'Odd Squad' from Fred Rogers Co. debuts next week

Thursday, 20 November 2014 08:58 AM Written by 


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It’s difficult to separate “Odd Squad” from its production company. Taken on its own, PBS’s “Odd Squad” (9 and 9:30 a.m. Wednesday and 7 a.m. weekdays starting Nov. 27, WQED-TV) is a terrifically quirky and engaging children’s series for ages 5-8. It manages to incorporate math in ways that support the outlandish investigations by Odd Squad, whether it’s about things that disappear in batches of four or a pizza maker who finds herself doubled. The show is not PBS-dull; it’s exuberant, creative and one of the better live-action kids’ shows since Nickelodeon’s “The Adventures of Pete & Pete” (1993-96).

But considering it’s produced in part by the South Side’s Fred Rogers Company, there’s reason to give pause: What would Fred Rogers think of a show bearing his name that’s the antithesis of the quiet, contemplative style of children’s television he exemplified? Would he admire its creativity or be outraged by its frantic excesses? No one knows but some viewers will surely draw their own conclusion.

Read more and watch a scene after the jump. ...

In the first episode when the show introduces the Mathroom, “Odd Squad” humorously plays off the notion that it sounds like “bathroom.”

“Otto, I can’t hold it anymore,” agent Olive says. “I really need to go to the Mathroom.”

Surely there will be Mister Rogers acolytes who wring their hands over “Odd Squad” but taken on its own without such comparisons and second-guessing, the series is a lot of fun.

In the premiere, Odd Squad agent Olive (Dalila Bela) and her new partner Otto (Filip Geljo) are on the case when zeroes begin to disappear. The invitation to Otto’s 10th birthday suddenly looks like an invitation to his first birthday.

That first episode, “Zero Effect,” is stuffed to the gills with special effects, more than the three stories that follow. Most of the effects are part of the introduction to Odd Squad headquarters, a “Men in Black”-style complex filled with agents bustling about while dinosaurs, swimming fish and a unicorn romp in the background. “Odd Squad” offers a visual feast.

The show is also filled with humor, some of which brings to mind the gags in “Airplane.” In “Bad Luck Bears,” which also airs Wednesday, prone-to-barking-orders boss Ms. O (Millie Davis) has a running gag involving a juice box and in the middle of an investigation shouts, “Oh no!” which viewers think is a reaction to the work at hand but then she quickly follows with, “I’m out of apple juice!” (Then she tosses the apple juice box over her shoulder, the second time she does that in the episode, which, while funny from a character standpoint, is not great modeling for kids whose parents want them to use a garbage can.)

Another story airing Wednesday, “Soundcheck,” introduces a boy band reminiscent of One Direction or ‘NSync. When one of the boys quits the band, another member says they’ll need a replacement “who can sing, knows our moves and is willing to use an uncomfortable amount of hair gel.” Otto rises to the occasion on all counts.

“Odd Squad” does not feel like educational TV, which is mostly a good thing, as the show still manages to slip in some math concepts between the hijinks. It’s a welcome, if unusual, addition to the PBS Kids lineup.


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