Appellate Judge Tom Becker asked Rae Dawn Chong to join him on his quest for critters. Sadly, she declined.
Making creepy crawly friends wherever you go!
Television was never a source for my science education. I somehow missed the various incarnations of Mr. Wizard and his ilk, and by the time the cable landscape was awash in Discovery-branded boutique channels like The Science Channel and Animal Planet, I'd long since ascertained the differences between mammals and amphibians. Science was never my strong suit, but I've always been intrigued by the study of creatures, be they cute and cuddly or slimy and gross.
As a kid, I think I would have gotten a kick out of Critter Quest!. This half-hour program from Smithsonian Networks features backyard adventurer Peter Schriemer, a safe-looking 20-something with an ever-present backpack, like Dora the Explorer. Peter has all the enthusiasm of a cool camp counselor—the one who's really into all those projects, not the one who's waiting for the campers to go to sleep so that teen time can begin. He's frequently assisted by his 'tween sister, Emily, who offers additional info and activities like a beetle race.
This disc gives us three episodes, each running around 27 minutes: "Creepy Crawlers Everywhere" and "The Wild Side of D.C." are pretty self-explanatory, with Schriemer introducing us to various beetles, slugs, and other icky things you can find in any patch of land and then showing us the fauna of Washington, D.C.—not coincidentally, home of the Smithsonian Institute. "Season of Change" shows us how various critters prepare for winter.
As I said, I think I would have liked Critter Quest! when I was 6 years old; however, this is mere speculation since, attention span notwithstanding, I'm not currently 6 years old. So I did the next best thing: I screened this for a group of hard-to-please 6-year-olds and got some feedback, positive and negative:
"I like when the walking stick was climbing up the tree. I don't like when it was about slime."
"I like the click beetle."
"My favorite part was when I saw the owl, but I didn't like to see the girl coloring a leaf."
"When the spider jumped, it scared me."
"I liked when the man's sister had a race with the beetles but not the slime and the nasty stuff."
"I like that we have conservation for geese. I don't like pill bugs; they can get in your bed and bite you."
"I don't like wooly bear caterpillars, but it was funny when the jumping spider was dancing."
In short, the kids thought this was great stuff. I tend to agree. It's fun and engaging life science that doesn't speak down to its audience. Critter Quest! finds just the right tone and level to get its points across. It's also not an f/x show; there's a nice backyard production approach to the backyard science here.
The shows look and sound fine, pretty much the way they were broadcast. There are audio options for surround or stereo (though it doesn't seem to make much of a difference), and the picture is broadcast-quality clear. There are no real extras on this disc. If you click "More" on the menu screen, you get some promos for other Smithsonian shows.
I don't know much about Smithsonian Networks—it's not available on my cable system, and the Web site, frankly, is a little hinky, with broken links and such—but near as I can figure, these three episodes from 2007 were the only ones produced for Critter Quest! If that's the case, it's too bad. This is a neat and informative little show, nicely put together, and it hits the right notes for its target audience.
Occasionally icky, never guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Smithsonian Channel
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