PBS’ _City Island_ teaches civics with short-form cartoons

On Metropolis Island, all the pieces is alive, from the girders on a newly constructed constructing to the snowplow cleansing up the streets. Sleepy-eyed markers wander previous speaking homes, whereas a little bit know-it-all lightbulb named Watt debates his greatest pal, a kite named Windy whose tassel pigtails blow within the breeze.

It’s a wondrous place the place each bit of the neighborhood just isn’t solely sentient, but additionally considerate. Everybody works collectively to make their neighborhood the absolute best place to reside, whether or not that’s by the launch of a brand new communal backyard or a reminder that an entire lot of individuals — or speaking objects, on this case — should work collectively to assemble only one constructing.

Charmingly crafted and created by animator Aaron Augenblick (Surprise Showzen, Ugly People), Metropolis Island was impressed by Augenblick’s love of the wacko worlds dropped at life in exhibits like Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and outdated Betty Boop cartoons with speaking home windows and taxi cabs. It was additionally impressed by Sesame Avenue, which emitted a way of joyful neighborhood that Augenblick glommed onto as a toddler.


“I created Metropolis Island partially as an homage to Sesame Avenue as a result of I’ve all the time preferred the concept, in any episode, youngsters can … meet all these completely different folks in a location that’s pleasant, inviting, and looks as if it will be actually enjoyable to hang around in,” Augenblick stated.

These Sesame Avenue vibes are a part of what landed Metropolis Island at PBS Youngsters. Geared toward elementary faculty youngsters, the short-form present debuted in December as interstitial content material, airing between episodes of long-form applications. With new shorts that arrived Monday, the collection has now delivered 20 three-minute episodes.

The collection is undoubtedly contemporary and distinct, and its temporary runtime is a comparatively new format for PBS Youngsters. Tommy Gillespie, senior director of present collection, stated the community sees “plenty of alternatives” within the short-form house, together with an opportunity to show subjects which may not work in addition to what he calls “a standard bread-and-butter half-hour collection.”

Serving to youngsters perceive their communities

Like Sesame Avenue, Metropolis Island pays tribute not simply to New York Metropolis however to all of the completely different sorts of people that make up its neighborhoods, Gillespie says. “I believe that’s one thing that’s going to resonate with youngsters whether or not they reside in a metropolis or in a extra rural or suburban atmosphere,” he stated. “The present captures neighborhood so nicely, and that’s one thing that we actually responded to after we had been engaged on it.”

Augenblick all the time envisioned Metropolis Island as instructional. However when he first introduced it to PBS Youngsters, it was a present about problem-solving — therefore the little lightbulb with huge concepts. As soon as he began working with the PBS Youngsters crew, they realized the present could be match for the community’s push towards elevated civics consciousness for teenagers.

“Youngsters this age are starting to grasp their place on the planet, their place locally, and have a number of questions on ‘The place do I slot in by way of all this unimaginable stuff that’s going round round me?’” Gillespie stated. “Metropolis Island can demystify a few of that for teenagers and provides them the chance to grasp their position and accountability as a member of their very own neighborhood.”

Augenblick says he dove headfirst into re-learning about civics when he was crafting the present, coming to grasp that the topic encompasses greater than authorities. It contains subjects like finance, transportation and infrastructure administration. He teamed with instructional advisor Elizabeth Hinde, dean of the College of Schooling at Metropolitan State College in Denver, who penned the civics curriculum for PBS Youngsters.

“I began having conversations with Liz about civics and social research, and … all of our conversations would encourage episode concepts,” Augenblick stated. “She would inform me [about] some easy idea in civics, like the concept of geography. … She’d say, ‘Geography to a child is simply the concept there’s a world a lot larger than the world that’s proper in entrance of you. Your home is inside a city and that city is inside a rustic, and that nation is inside a world. That’s civics.’”

That dialog then impressed “The World,” an episode the place Watt and Windy’s class visits the planetarium. A GPS satellite tv for pc offers a presentation by zooming out and in on Metropolis Island. That’s additionally the place they meet Terra, the planet Metropolis Island sits on. The character is voiced by Amy Schumer, one among many particular visitor voices recruited to hitch the Metropolis Island gang. The present additionally known as in marquee expertise when crafting its theme music, enlisting TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe to craft its uber-catchy intro.

“There’s by no means been a extra essential time to specific the significance of kindness and collaboration than proper now,” Augenblick stated. “The worst factor that we see is division between folks. … With the ability to do a present that talks about people who take pleasure in one another’s firm and are working in the direction of a productive society is essential.”

Rising library of animated shorts

With its three-minute format, Metropolis Island doesn’t match into PBS Youngsters’ conventional portfolio of long-form animation programming. As an alternative, it joins a rising library of what a PBS press launch describes as “enjoyable and fascinating shorts.” Further animated shorts embody Molly of Denali: The Massive Gathering, which debuted in November, and Jelly, Ben & Pogo, a collection from Jalysa Leva a few pair of Filipino-American siblings and their sea monster pal.


“We need to be all over the place youngsters are, and short-form content material is a very thrilling space that we’re actually leaning into,” Gillespie stated. “A few of these bite-sized chunks are excellent for teenagers which might be watching on streaming platforms, however we additionally use them on our linear platforms and broadcast to make each minute of the half-hour present {that a} child could be watching on their native PBS station as partaking as doable.”

Today, how youngsters watch TV differs wildly from adults who grew up tuned to broadcast and cable TV channels. Youngsters more and more select to observe their favourite exhibits through on-demand platforms like YouTube. In reality, that’s taking place with youngsters’ consumption of PBS content material. Throughout a calendar 12 months, about 10.4 million youngsters between ages 2 and eight watch broadcasts of PBS stations, in keeping with Nielsen information supplied by PBS.

Throughout all digital platforms for PBS Youngsters — together with video streaming and video games on its web site, cell and over-the-top apps — complete month-to-month utilization averages 15.4 million viewers, in keeping with PBS. This metric contains some duplication throughout completely different units and platforms. The PBS Youngsters YouTube channel, which tends to function shorter clips from its exhibits, averages about 28.9 million distinctive views per thirty days.

“We all know that there are moments in a child’s day when a shorter format can actually work nicely and be there on demand to suit into their busy schedules,” Gillespie stated. “A part of our emphasis and give attention to shorts and the completely different alternatives that they create is to fill that need.”

Augenblick hails PBS Youngsters’ transfer into short-form content material as constructing its multiplatform capability and viewers. “As a result of [the show] is just three minutes, persons are simply watching on their telephones or watching on apps or watching on TV,” he stated. “They’re watching all over the place, so [PBS is] getting an entire new viewers for the present that they wouldn’t have gotten if it was for much longer.”

Gillespie desires to see Metropolis Island increase additional. “It’s such a wealthy world,” he stated. “We’d like to discover new alternatives for storytelling with Aaron, like [with] interactivity and the gaming house. You have a look at that metropolis and you actually need to bounce in and play it your self.”

As for Augenblick, he’s up for something. “I may make this present perpetually,” he stated. “There are such a lot of locations that I nonetheless need to discover and it’s probably the most fruitful concepts that I’ve ever had. … I don’t see any restrict to the variety of tales that we are able to inform.”