Here are two short reviews of entertaining and entirely dissimilar takes on science.
Here Comes Science by They Might Be Giants
It’s been said a million times that They Might Be Giants has always written children’s songs for adults, so it’s no surprise that they are good at writing children’s songs for children. I don’t entirely agree with that sentiment, since some of their songs in no way speak to children’s experiences. I suggest you listen to “They’ll Need a Crane,” if you don’t concur. That song is not for children, except perhaps if you want to give a kid a musical explanation for why Daddy’s been sleeping on the couch.
It could also be said that since TMBG’s move into the world of music made deliberately for children, several of those songs could have fit perfectly well on Flood or Lincoln. Their first kids’ CD, No!, is virtually indistinguishable from a regular TMBG effort. By which I mean it is fun and very clever and makes me smile and think. My point is that if you like TMBG for adults, you’ll like their songs for kids as well, and if you don’t like them, well, some once-joyful place inside you probably died, whimpering.
Since they moved to kids music, they have made four CDs, numerous videos and podcasts and wrote the Hot Dog Song, which is the only thing on Playhouse Disney that doesn’t make me want to set fire to the city of Burbank (and really, who needs Burbank? It overflows with Burbunquity).
Their educational music, beginning with Here Come the ABCs, followed by Here Come the 123s, comes packaged as a CD/DVD combo. The videos are great. There are puppets and animated penguins and pirates and such, reminiscent of the Electric Company and Sesame Street in the days when only Big Bird could see Mr. Snuffleupagus and Elmo had not yet been released from his unholy prison at the bottom of the sea.
Also, I’m happy to say that none of their kids’ songs talk down to the audience. John Linnell and John Flansburgh, the two songwriters of They Might Be Giants, clearly expect children to be curious and intelligent.
Their most recent CD/DVD is Here Comes Science. The best thing about Here Comes Science is that, aside from all the wit and charm, it truly teaches. The science in their songs is legit and clearly and entertainingly explained. For example this lyric from “Meet the Elements”: “Balloons are full of helium / And so is every star / Stars are mostly hydrogen / which may some day fuel your car.”
It covers quite a scope of topics, from the bloodstream to the scientific method to astronomy (with two versions of “Why Does the Sun Shine?”) to evolution. Speaking of evolution, there is no question whatsoever of their stance on the ol’ mutually non-overlapping magesteria. They are firmly and blatantly on the side of science. They express this, however, in a way that, if a bit dismissive of religion, does not outright condemn it. As Professor Flans put it, the CD “freely acknowledges the Big Bang and evolution, and casually conflates angels with unicorns and elves, which might bug some anti-science, pro-angel folk.” If you, like me, are a religious person very much in favor of science, you’ll not have any trouble with this. But I do not expect to see Here Comes the Ontological Argument anytime soon.
Look Around You, Season One
Look around you. Look around you. Just look around you. Have you figured out what we’re looking for? The answer is, a DVD. Please ensure that you have your copybook at hand, as you’ll be asked to take down notes throughout this review.
Coming at long fucking last in a purchasable format to the United States, Look Around You is a British comedy series made by Peter Serafinowicz and Robert Popper, parodying old science instructional films. It’s been shown in the USA on BBC America and Adult Swim. Given Serafinowicz's well publicized stance on piracy, I don’t feel bad at all revealing that you can watch the entire series on YouTube, which I have, many times. But I’ll be first to buy the DVD, too, because it’s brilliant and I’m happy to give them money. Write that down in your copybook now.
Sometimes, parody comes near the mark and is pretty entertaining. Other times, it fails utterly, delivering unintelligent material bereft of purpose or subtlety, as with almost everything the Wayans Brothers have made since The Hollywood Shuffle. Rare is the parody that absolutely nails the subject matter and still manages to be unpredictably funny. Look Around You feels completely authentic even as it is deeply absurd. The narrator, voice actor Nigel Lambert, carries off ridiculous statements—for example that extoplasm tastes pleasantly of pig’s milk or that maths stands for “mathematical anti teleharsic harfatum septomin”—with an ease and quiet authority perfectly befitting an educational film.
Subjects covered in no particular order are: the brain, maths, iron, sulfer, germs, water, ghosts and music. Calcium was the subject of the pilot episode. I’m not sure that will be on the DVD.
Unlike Here Comes Science, Look Around You doesn’t really state a preference for religion or science. This may be due to Serafinowicz and Popper’s professed belief in Tarvuism. (Read more on that, here. It’s so easy to join!)
Season one will be available for purchase on July 20, 2010. Make a note of that in your copybook now. Season Two, inspired by Tommorow’s World (or so I’m told; I’ve never seen that show) will, I hope, follow soon after.
Now hand in your copybooks to your teacher. In the next program, we will be looking at your comments.
When Jason Henninger isn’t reading, writing, juggling, cooking or raising evil genii, he turns iron into bumcivillian and works for Living Buddhism magazine in Santa Monica, CA