There’s a new show out there bringing some logical calm to the chaotic frenzy that is often children’s programming. The show is called Moochie Kalala Detectives Club. And its name, purposely silly, certainly isn’t the only unique thing about it.
The show is live action, set in Chicago and aims to bring STEM to elementary school students. Centered on the characters of Grandpa, his grandchildren and their father, the name of the show comes from a fictional character in Grandpa’s stories. In these tall tales, a girl named Moochie Kalala battles a Tyrannosaurus rex, gets into a contest with a chimpanzee and a gorilla, makes a deal with a space dragon and is rescued by a singing whale, among other adventures. Moochie Kalala travels time and has a wide range of roles, from Stone Age jokester to famous pop star.
Grandpa is played by Tim Kazurinsky, who is known for appearing on Saturday Night Live in the 1980s. The grandchildren, Mandy and Kyle—played by twelve-year-old Evelyn Alumbreros and eight-year-old Gregory Vasquez Alexander—are determined to discover if there is any truth behind Grandpa’s wild stories. They interview local scientists with the help of Dad, played by Michael Vincent Carrera.
The first episode premiered on PBS affiliate WTTW on January 18, 2015. Six episodes will air in the Chicago area, and from there, production team Dreaming Tree Films hopes for Detectives Club to be nationally broadcasted on other PBS stations, though the show is also currently available for purchase online.
In the season opener, Mandy and Kyle head to the Adler Planetarium to interview an astrophysicist. Throughout the six-episode season, they also explore the Museum of Science and Industry, the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Field Museum, the Robie House and the Shedd Aquarium. They meet with a physicist, primatologist, paleontologist, architect and marine animal trainer. Each episode begins with a story from Grandpa, is followed by a visit and interview, and finishes with classroom experiments for teachers to conduct with their own students.
The director of Dreaming Tree Films, Kelli Feigley, wanted to create a program that showed real kids conducting investigations to encourage children like her own—three girls ages ten and under—to become interested in STEM topics. Detectives Club is also intended to serve as a sort of vicarious visit to Chicago museums and cultural centers for children who may not have the opportunity to go themselves. This spring, the production company will also be visiting local Chicago schools to hand out free Detectives Club DVDs and engage students in science events based on the show.
A writer for the Chicago Tribune says that children’s programming is often “too frantic, jammed with characters and action and overexcited speech patterns,” “too medicinal” or forces the children who are acting “to be capital-A Adorable.” He feels Detectives Club doesn’t fall into any of these categories, and that it “strikes a nice balance between energy and information, between delivering facts and having fun with its storytelling.”
Kazurinsky backs up this analysis when he asserts, “There are certain teachers who make school interesting and a lot who don’t. The thing I like about this series is it makes learning way more interesting.”
Did You Know?
The same month that Detectives Club aired, Peggy Charren, a famed advocate for children’s educational programming, passed away. In the 1960s, while raising two children of her own, she began an organization called Action for Children’s Television (ACT). The group’s actions earned a meeting with Michael Dann, senior vice president for programming at CBS. Encouraged by ACT, Dann quit CBS, took a massive pay cut and helped pave the way for a brand-new show: Sesame Street.