Saved by the Bell, But Now What?

Girl Meets World is a Disney show that hoped to gain success by piggybacking on the previous popularity of Boy Meets World. The show attracted the usual young audience for which Disney is famous, but it also gained an audience for which it was not fully prepared: the former (and much older) viewers of Boy Meets World. This phenomenon begs the questions: Why are adults returning to children’s programming? Just what are they looking for?

One would think they’re searching for that feeling of innocence, even naivety, they possessed when they were younger. If you have ever seen Shrek as an adult, you know that watching your favorite children’s media too late in life can destroy whatever innocence you have left. Adults write children’s media, and adults can only spit rainbows and sunshine for so long. Inevitably, a double entendre will slip, and you will question just what Kool-Aid you were drinking as a kid.

Nostalgia is the obvious reason to return to children’s programming, but nostalgia for what? Wholesome family values? Since when has America ever really been a wholesome family? America is constantly in a state of division: class, race, peace and war, Apple or Android, Yankees versus Red Sox (or, now, Cubs versus Indians). When we get over one thing, we find something new to fight about. Yearning for “the good ol’ days” harks back to a golden age that simply didn’t exist.

I think, in many cases, people long for the time when it was okay to admit that they were clueless. Children’s television is all about discovering your identity and learning about how you relate to the world around you; there’s none of the pressure of pretending you already understand how a bill becomes a law, because the bill will SING it to you. And even as shows such as Steven Universe and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic have become aware of their audiences’ shifts to the more mature, the themes have remained focused on just figuring life out.

Many are taking a new perspective on this nostalgia by animating shows for adult audiences. Social and political commentary is being wrapped in the same packages that teach kids their ABCs. Shows like Family Guy, Archer, and South Park use comedy and satire to criticize ideas that adults use to make big decisions. Audiences are squeezing back into the playpen to find joy in admitting that sometimes they just don’t know what’s going on.

Increasingly, children’s media, such as television shows and movies, are being marketed as “fun for the whole family.” As a self-respecting teenager, I used to scoff at such a claim. But now, as an adult facing some tough life decisions, I can admit that I need a little help figuring it all out—and Ms. Frizzle almost certainly has just the advice I’m looking for.

This article was written by Nicole Kiser. Click here to see more of Nicole’s work.