agency to Highlight Science and Problem-Solving

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“Maker Shack Agency” will follow three teenage thinkers and tinkerers, who use science and personal ingenuity to solve their client’s problems. Image: Amazon.

Forget House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black. Of course, Netflix has produced some awesome original programming. However, Amazon is getting something ready for the kiddies—and it’s got a scientific twist.

Amazon Studios has just given the green light to Maker Shack Agency, a new children’s series that will stream through Amazon Prime. It features 13-year-old inventor Angus Wolfe (please call him “Wolfie”), as well as his two best friends and fellow “makers,” Jo and Merle. Each episode will find the three using science and creativity to come up with all sorts of super-cool problem-solving inventions.

To keep the show realistic, the Maker Shack Agency production crew plans to work closely alongside the scientists, engineers and programmers of Applied Minds. Produced by Electus Studios, the live-action show will target kids ages 6 to 11.

“We are incredibly excited for our first initiative with Amazon and we look forward to inspiring the next generation of makers,” said Drew Buckley, chief operating officer and head of digital for Electus. “With Maker Shack Agency, we hope to inspire kids to think about new and different ways to solve life’s problems and to never be afraid of failure—as Wolfie always says, ‘Fail Forward.'”

Maker Shack Agency is the latest kids’ pilot that Amazon is putting on the fast track. Last month, Amazon Studios announced five other pilots, all of which should be available by early next year. All six of the streaming options will debut on Amazon Instant Video, where customers will be able to comment on the episodes. Earlier this year, Alpha House, Betas, Annebots, Creative Galaxy, and Tumble Leaf were given series orders, thanks to customer feedback. Those options will start streaming through Prime Instant Video later this year and in early 2014.

Sonos PlayBar Review: Pump Up the Volume!

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The Sonos PlayBar has a nine-speaker design and support for wireless music streaming, retail price $699. Image: Sonos.

Buying a brand-new TV was probably not an easy decision. That giant, boxy TV that used to consume the better part of your living room was a great companion—and still had a great picture. However, today’s flat HDTVs take up very little space and offer an even-better viewing experience.

That said, they don’t really sound all that good. Sure, it gets the job done. However, for all of the research, testing and technology that’s gone into making the perfect picture, the sound sort of got cut out of the equation.

Of course, you could set up a receiver and a room filled with speakers. For some people, though, that’s just not an option. Soundbars are becoming a popular solution, because it allows one speaker to boost the sound of your TV. Sonos recently added its name to the growing selection of soundbars, announcing the Sonos PlayBar.

The hook on the PlayBar isn’t just that it makes your TV sound wonderful (it does), but that it also streams music wirelessly from sources that aren’t your TV.

Unboxing the Speaker
Out of the box, the PlayBar may seem a little daunting. After all, the thing measures 3.35-by-35.43-by-5.51 inches. This is not a tiny box.

Assuming you don’t wrench your back getting the PlayBar out of the box, the setup could not be any easier. PlayBar offers two choices for placement: You can lay it flat on a shelf or cabinet or you can mount it on the wall. If your TV is mounted, wall mounting maybe preferable. Just know that the PlayBar mounting kit is sold separately.

Next, you’ll connect the supplied optical audio cable between the PlayBar and your TV. Finally, you’ll add in the power cord. A quick tip: You’re going to want to make sure that the power cord is secured. Because of where it’s located, every time I flipped over the PlayBar, it became unplugged. Is this a deal-breaker? Of course, not. Just make sure you push that thing in, and you’ll be good to go.

Also, you may want to go into your TV’s setting and shut off the internal speakers. I wasn’t able to get sound through the TV or the PlayBar until I made that move. Some of you may just experience an echo. In other words, it’s not going to sound better with both the TV speakers and the PlayBar going at the same time.

Now, installation isn’t quite complete just yet. You’ll need to network the PlayBar, so it can get software updates and do the aforementioned music streaming. That network connection can happen one of two ways. If you have the means, the PlayBar is easy to connect to your router or a network switch via an Ethernet cable. If the web isn’t anywhere near your TV, you’ll need to purchase the $49 Sonos Bridge. This tiny box easily hooks to your home router, making a simple wireless connection for the PlayBar.

Once everything is hooked up, download the Sonos Controller app. It’s free, it’s fun, and it can help you connect the PlayBar to your typical TV remote. The app walks you through the entire connection process with ease. Once everything is set up, you can use the app to control the PlayBar. However, I found it a lot easier to use my DISH Network remote. My family was also happy that they didn’t have to learn anything new!

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The back of the Sonos PlayBar has minimal connection options, making for a simple setup. Image: Sonos.

So, How Does It Sound?
I have yet to encounter a soundbar that sounds better than a full complement of speakers. The PlayBar is no different. However, it’s worlds better than what’s currently coming out of your TV. I promise you that! We used the PlayBar for sports, movies, and everyday TV watching. It provides a nice little kick.

Also worth noting is that the app has an option for “Night Sound.” Click on the little moon icon at the bottom of your smartphone or tablet screen, and the PlayBar will suppress the louder sounds and boost the quiet sounds. In other words, it will balance out the sound a little better, so you aren’t cranking up the volume and waking the entire house.

The PlayBar is a fun little addition, but I do have two gripes. The first is that the unit doesn’t technically support the DTS sound format. Instead, it’s all about Dolby, which makes it perfect for everyday TV viewing. However, if you plan to have a Blu-ray player in this mix,  it won’t always sound as nice as when you’re watching TV. You see, a lot of Blu-rays come equipped with DTS soundtracks. I saw a few people griping about this on the web. I tested out the Blu-ray for KickAss, which has a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track that’s well… pretty kick-ass. What I got with the PlayBar was a downmixed version of the track. I could hear it, but it just didn’t pack the same punch as the track that I have come to know, love, and use for demo purposes. In fact, it wasn’t even close. It didn’t even have the same pop as a Blu-ray with a Dolby track.

My other gripe is really nitpicky, but the PlayBar could use a little extra bass action. It has a nine-speaker design, so you’d think some of those would crank out better bass. However, if you’re not currently rocking a subwoofer, you probably won’t notice the difference. Also, if bass means that much to you, Sonos does sell the SUB Wireless Subwoofer for an extra $699.

Streaming Dream
Now, sometimes you don’t want to watch TV. It’s true! For those moments, the PlayBar offers music—a ton of it.

The free Sonos Controller app allows you to stream music from an iPhone, iPod touch, iPad and most other portables. It’s really one of the features that sets this soundbar apart from the rest and makes it worth the $699 price tag. Yes, it’s a steep one, but the PlayBar will really become your one-stop shop for audio—and frankly, it’s quite addictive.

Inside the app, there’s a little Music icon. Touch that and you’ll be treated to a wealth of musical options, whether you’re tapping into your home network, a portable device, web radio, or the many others listed. Sonos is compatible with streaming services such as Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Cloud Player, Last.fm, Rhapsody, SiriusXM, and countless others. However, it’s important to note that almost all of these options require some type of subscription and/or monthly fees.

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The Sonos PlayBar is sturdy, but slim, making it easy to place right under almost any TV. Image: Sonos.

Are You Ready to Rock?
Without a doubt, the Sonos PlayBar delivers an awesome boost to everyday TV watching. However, it’s not as great as a full speaker system, which could make that $699 price tag sort of tough to swallow. After all, there are several other soundbar options out there. Some of them sound pretty nice, too, and at a fraction of the price. Of course, none of them offer as many options for wireless music streaming.

It’s also important to note that Sonos offers the aforementioned SUB, as well as several wireless surround speakers, if you ever feel the need to branch out. That said, if all you’ve had to date is the sound that’s coming out of your TV and you have the means, a single PlayBar offers a really nice upgrade and adds in more musical options than you could ever imagine.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Thanks, Freddie Wong!

Image By Rocket Jump
Image By Rocket Jump

To the producers and writers of Video Game High School Season Two:

YAAAAAAAAY!!!!!! You did it! You are part of the Web Entertainment Revolution. You have a high quality filmed, action-romatic-comedy, with developing characters, in a unique fictional universe, only available on the internet.

Awhile back I sent A Plea To Freddie Wong to take a great concept, well-produced show, and take it to a better level of plot and characters. With season two of Video Game High School, there is the time (thirty minute episodes) and the writing to do just that. I’ve watched up to episode four, and have been completely entertained. The series manages to blend multiple surrealistic game worlds with the everyday life of teenagers in a very cool high school.

There was a Kickstarter for this second season that went completely over their goal, and you all have put the funds to good use. The settings, costumes, and action-sequences are great. It must be so much fun because the actors get to be in multiple places in every episode. No boring sets here.

With the very first, I was giggling. The office scene with the Benji Dolly, Ellary Porterfield, and Freddie Wong discussing homework was hilarious. 

Keep it up! I hope everyone tunes in to watch your Video Game High School Season Two.

Peace and games,

Rebecca Angel

 

TV Preview: Will Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Break Whedon’s Streak?

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Photo Courtesy ABC

I’ve been a fan of Joss Whedon’s work since I first stumbled upon Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the old WB Network back in 1996. Since then I’ve looked forward to, and genuinely enjoyed, just about everything he’s done.

But I have to admit that his track record on television hasn’t exactly been consistent. It’s been 10 years since Buffy saved the world for the last time on TV, and nine since Angel followed her into the rerun abyss. Firefly may have a passionate fan base now, but when it aired it didn’t earn enough viewers to sustain a full season. And Dollhouse was a bold, but ultimately doomed experiment. Compare that with the massive success of The Avengers on the big screen and you couldn’t blame Whedon if he never returned to television again.

And yet, he has.

Triumphantly.

I got a chance to see the pilot episode of Whedon’s new series, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., at the D23 Expo last weekend, where attendees were treated to a free screening hosted by Jeph Loeb, executive producer and head of Marvel’s television division.

It was only the third time the pilot had been screened publicly (the first time was during the show’s Comic-Con International panel and the second for critics at the TCA press tour). The D23 Expo screening was announced the week of the show and wasn’t listed in any of the printed material, so I suspect the powers that be were waiting to hear the reaction from those first two groups before putting the pilot out there again.

They needn’t have worried. Judging by the cheers that went up the moment Loeb casually turned around to reveal the tag line “COULSON LIVES!” on the back of his T-shirt it was clear the show couldn’t have found a more enthused or receptive audience.

This is the point where you might want to stop reading if you haven’t yet seen The Avengers, the feature film which precedes Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. You should probably take care of that if you plan on tuning in this fall, because you’ll not only be spoiled for the film, you’ll be a bit lost when it comes to the series. So go and do that and then come back and read the rest of this review.

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Photo Courtesy ABC

So, now that it’s just us, I can answer some of the questions you might have without giving too much away. BUT THERE ARE MINOR SPOILERS, SO BEWARE BEFORE READING FURTHER.

Yes, the series takes place sometime after the epic Battle of New York in The Avengers and yes, Agent Phil Coulson seems to have come back from the dead. Or the mostly dead, as it turns out. He explains that Agent Fury thought it would motivate the Avengers if they thought they had something to… well, avenge. Coulson has spent the past few months recovering in Tahiti and his return to the agency has been kept a secret from everyone below clearance level 7, including the Avengers. There are hints that there may be more to his revival than even he knows, but we’ll have to wait for that tantalizing mystery to play out in future episodes.

Whatever logistical and thematic pitfalls there may be in bringing back a character who died such a poignant death, it was the right decision to make for this series. As he demonstrated in the Marvel films, Clark Gregg has a rare combination of wry delivery and subtle gravitas. His appearances tied those movie worlds together and proved he could stand shoulder to shoulder with giants. These qualities, along with his popularity among fans, make him a strong central character to build a team around. Which is exactly what happens in the first episode, as a newly formed group of agents sets out on their first mission together.

After an “unregistered gifted” (Angel‘s J. August Richards) performs a feat of incredible strength on a city street, Coulson and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders, returning from The Avengers, though how much we’ll see of her in the future is uncertain) hand pick a team of agents to bring him in before someone else does.

Our first look inside the world of S.H.I.E.L.D. comes via Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), a black ops specialist who gets high marks from Hill in everything but people skills. There’s also Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), a renown pilot and skilled fighter who has left the field for unknown reasons. Coulson finds her working behind a desk and convinces her to come back to fly the team’s mobile base of operations. Every show like this needs its genius tech geek, and this one has two—a British pair known collectively as Fitzsimmons. Separately they are Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), and their intricate mastery of gadgetry seems to know no bounds (seriously, it’s almost ridiculous how many vital elements of the mission are left up to them to figure out). Finally, there’s a mysterious woman named Skye (Chloe Bennet), a computer hacker whose relationship with S.H.I.E.L.D. is somewhat adversarial.

AgentsShield2
Photo Courtesy ABC

There’s so much to set up in this first episode that the story is often forced to the back burner for the sake of exposition. Plot points are glossed over to make time for witty banter and cute moments intended to endear us to these people we’ve just met. I’m willing to forgive that sort of thing in a pilot, because in the long run it’s more valuable to know the backstory and to see the character dynamics in action than to understand the motivations of a minor antagonist or how a particular piece of tech works. But beginning with episode two, the balance had better shift increasingly toward the story side or viewers may lose interest.

Fans of Marvel looking for references to the comics may find a bone thrown their way here and there, but for the most part all of the characters are original creations. There are nods to the films too, of course, and not just the Marvel/Disney productions. Whedon maintains some continuity of style by directing the pilot himself (he also co-wrote it with his brother Jed and sister-in-law Maurissa Tancharoen), and given the constraints of a television budget it held up surprisingly well on a big screen. Not every episode will be able to have chase scenes through the streets of Paris, an enormous cargo plane, or the surprise FX shot at the end that’s too good to spoil, though. It’s more likely that the slick glass and steel confines of the S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters will be the look to take away from this. Which is still going to look great on my HD screen every week.

And you bet I’ll be tuning in every week.

It may be premature to say that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be a guaranteed success, but it’s shaping up so far to be the Whedon series fans have been waiting for. It’s funny, action packed, and full of intriguing characters I’d like to get to know better. And when you add in the Marvel fans it’s likely to bring in, there’s a chance that it might even last for more than a season. Which means it could still be on the air in the run-up to the release of the next Avengers film Age of Ultron. Imagine the possibilities.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premieres September 24 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.

It’s The Aquabats! Super Show! On DVD

"The Aquabats! Super Show! Season One!" is now available. Image: The Hub.
“The Aquabats! Super Show! Season One!” is now available. Image: The Hub.

Just in case Yo Gabba Gabba wasn’t strange enough for you, here comes the DVD for The Aquabats! Super Show! Season One!

If our masked heroes look a little familiar, it’s because they’ve appeared on the Nick Jr. fan favorite a few times in the past. In fact, The Aquabats’ fearless leader, Christian Jacobs, is actually the co-creator of Yo Gabba Gabba. You can definitely expect some awesome music, great guest stars, and a few very ’70s themes to carry over in The Aquabats! Super Show! Season One!

Continue reading It’s The Aquabats! Super Show! On DVD

Arrested Development Fans: We Have a Trailer!

It’s the final countdown! May 26 is right around the corner — and if you’re a fan of Arrested Development, you probably have this date circled on your calendar.

This is when the cancelled sitcom will debut its long-awaited new season. New? Cancelled? It’s not an illusion; it’s Netflix. The streaming service first announced plans to make a fourth season of the cult comedy back in late 2011. After almost a year and a half of teases and reports about the lengthy roster of guest stars scheduled to appear, we actually have a trailer.

With the exception of Judy Greer returning as Kitty, none of those other famous faces show up in this 96-second peek. However, we do get a quick glimpse of all of the Bluths and they appear to be as awesome as ever. Take a peek at the trailer above and start cancelling your plans for Memorial Day weekend, people. Netflix will make all 15 episodes from season four available for streaming on May 26, 2013. Enjoy!

YouTube Launches Paid Channels With Many Kid Shows

YouTube Franklin channel
YouTube Franklin channel

Some of you remember when it was crazy to get more than 20 or 30 channels on your TV. Some of you even remember when you got more than two channels. YouTube has one million channels. Today they’re starting a pilot of a paid subscription program for certain partners among those million channels.

Subscription fees start at $0.99 per month (some with discounts for yearly subscriptions), and they all have a 14-day free trial. There are 53 channels in the initial pilot, most of which you won’t recognize from traditional TV. A few you likely do know include UFC, Franklin, and Jim Henson Family TV. The latter means legal, online, paid access to Sid the Science Kid, Fraggle Rock, the Pajanimals, and more. NatGeo Kids is on the list, as well as several other kid-friendly channels. The blog post about the launch mentions that Sesame Street will have a paid channel as well, though it’s not yet in the list. See the whole list of pilot channels.

Destination America Plans Week of Disney-Themed Programming

Destination America
Guests enjoy the pool on the upper deck of a Disney Cruise. Image: Destination America.

Planning to visit Disney sometime soon? Before you hit the road, you’d better hit up Destination America. The cable network is planning an entire week of programming dedicated to the happiest and most magical places on Earth.

Destination America’s “Disney Week” will air from Monday, April 29 through Friday, May 3, 2013. Continue reading Destination America Plans Week of Disney-Themed Programming

Half-Way Through Next Generation

Image By Jeanne Masar
Image By Jeanne Masar

Star Trek With Kids Update…

We are about to begin Season Five of The Next Generation and it’s been good, real good. The journey began with an idea to share Voyager with my kids. It’s a series that means a lot to me. But then I realized they should have some background before we got into that part of the timeline. But to begin at the beginning would take soooo long. So I asked for help from readers like you. I compiled the suggestions into a big list, and we began our Star Trek watching adventure.

Half-way through the Original Series, I was surprised at the quality. We finished the series and I even wrote some bad poetry about it. We took a month off from starting the next series because…well, we really liked the old one. It was hard to say good-bye. We watched The Wrath of Khan just to linger more in that world. They got so old! But we finally started The Next Generation.

It was great to see their reaction to the line, “…to boldly go where no one has gone before.” They were both thrilled with the change.

It took a few episodes to warm up to the new cast, but we are in deep now. We just watched “The Host” and were impressed with Jonathan_Frakes‘ acting. Soon we’ll go back and forth between TNG and Deep Space Nine since they aired at the same times.

The kids like Data (of course.) Troi is completely underutilized. Picard is awesome. And they think it’s so weird to see Wesley as the kid from Stand By Me, and the “old” guy that is part of their mom’s geeky online culture stuff.

We continue…