It’s a banner month for quirky, live-action kids’ shows. On Friday streaming service Amazon Prime Instant Video debuts “Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street” and Wednesday at 9 a.m. PBS debuts “Odd Squad,” a live-action series produced in part by The Fred Rogers Company of the South Side. (The first episode of "Gortimer" is streaming for free and does not require a Prime membership.)
In an age when so many live-action shows aimed at kids in the 6-11ish age range are relationship-based sitcoms (think: “Girl Meets World” and just about any other tween show on Disney Channel or Nickelodeon), both “Odd Squad” and “Gortimer” are more driven by creative plots about weird goings-on.
“Odd Squad” is educational with some math concepts snuck in but “Gortimer” is just for fun. (Perhaps, oddly, considering the channels they air on, fast-moving “Odd Squad” reminds me more of “The Adventures of Pete & Pete” while “Gortimer” is more leisurely in its pace.)
Created by pre-school teacher and first-time writer David Anaxagoras, Amazon’s series follows Gortimer (Sloane Morgan Siegel) and his friends Mel (Ashley Boettcher) and Ranger (Drew Justice) as they get involved in weird mysteries that happen on their anything-but-normal block. Parents are glimpsed occasionally – Robyn Lively (“Savannah”) is a series regular playing Gortimer’s mom; Paula Marshall (“Cupid”) pops up as Mel’s mom in another episode – but the focus is on the kids and their “Eerie, Indiana”-style adventures.
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In the first episode, the gang investigates what lurks under the home of Miss Hudspith (guest star Fionnula Flanagan). In another episode, loyal, helpful Gortimer tries to absolve a neighbor kid of bad luck. And in a third Mel learns winning is not everything at a science fair.
For kids TV, “Gortimer” is an unusually quiet show. Strange things happen but without a lot of (literal or figurative) bells and whistles. There’s calmness to the show. Even when investigating things that could be spooky, “Gortimer” was never scary in the three episodes I watched with my sometimes-scared-by-“Super Why!” 4-year-old son. But he never got bored, either.
There’s a wealth of programming aimed at children on TV these days but “Gortimer” is the rare series that’s creative, occasionally funny and engaging in its own subdued manner.