My daughter's allowed one cartoon, maybe once a day, usually less. It's 20 minutes, and has no commercial interruptions* at all. It's not Gabba Gabba Hey, although that sounds cool, but GGH comes on at 11 am or so, and my kid is a kid who goes outside on adventures after 10 am, and doesn't come back until 4 or so, as long as the temps are above freezing. Says I, Dad.
The Backyardiganscame highly recommended, and I was impressed with its lack of stupid kid-friendly tropes, as well as its seamlessly integrated educational aspects. Once I got past the digital animation -- while cool, I'm still a purist -- I approved moreso, since each daily plot subverts the idea of television: four to five characters leave their houses to imagine a different crazy adventure.
The music, though, sold me for good: watch an episode, and then you can't go back to the hack electro trappings of Dora etc. I wasn't surprised to see the music is all done by Evan Lurie, pianist and soundtrack composer and former Lounge Lizard, brother of John Lurie. Unless I have the wrong Evan Lurie.
But I doubt it. An episode imagining a search for a hidden surfing beach features afro-pop music ("Cruise cruise, cruising the dunes" with horns and a complex beat), beautifully played and sung, with melodies far above what a children's show deserves, equal to the true compositions that graced sesame street in it's heyday. An episode about out space police and rogue robots? Bluegrass. An episode about secret agents in a museum? Cuban son.
*unlike Dora, or anything else
So of course I went back and dug up my Lounge Lizards cds and vinyl. I'm not including the vinyl, which is mostly their early, Arto Lindsay-involved jazz-skronk. And not all of this involves Evan, maybe only the No Pain For Cakes and Voice of Chunk albums, but those are the best. I've added, for fun, some Lurie soundtrack music (Manny and Lo and African Swim) and notably music from John Lurie's magnificent Fishing with John TV series, these tracks below including music from the episode where he takes an uncomfortable but hilarious Tom Waits fishing in Puerto Rico, I believe. Waits puts a fish down his pants. "River of Men" and "World of Adventure" feature real audio of Waits singing in a rowboat. "Shark Drive" is an in-studio track for an episode where Lurie takes an even more uncomfortable Jim Jarmusch shark fishing off Montauk.