A couple of months ago, I was browsing through a copy of a parenting magazine when I stumbled across an article about a soon-to-premier cartoon called Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. Now, at only six months old, my daughter was nowhere near ready to start watching television, but this sounded like a really cute show - and it was the premier episode, so I decided to tune in and see what it was all about. After all, so many cartoons these days have a certain amount of adult appeal, I may actually enjoy it - and I'd definitely want to know what it was like before eventually letting my child watch as well.
Two months later, I've watched a half dozen or so episodes of the show. Will I watch more? Probably. After all, I am still a kid at heart and find most bits of the cartoon humorous. But will I let my little girl watch, if it's even still around when she's old enough? Maybe, or maybe not. I'm still undecided and I dare say most parents would struggle a bit with this particular show. Why, you ask? Read on...
~* What's Going On Here? *~
In case you're in a hurry (say, the show starts in five minutes and you're still undecided), here's the short description, taken from the show's official website:
"From the mind of Craig McCracken, creator of The Powerpuff Girls, comes a world where imaginary friends become real the instant a kid thinks them up. Everyone can see them, everyone can talk to them - but sometimes, not everyone wants them. Luckily, they're always welcome at Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, where they can stay until a new kid adopts them. For 8-year-old Mac, whose mom thinks he's too old for his imaginary friend, Blooregard Q. Kazoo, Foster's is the only place to see his best friend every day and meet a whole new group of friends unlike any he (or anyone) has ever known."
True...sort of. In the pilot episode, viewers meet Mac, a somewhat shy 8-year-old with an outrageous imaginary friend named (as stated) Blooregard Q. Kazoo, but better known as Bloo. Appropriately, Bloo is blue, and very little but blue. He is a short blue column with eyes and a mouth - a mouth which, it seems, is always open. Bloo is more than a little mischievous by nature, and is constantly causing trouble, which is the main reason why Mac's mom insists that Bloo leaves their home (rather than because Mac is "too old for his imaginary friend" as the prior description claims.) Add to the equation Mac's torturous and pimply older brother, Terrence, who lives to get Mac and Bloo into trouble, and you had one unhappy household in the beginning.
When Mac and Bloo saw a commercial for Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, a haven for outgrown childhood friends, Bloo thinks it sounds like a luxurious vacation, and for Mac, it seems to be the answer to his dilemma. Upon arriving, however, he learns that friends left at Foster's are considered abandoned and are available for re-adoption by another child at any time. Drama ensues, and Mac and Bloo become the only exception to that rule. Bloo is welcomed as the newest resident at Foster's, and Mac is allowed to visit Bloo every afternoon.
~* Who's That? *~
Of course, the characters don't end with Mac and Bloo. A few other important members of the Foster's household are...
Mr. Herriman. A tall gray bunny dressed in waistcoat, vest, bow tie, top hat and monocle, Mr. Herriman is the 'boss' at Foster's, making the rules and overseeing adoptions. As prim and proper as a rabbit can be, Mr. Herriman hops around Foster's barking orders in an English accent and seems practically unshakable (until you learn later that he's terrified of dogs. After all, "dogs eat rabbits!")
Mrs. Foster. Although very, very old, Mrs. Foster does still live in the house and makes an occasional appearance. A tiny woman with small glasses and a giant bun perched atop her head, it was Mrs. Foster who imagined and brought to life Mr. Herriman - and never outgrew her childhood companion. It was because of their friendship that she founded Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends.
Frankie. Perky, red ponytailed Frankie is Mrs. Foster's granddaughter. Although she doesn't seem to have an imaginary friend of her own, she is the only obvious employee at Foster's, running all the errands and keeping the residents in line. Often frazzled and irritated by Mr. Herriman, Frankie still manages to be friend to all.
Coco. A somewhat insane cuckoo bird with colorful plumage and a crooked beak, Coco's only spoken word is "coco". She frequently lays brightly colored plastic eggs containing random objects - sometimes helpful, sometimes horrible, and sometimes just plain weird. While she is frequently difficult to understand, she is a friendly bird and in times of need has been known to 'mother' the other residents of Foster's.
Wilt. First of all, Wilt is TALL and red, with uneven eyes and long, dangling limbs - except for his left arm, which is mostly missing. Dressed in basketball attire down to his huge sneakers, Wilt is perpetually cheerful and ever the optimist.
Eduardo. Ed is hands down the scariest looking monster at Foster's - huge, furry and purple with scary horns, sharp teeth and a daunting skeleton belt buckle, Eduardo looks like a nightmare rather than a friend. But this Spanish-speaking friend is afraid of nearly everything - including children, which is why he fears he'll never be adopted. Once entrusted by this big teddy bear, though, Ed is as loyal as they come (and he's my personal favorite!)
~* What's Not to Love? *~
Overall, Foster's is a pretty good show - which is to say that it's good but nothing spectacular. Often humorous with interesting thirty-minute story lines and lovable characters, it lacks the fresh wit of more adult-oriented cartoons, making it only so-so grown-up fare. But what about children?
Younger children, I'm sure, couldn't fully appreciate the idea of a boy and his imaginary friend - after all, their own imaginary friends would still be very much 'real' to them! And older children, while possibly able to relate to Mac's difficulties in growing up (and dealing with that wretched older brother), may pick up on a few of the show's less-than-redeeming qualities. Oh heck, I'll just say it - Bloo is not a great role model.
Even though he is one of the two main characters, Bloo is loud and outspoken, selfish, greedy, and (more often than not) just plain not nice. He's not a bad guy, exactly, just very bad mannered with no social skills. He very rarely faces consequences for his words or actions, and the other imaginary friends (as well as his buddy Mac) seem to just accept his temperament and overlook his bad behavior. Now, I'm in no way going to limit my little girl to G-rated movies until she goes off to college, but I have to stop and wonder...would she think it's okay to behave that way because Bloo does? After all, no one ever reprimands Bloo!
Also unlike more educational children's programming, there is seldom a message or moral to be learned from this show - it's just a cartoon. True, the underlying theme of the entire series is friendship, but that's all that a child can glean from this cartoon - if they're mature enough to pick it out of the rest of the antics.
Upon browsing the show's website, I noticed a link entitled 'Parent Guide' at the bottom of the page, only to find that the link didn't lead anywhere. I'd be interested to hear just what Cartoon Network finds redeeming about Bloo and company...
~* Overall *~
As I mentioned before, it's each parent's decision whether or not Foster's is an appropriate program for his or her child - and of course, that extends to everything on television. I would encourage parents to check this one out themselves before allowing children to watch; while some parents would find no harm whatsoever in the material, others may be offended by attitudes represented by the characters.
As for me, I'll just take advantage of the few years I have left to make up my mind...
~* See For Yourself! *~
Foster's currently airs on Cartoon Network every Friday evening at 7:00 PM and 10:30 PM.
For clips from the show, games and graphics, visit the official website at http://www.cartoonnetwork.com/tv_shows/fosters/index.html .
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Type of Program: Cartoon or Animated
Program Quality: Entertaining, but not intellectually or emotionally engaging
Best Suited For: Kids to Teens