The golden age of television for adults might be ending, but what about kids’ TV shows? There are more kids’ shows than ever, which begs the question: what are kids actually watching? The most popular kids’ shows aren’t necessarily the best kids shows (i.e. what parents would like their kids to watch), but they’re the ones kids are watching, for better or worse.
Why certain kids shows are popular and why some aren’t is a strange thing. But we know once a kids show becomes popular, there’s not much parents can do to fight it. A popular kids show is like a Taylor Swift song: It will find you even if you don’t seek it out. So while we don’t think PAW Patrol is good, PAW Patrol did make this list.
Entering its third decade, the nautical nonsense of this show is as popular as ever. Multiple generations of kids have now grown up with the silly tales of a sea sponge who works as a fry cook, and they’re better for it.
This Cartoon Network stalwart has been hanging around on lists like this for a long time. You probably haven’t really thought about it too much, but because the series is about a guy who hangs out with talking crystal gems who shape-shift, the show has sort of limitless potential to make all kinds of kids happy. Don’t call it a gem just because there are talking gems, but … oh … well … you get it.
Peppa Pig might present terrible parental stereotypes (Daddy Pig is pretty much a full-on idiot) but, overall, the show isn’t negative. For the most part, Peppa herself is an upbeat character who doesn’t really let shit get her down. Her little brother George wines a lot, but it’s not that bad. Sometimes, occasionally, the dry British wit works. (Pro tip: Try to pretend like the narrator is Michael Caine. It makes the whole thing way better.)
Pete the Cat
Every day is an adventure for Pete the Cat, and each episode documents a journey of self-discovery. It’s also the only kids’ TV show with original music from Diana Krall and Elvis freakin’ Costello, who also star as Pete’s parents. Again. The music does not suck. This is rare for kids’ shows. The TV show is based on a series of children’s picture books of the same name, but honestly, the books have nothing in common with the show. Funny thing: Children don’t seem to mind the canonical inconsistency between the books and the show; they seem to like both!
A group of super talented canines running around Canada solving problems? What’s not to like? A lot actually. That’s not the point. The faster you make peace with this show, the better.
It’s weird to think of Daniel Tiger as a Mr. Rogers Neighborhood spin-off because the show has carved out its own identity in the past eight years. It’s still a worthy bearer of Fred Rogers’s legacy, with the denizens of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe taking part in stories that teach life lessons. It’s also more bearable if you imagine that it all takes place in the Matrix.
Sesame Street may have sold its soul to HBO and Apple TV+, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still love Big Bird. Even if the show isn’t quite like what it was — and has waaaay too much Elmo — that doesn’t mean it’s not still sweet. This one, you can sit through, and yes, children still like muppets as much as you did.
There’s not enough stop motion animation out there, which is why this Amazon Video title is such a welcome presence. It features a blue fox and his caterpillar friend teaching basic science concepts to kids in the grand tradition of Magic School Bus and 321 Contact. Also, unlike a lot of kids TV characters, Fig and Maple don’t complain constantly, but instead, say “Let me figure this out.” It’s impossible to always turn a bendy straw into a means of transportation via swamp bubbles, but hey, this isn’t the worst way to think about the world.