Picks and Pans Review: Skinnamarink Tv

updated 01/12/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/12/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

The Learning Channel (Mondays-Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. ET)

Grades: Bear, A; Skinnamarink, A-

The magic needed to charm a preschooler is hard to define, harder to capture. But these shows have displayed it consistently since premiering in the fall.

Created by Mitchell Kriegman (Clarissa Explains It All) and produced by Jim Henson Television (run by the late Muppet creator's son Brian), Bear in the Big Blue House stars a sociable, orange-furred 7-footer of the ursine persuasion whose grace belies his bulk (he cha-chas like a dream). Bear and Tutter, a slightly hyper mouse (pet interjection: "Oh, hickory-dickory!"), share a commodious, comfortable home, where they regularly entertain Treelo the lemur, Pip and Pop the otters and a little bear named Ojo. The puppetry is enormously clever, the production design is practically perfect (what could be more inviting than the soft colors and soft pillows of Bear's living room?), the songs are catchy and not syrupy, and the day's lesson (from the principle of sharing to the law of gravity) is subtly reinforced in Bear's concluding talk with Luna, the womanly moon. The thing is, we never like to leave. Does Bear have a spare room?

Skinnamarink TV is not as imaginative as Bear, but it's bright, breezy and fun. The series features Sharon, Lois & Bram, the Toronto-based songsters formerly seen on Nickelodeon's Elephant Show, in a half-hour package of gentle TV parodies that might be viewed as a kids' version of that north-of-the-border classic SCTV. The spoofs of game shows, sitcoms and such may not reach the level of adult-pleasing humor found on Sesame Street, but the format allows lots of time for Sharon (Hampson), Lois (Lilienstein) and Bram (Morrison) to do what they do best: perform old songs with affection and infectious enthusiasm. They also interact amusingly with two human-size animal characters, cheeky C.C. CopyCat and Ella Acapella, a sweet young pachyderm.

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