Potatoes in Disguise: Why Kids Incorporated is both good and good for you
By Dawne Monigle

     About six episodes into the series, Kids Incorporated becomes less after-school special and more creative writing project. The show does do a fairly good job of uniting fantasy with reality – when it wants to. A lot of kids’ shows tend to make everything “all a dream” because it’s quick and tidy and can’t be argued against since dreams don’t adhere to real-world standards. A show with the lofty goal of promoting upstanding values has a very big spoon to fill, and needs to go to great depths to find enough sugar. Here, most everything is prearranged so that it is reality, or a logical conclusion to be jumped to. A historically popular malt shop, situated next to a nightclub, would most likely attract celebrities. Foreign embassies usually are in bigger cities (notice there is no grass, and the school has a number, not a name). Were these stretches? Possibly. But as kids, we needed some stretching to warm up before starting our strenuous adult lives.

      But the crucial thing about fantasy versus reality, which Kids Inc. was fairly unique in acknowledging, is that one does not have to live exclusively in either realm. Children have sizable imaginations; they know how to stretch that tenuous border between the two without actually breaking it. What’s important is not dissolving fantasy, but knowing when and where to use it. Fantasy is a safe place, a place where you are free to try things not possible in real life. Yes, there are leprechauns, aliens, and wisecracking bicycles. But - and this is often overlooked in the show’s critiques - there are also skeptical adults. Reality is not lost in the shuffle. Both rival factions are given equal footing while the show remains impartial. Maybe that kid from another planet really was just pretending. The bicycle didn’t actually talk. But...what if it did? Nothing is actually decided in just 22 minutes. This is what, I believe, kept the show in the hearts of its teen and preteen audience, who were also straddling the dividing line between child and adult, buckling under the pressure to choose a side. This show hasn’t. You don’t always have to substitute grilled vegetables for your French fries. Guess what? They are secretly potatoes in disguise. Slip them into the menu and no one is the wiser.

      Admittedly, most fries are pretty greasy. It’s becoming less possible to integrate pop culture into kids’ shows without also upping the maturity level. This isn’t something that can be accommodated for by watering down Top 40 tunes and animating attitudes. Green and purple ketchup seems appealing at first, but all that food coloring leaves a bad taste in your mouth after a while. Equally as important as hanging on to your imagination is the necessity to temper it with realism.