Amazon's new children's series, "Gortimer Gibbon's Life on Normal Street," is a welcome reminder of how devoid of actual imagination most kids TV is. Maybe it helps that the new show, aimed at kids 6 to 11, was created by someone who is an industry outsider. The first six episodes are available now from Amazon Studios for Amazon Prime members.
There's an unabashed quaintness about "Normal Street," reminiscent of a time when kids TV was all about fun and homemade adventure. Gortimer (Sloane Morgan Siegel) is an average 13-year-old who tries to do the right things in life as he steps into adolescence, only slightly aware of what the next phase of his life will entail.
As far as he's concerned, life can stay just as it is as he pals around with his two best friends, impish Ranger (Drew Justice), who is trying to curb his use of bad language by substituting food items for swear words, and Mel (Ashley Boettcher), a super-smart junior scientist who sets too-high standards for herself.
Each episode has just a touch of fantasy about it. There are no wizardly neighbors from Waverly Place or blogging talking dogs. We also meet Stanley (David Bloom), the unluckiest kid on Normal Street, whose fate seems to be governed by a mysterious mobile housed in the public library.
Oscar winner Luke Matheny, the show's executive producer, dons his actor's hat to play Fred, a strange young man who has a magic pencil enabling him to forget anything he wants to simply by writing it down and then erasing it. Over the years, he's all but forgotten his entire life. Now, he is not only carefree, but without friends, family or much of a life at all.
There are gently instilled morals with every episode. Gortimer wants to borrow Fred's pencil so he can forget something Ranger read to him from Mel's diary, but his plan works too well and he forgets Mel altogether, causing him to realize that the value of remembering things is to learn from them. Convincing herself that coming in second in the school science fair isn't good enough, Mel builds a robot who not only becomes her new best friend but replicates the momentary competitiveness of its creator. In the end, Mel gets the best prize of all: a new real-life friend.
The show unabashedly celebrates childhood. That seems an obvious goal for a children's program, but turn on any number of shows on Disney or Nickelodeon and you'll find kids acting like miniature grown-ups.
The kids on "Normal Street" are refreshingly normal. Their idea of adventure might be a modern-day soapbox derby or building a robot for the school science fair. Is it realistic? Perhaps aspirational, but how realistic is a blogging talking dog?
The show was created by preschool teacher David Anaxagoras as the first project to be green-lit through Amazon's open-door pilot submission process. There are plenty of reasons why any parent would want to keep their kids from watching TV, but "Normal Street" isn't one of them.