Peg + Cat

I’ve mentioned before how tough it is to find children’s programming that adults can enjoy as well; this problem is much more difficult when kids are younger, wherein adults just want to find kids’ programming that doesn’t make grownups want to curl up into the fetal position and sob, like Dora The Explorer. Not to mention Caillou. Let us never speak of Caillou again. (However, if you have younger kids, Sesame Street is about as great as you remember it, and run, do not walk, to Little Bear. I would still enjoy watching Little Bear.)

The folks from The Fred Rogers Company (aka Mr. Rogers) and PBS Kids have another fun entry to the kids’ canon. Peg + Cat seems aimed toward helping girls accept math, but it’s basically awesome for any gender or age. The creators have pulled off the impossible combo of programming irresistible for youngsters (with cute, cool graphics, and a background of actual graph paper) with enough snarky humor to make the experience enjoyable for grownups as well. Parents of under-sevens will never be able to thank these people enough.

Show creators Billy Aronson (Rent, Postcards from Buster) and Jennifer Oxley (Little Bill), who worked on the also-awesome Wonder Pets! together, teamed with The Fred Rogers Company to create a show to showcase math and problem-solving skills. (According to the PBS press release, “national assessments show that 60 percent of students are performing below proficient levels in math by the 4th grade.”) So while Peg’s tidying her room, she’s also focusing on relative size and geometry as she notes the difference between flat shapes and spheres. An excursion with pirates leads to a lesson in division, or “fair sharing.” A trip to a magical fairytale land explores three-dimensional shapes like pyramids and cylinders. For today’s youngster, the show also has a strong web component, with many online episodes, as well as puzzles and games for mobile devices (a much more welcome option for distracting bored kids than Angry Birds Star Wars).

Peg + Cat needs pretty appealing characters to help get these math-related concepts across, and delivers. Child actor Hayley Faith Negrin delightfully delivers Peg’s lines like, “Aren’t these the coolest circles you’ve ever seen with your eyes in the history of your life?” which is spot-on age-appropriate dialogue. Her sidekick is not an idiotic monkey in boots but a dry, world-weary feline who chimes in humorously with comments like, “I know, right?” and “Jeesh!” Her friend Ramone (Miles Harvey) often shows up to save the day and has a wonderful singing voice.

But it’s the small details of Peg + Cat (pronounced Peg Plus Cat) that really make it soar: In “The Problem of the Messy Room,” we see that Peg’s room is filled with dinosaurs and balls, and not just dolls and pink. When Peg gets frustrated, she reminds herself to count backwards to from five (I should do that more often myself). You can often spot random numbers in the backgrounds, from outer space to a medieval kingdom. Every episode ends with a musical finale that sounds reminiscent of the They Might Be Giants’ childrens’ albums: more kids’ stuff adults can stomach.

But adults aside, Peg + Cat is an engaging and charming way for children to learn math concepts while they’re being entertained. Kids will love it, and their parents will be most appreciative.

Stray observations:

  • Just to make sure my enthusiasm for P+C wasn’t out of bounds, I showed these episodes to an age-appropriate test audience, who became instant fans. 
  • Quote from the pirate’s parrot, who seems to be a voice of reason: “What’s up with you and that hat in the middle of summer?” “That’s some fine dancing…for a barnyard animal.”
  • Other appealing supporting characters: one hundred barnyard chicks and a pig that sings opera.
  • The alien on the purple planet is named Richard.