There are so many adjectives I can apply to Gortimer Gibbon's Life on Normal Street: funny, refreshing, charming, winning, moving, sweet... My list could go on and on. My oldest child is eleven, my youngest six, so it can be difficult for us to find entertainment that satisfies my husband and I, and the kids at the same time. After experiencing many, many years of "children's" entertainment, I can say it's a rare experience for me to find something that I enjoy as much as--if not more--than my kids. Most kids' entertainment is insipid at best, and while we have found a few gems here and there, they're rare, lost in a sea of sub-par offerings that adults have to suffer through. Gortimer Gibbon's is part of that rare breed, a show that appeals to every member of the family.
Each episode centers around a "message of the day" situation, but don't let that fool you. This show is anything but preachy, and it takes its characters' concerns very seriously, tackling plenty of difficult issues in a way that's accessible to kids. Over the season, the show has explored everything from the desire to win at all cost and its consequences to trying to force a loved one to be someone they're not. The characters learn important life lessons in each episode, and they provide a really great jumping off point for discussion with the kids. What's particularly clever about it, in my opinion, is that instead of coming off as after school special-ish, the show uses magical realism as a device, thus enabling it to handle sophisticated issues in a way that's whimsical and thought-provoking. Just to give a few examples, in one episode a character has a magic pencil whose eraser allows him to write down the things he wants to forget and then erase them from his memory as he erases them from the paper. In another episode, a girl who's an introvert is invisible, only appearing when she feels comfortable and securely removed from the spotlight. Another stellar episode deals with being consumed by a desire to win through use of a robot who becomes far too ruthless for its inventor's comfort.
The main cast consists of the rather serious and somewhat troubled Gortimer, whose parents have recently gone through a divorce. He's a good kid, but he has a lot of feelings he isn't sure what to do with, and the show explores that theme throughout the season. Gortimer is a very sympathetic character, a kid trying to figure out his place in the world as he transitions from being a kid to being a teenager (all of the characters start the season at around twelve, with Gortimer turning thirteen in the finale). His best friends are Ranger, a kind of goofy kid who's obsessed with ninjas, and who learns a hard lesson about what happens if you let others take the fall for your mistakes. Ranger is a real winner, using food expression such as "pasta fagioli!" in his quest to avoid using nasty language. He's that somewhat oddball kid who makes life interesting. Rounding the cast out is Mel, a smart, science-loving girl who sometimes lets her ambition get the best of her. The three characters compliment one another very well, and their friendship is eminently believable. They don't always get along, and the finale in particular deals with what happens when friendship is really put to the test.
One thing that show does so, so, so right is it allows its kid characters to be kids. It always takes them seriously, but they behave the way kids do. Their train of thought it sometimes wild, but they are also capable of a lot of wisdom and introspection. Throughout the season, the show presents a variety of other kids, and all of them bring something to the show. Better yet, they aren't just episode-of-the-week characters, and they turn up in later episodes to make further significant contributions. Mel is especially welcome to me, after enduring years of glossily made up and fussily dressed girl-women on other shows. She's too busy doing science to have time for mooning over boys, and it's clear she has goals and ambitions in life, something that's not always clear in other shows targeted at the tween market, in which the girl characters often obsess over boys to the exclusion of all else. Mel is a whole person, and it's more than a little sad that this is a very significant statement about her character. That's not a critique of the show at all; instead, what I mean is to point out that this show does what few others do: it treats its female characters the same way it treats its male characters.
Adults don't factor into the show a great deal, but they are present, and they're important players in the kids' lives, which is nice. The kids don't see them as adversaries, and they turn to their parents and other adults when they have questions or worries, as well as relying on one another. The adults, while not getting a ton of screen time (understandable, given that this is a show about young characters, after all), also feel like fully-formed characters. As I mentioned before, Gortimer's family situation is a bit delicate, and it's further complicated by the fact that his epidemiologist father is often away in far-flung corners of the world, something the show directly deals with later in the season. I found its portrayal of these complications very sensitive and well-done, and I speak from personal experience, as one of my children is from a previous marriage. Gortimer's mom in particular is a very good character, not just there to be a token mom, and one episode even deals with one of her childhood fears in a very good example of how sometimes even adults need to face their fears and learn how to triumph over them.
I really can't say enough good things about this show, but I think what sums up my experience perfectly is this: I am very sorry that we've already watched every episode. I understand that season two is in the works, and the whole family is looking very forward to more of life on Normal Street!