It can feel a bit petty to hate some of these educational shows as much as I do. After all, Irene has just turned three (her birthday is February 3), and she knows what a trapezoid is. I’m pretty sure I didn’t, at her age. On the other hand, this is because we have watched Team Umizoomi over and over again, and I really have come to hate it in the last few weeks. Especially once I started noticing some of the recurring patterns in it—and since pattern recognition is explicitly a skill the show teaches, I think it’s okay for me to notice its own patterns.
Milli (Sophia Fox or Madeleine Yen) and Geo (Ethan Kempner or Juan Mirt) are tiny people a few inches high. They have a “best robot friend” named Bot (Donovan Patton). The three of them live in Umi City, where they go around doing all sorts of things that apparently require math and pattern recognition and shape recognition to solve. Various children around the city call them, and they do things for those children.
In really a huge percentage of those cases, though, either those kids could have or should have done the thing themselves or else there’s explicitly people whose job that is. There are several episodes where kids are trying to save up to get the thing, and Team Umizoomi bursts in and in one case takes a job driving a cab to earn money for the kid. There’s one where a park has been damaged in a storm, and either Umi City doesn’t have a parks department or else miniature children are doing the job for them before they can do it. And this isn’t “they’re there and disappointed, so they beat the employees to it.” This is “kids summon Team Umizoomi to do their bidding.”
There are also several cases where I think “the power to summon a responsible adult” would probably be a good thing. There’s one where, for reasons, they have to stop a certain egg from being destroyed by a factory. I forget why; it doesn’t really matter. But the factory is completely automated, I guess, because they can’t just find the person in charge and say, “Hey, we need the thing stopped.” So instead, they stop literally every machine in the place because they can’t just turn off the conveyor belt and get the egg they’re protecting off it.
On the one hand, by having Bot, they’ve dodged the “one girl and two boys” set that pervades children’s programming. On the other hand, there are further problems. For one thing, Bot presents as male, and I’m pretty sure uses “he/his” pronouns. So it’s still two male-identifying characters to one female-identifying character. And Geo wears roller skates while Milli wears platform shoes. Geo has the power of “super shapes,” while Milli, per the theme song, “can make any pattern with my dress.” Which comes in handy more often than you’d think, but still.
And then in some episodes, Geo gets a Shape Splitter, which is a sword. Okay, so it only cuts shapes into different shapes, but it’s still cooler than Milli’s ability to measure things using her hair. And of course Geo is blue while Milli is pink. I’d note, too, that while Bot is green, he’s also trimmed in blue and has no pink on him. Umicar is orange, and Bot also has orange on him. As does Geo, in fact. Technically, Milli can have whatever colour she wants, because patterns of all sorts reproduce themselves on her dress—but it’s usually pink flowers.
The show is made in a weird hybrid of blocky computer animation and live-action imagery. Sometimes, still pictures of things are used as backgrounds or props while having patterns of shapes superimposed on them, and it’s a little unsettling to me for reasons I’m not sure I can explain. Some other backgrounds and props are done in a slightly more realistic animation style than the characters are, and that’s a little uncomfortable to me as well.
I do get why they do all their measuring in “units,” but units are as large or small as the episode needs, and it starts bothering me after a while. And, sure, that’s probably because most of the counting on the show is only up to ten, but it still doesn’t work for me. I’m pretty sure Irene is savvy enough to work out even if they used “Umimeters” or something as their measurements, to prevent taking sides in the Imperial/metric debate.
Give credit where it’s due—the kids they have contacting Team Umizoomi do an excellent job at talking to and responding to characters who aren’t there. A few of them are a bit stiff and awkward, but by and large, they’re doing a good job. Though kids at that age often have imaginary playmates, so they talk to people who aren’t there all the time. They’re probably better at doing it than most adults.
Further in the realm of pettiness is my awareness that one of the biggest problems humans face as a species is not inability to find patterns; it’s finding patterns when they aren’t there. So while Milli may be able to use her dress to reconstruct missing pieces of a broken thing, and why not, I wonder how much this expectation that patterns are always actually there is going to influence kids like Irene when they get older. I may have some deprogramming to do on this one.