Educational

Ask ten people to name an educational TV show, and chances are good at least nine of them will say, “Sesame Street.”

Fifty plus years of embedding itself in the American consciousness accounts for much of its dominance, but it does mean that other worthy shows get short shrift.

And not just American shows (you knew this was where I was going, right? Anime non-fans can tune out now.)

Allow me to redress the balance slightly by introducing you to Hataraku Saibou, better known in the US as Cells at Work.

The concept is simple: present information about the human immune system by anthropomophizing the types of cells in the body*. We follow them around in their daily lives and see how they interact. Occasional popup messages on screen give details that can’t be directly animated. Our main focus is on a red blood cell, tasked with delivering oxygen throughout the body and returning carbon dioxide to the lungs.

* Though it does raise some disturbing questions about whether the components of a cell should be seen as characters in their own right. Anyone up for a “Mitochondria at Work” spinoff?

Blood vessels are depicted as streets of various sizes: main arteries are wide roads, capillaries are alleys that Red Blood Cell has to squeeze through sideways. Platelets are depicted as small children, white blood cells of various types have pale skin and generally dress in all-white clothing–a less than logical choice considering their primary responsibility is the bloody dismemberment of invading bacteria.

What makes the show work is that it’s not a simple travelogue: Red Blood Cell visits a new organ, bacteria attacks and is repelled, end of episode.

Instead, the characters interact in ways that mirror actual body functions. We see, for example, that red blood cells are born in the bone marrow, grow up in groups, and are released into the blood stream to do their work.

The relationship between Red Blood Cell and White Blood Cell* is obviously one of mutual love, but the writers spare us any hint of romance. Cells don’t leave love letters in school lockers, fantasize about happy married lives, obsess over breast size and/or inappropriately fondle one another.

* All the cells have distinguishing numbers, typically displayed somewhere on their uniforms, but they’re rarely used in conversation.

The result is a show that stands on its own as entertainment, but still delivers a healthy dose (sorry) of education in each episode.

Check out an episode or two on Crunchyroll (see the link above). You’ll look at your next bout of the flu very differently.

More TV Talk

I seem to have survived the holiday season, something I wasn’t sure I’d be willing to make bets on along about December 26.

While survival is gratifying, I am still playing catch up on many of the things I normally do on a more-or-less daily basis. Little things like reading the newspaper and checking on my online news feeds, taking pictures of the cats, and, yeah, watching TV.

Worst Cooks, for example. We managed to watch the first episode of the new season, and it was great fun. Alton’s slightly sadistic sense of humor was exactly the goose the show’s format needed. Telling a competitor “I’m confident this won’t be the worst thing I eat today,” is a great change from the usual focus on the good and bad points of each dish. Sometimes the contestants need a reminder that they’re competing against the members of their own team as well as the other team.

And forcing them to use pressure cookers in the first challenge? Evil genius!

I remain optimistic for this season.

On the other hand, I haven’t gotten to the first episode of the new Kids Baking Championship. As far as I know, there are no changes to the show this season–certainly nothing on the level of a new host–but that’s fine. The current format hasn’t gotten stale, so the show remains on my to-be-watched list.

Doctor Who is still on our schedule, too. We caught the first episode of the new season, only five days late. Naturally, it had to be a cliff-hanger episode, leaving us looking for a timeslot for the second episode. We’ll get there.

I continue to approve of Jodie Whittaker’s take on the Doctor and roll my eyes at the brigades of haters who believe the inclusion of anyone other than straight, white males in the show ruins their childhood.

How can a change now ruin something that happened twenty years ago? Or even just three? Sure, it’s a show about time travel–among other things–but nobody’s editing those episodes they remember fondly.

And if they honestly think Jodie’s Doctor is wildly different than earlier versions, they’re remembering those episodes poorly. “Spyfall, Part One” gave us classic Doctor. The whole business of her reminding her companions about “Rule One” before totally ignoring her own advice could have come straight out of almost any Doctor’s playbook, right back to William Hartnell in 1963.

And one of the key complaints they have about Whittaker’s Doctor, the one that poo-poos her emotional relationship with her companions, is utter hogwash as well. Every Doctor since the 2005 revival has been tightly tied to at least one companion.

Since the reboot, the Doctor has explicitly been written as an outsider looking in. Admiring humanity and wanting to be close to it, but unable to take that last step. Look at the Doctor’s relationships with Rose Tyler, Amy Pond, and Bill Potts. By comparison, Jodie’s attempts to including herself in with her “fam” are weak sauce–or, more accurately, slightly-used dishwater. (I’m looking forward to the inevitable point where the current companions start to leave her. From a writer’s perspective, the way the breakups are handled and whether we’ll get a series with only temporary companions will be fascinating.)

But enough ranting*.

* Okay, a little more. I’m well aware of the complaints about lack of LGBT+ representation and ageism. The difference between the complainers I’m bitching about up above and these is that the former group are looking backward, trying to force a reversion to a show that never was and wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as what we got. The latter group is looking forward, trying to make the show we have better and more in tune with the real world.

One group points to lower ratings and says, “Ha-ha! You’re getting what you deserve! I hope you get canceled soon!” The other group points to lower ratings and says, “Hey, fix this problem and the ratings will go back up, because I and my friends will start watching again.”

I know where my sympathies lie.

Rant over, now for sure.

And, to wrap this up on a good note (pun intended), “Spyfall, Part One” gave us one of the best musical bits in recent Doctor Who memory. Give another listen to the background music at the beginning of the “Going to the Party” scene and tell me it isn’t a dead ringer for every James Bond theme you’ve never heard.

I appreciate a show with a sense of humor.