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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Electric Company is a classic '70s educational show that's still a lot of fun, if a bit dated. For instance, some of the words that kids are taught (like "reducing exercises") don't really translate today. And in our PC culture, the word "gag" -- while admittedly chock-full of "g" sounds, feels like an odd one to use (accompanied by a human demonstration no less) in this context. It's also worth noting that the show doesn't transfer very well, digitially, to today's HD TVs. Dramatic effects created by having actors work in front of a black screen become fuzzy and hard to watch, as do many of the show's signature "electric" word bursts. If you have an old TV hooked up to a DVD player, that's the way to go.
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What's the story?
Available on DVD (and in occasional "best of" bursts on PBS), the original ELECTRIC COMPANY is the perfect TV night for a family with young kids. There's the nostalgia factor for parents (you'll marvel at how young Rita Moreno, and Morgan Freeman look), plus plenty of education and entertainment for kids. Each half-hour episode includes live-action skits alternating with animated word features, cartoon shorts, and occasional songs sung by a small squad of refreshingly non-glam preteens. It all has one goal: Teaching kids how to read. Not educating them about reading or expanding their vocabulary, but actually teaching reading.
Is it any good?
This show has, for the most part, withstood -- or maybe just transcended -- the test of time. You'll like watching The Electric Company again, and, even better, your kids will like it, too -- and suddenly you'll realize just how much actual learning got packed into each half hour. The "educational" part of this show isn't buried in plot or hidden in attempts to read a map or figure out clues: It's right out there in the open. The very dominance of the reading motif allows viewers to accept that and get lost in it, just as we can get lost in nearly any subject in front of a really good teacher.
The show's groovy rhythms, jive clothes, and '70s hairstyles carry an almost hip-hop vibe, and the multicultural cast just feels familiar. The backdrops and effects are pretty dated, and some of the props -- the typewriter, the cigar, the ice cream cart -- almost require explanation, but most of the show remains enjoyable even beyond the first hit of nostalgia. And watching your 4-year-old join in the soft-shoe patter of "C-AT, CAT"? Priceless.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how The Electric Company compares to today's educational shows. What's similar? What's different? Is this show still fun to watch even though it's decades old?
Parents, if this is one you watched in your own childhood, tell your kids what you remember most, and ask them what stood out to them. You can also ask older kids whether their teachers use any of the show's reading techniques at school -- and then ask them if they think that teacher might have watched the show as a kid (their mind may just boggle at the thought).
- Premiere date: October 25, 1971
- Cast: Bill Cosby, Morgan Freeman, Rita Moreno
- Network: PBS
- Genre: Educational
- Topics: Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, Numbers and Letters
- Character strengths: Curiosity
- TV rating: TV-Y
- Available on: DVD, Streaming
- Last updated: April 21, 2021
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