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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that although this series has elements of a reality show and is billed as "part reality TV," it definitely shouldn't be viewed in the same negative light as many of the reality shows currently airing. In this series, smart kids compete against each another in challenges that involve answering questions or solving problems having to do with science -- so it's educational as well as entertaining.
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What's the story?
In FETCH!, six tween contestants are given challenges and quizzes and sent on mystery assignments (similar to The Amazing Race) that test their knowledge of science as well as their determination, creativity, problem-solving skills, and ability to work as a team. Each episode follows one or more of the contestants as they try to complete their challenges as quickly as possible in order to win the maximum number of points. In one episode, for example, three of the kids team up to decipher clues -- as in a scavenger or treasure hunt -- and then head to certain locations (such as museums or libraries) to look for a display that contains information about the planets of our solar system; at each location or display, they find another clue. The contestants who aren't participating in the challenge watch the team's progress via live video, and then get quizzed regarding the information the other team learns -- this way, they, too, have a chance to rack up points. At the end of each episode, the teams are awarded points and a daily individual winner is announced; the contestant with the most points at the end of the season gets a fabulous prize.
Is it any good?
This entertaining PBS series combines the comedy of a cartoon, the challenge of a game show, and the excitement of reality TV. The star of the show is slightly high-strung but lovable cartoon canine Ruff Ruffman, who presides over the activities from his state-of-the-art "headquarters" -- aka his doghouse -- which is equipped with the high-tech FETCH 3000 computer. Ruff communicates with the contestants either by video or phone, doling out assignments, monitoring the contestants' progress, and throwing occasional twists in the works to make the assignments more challenging. Every so often, Ruff will have a minor -- and rather amusing -- nervous breakdown as he pretends he's cracking under the pressure of producing and starring in the show.
The challenges are interesting and engaging -- as well as enlightening -- and the young contestants (real kids, not actors) are bright and enthusiastic. This is no mindless reality or game show; some of the clues are quite difficult, and the kids have to use real-world science knowledge to conduct experiments and complete tasks. It's a great way to add an educational twist to the excitement and competitive aspect of a game show, and the cartoon segments featuring the funny, neurotic Ruff add a whole new wacky dimension. Fetch! is a truly original series that's great fun to watch -- especially for young viewers interested in science or anyone who loves a good scavenger hunt.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about each episode's assignment or challenge. Which of the contestants were sent on the assignment? What were some of the places they had to go? What were some of the obstacles they encountered? Which area of science was explored? How do you think the contestants did? Was there anything you would have done differently? Did you learn some things you didn't know before -- and, if so, what? Do you think you'd enjoy participating in a game like this? Why or why not?
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