Learning to Love Purple Dinosaurs, Meddlesome Monkeys and … Caillou

BarneyI review films for a living, so the very last thing I want to do is watch children’s television shows in my spare time.

It’s bad enough I already have to endure “Saw” sequels and movies based on board games.

So how have I come to embrace the sight of Barney, arguably the least convincing dinosaur since “Land of the Lost” went off the air? It’s simple. Roughly two years ago, Barney coaxed my son Elijah to dance. Yes, it made Elaine’s routine on that classic “Seinfeld” episode look like Fred Astaire by comparison, but his clumsy steps sent my heart soaring all the same.

My relationship with Barney (lest we forget Baby Bop and B.J.) changed that day.

Now, I’ve come to accept Barney and other children’s television shows as a necessary part of our lives. Elijah has moved on to other animated pals, but our nearly two-year-old son Benjamin is a recent Barney convert.

We also spend time with Curious George and Caillou, the latter a lad who always appears to be mid-, post- or pre-whine.

Of course, it’s easy to say any TV program that gives a father a 30-minute window of freedom is a gift from above. That’s true, but I’ve learned to squeeze some pleasure out of potentially painful kiddie programming.

For example, it’s heartening to hear the fine character actor William H. Macy (“The Sessions”) supplying the narration for some “Curious George” installments. The show’s animation also is quite smooth compared to other cartoon options – have y0u seen “Transformers” recently? Ugh. And the gentleman who provides George’s unique voice is the maestro behind Scooby-Doo and countless other animated creations, Frank Welker.

As for “Barney,” I chase my boredom away by trying to spot the least gifted child actor in a current episode. Sometimes it takes nearly the entire 30-minute running time to make the right choice, but that makes the game even more challenging. Then, I wonder if any of the older actors on set ever aspired to play Broadway at one point in their lives.

That sounds cynical even to me, and it is.

Frankly, the cast of “Barney” supplies a wonderful service to dads everywhere, something the talented performers of the Great White Way can’t necessarily claim.

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