"Spy you later!"—Duck
Blue's Clues set the standard for puzzle games on television. Arguably, the "Where's Waldo?" series was the most successful precursor, but the pleasant adventures of Steve and his yappy two-dimensional dog were the real ratings—and licensing—powerhouse for this generation of toddlers.
Now comes I Spy, based on a plotless series of puzzle books from Scholastic. Developed for HBO Family, the series features cheap stop-motion animation chronicling the adventures of Spyler, an irritating plasticine character with a green tennis ball for a head. Charging about his junkyard playground like the hydrocephalic grandson of Gumby (he even has an orange sidekick, a dog-thing named CeCe), Spyler forages among the stray dice, bits of yarn, and dancing dominos (!) that make up his world in search of items under the orders of a yellow duck on mag wheels.
After each discovery, Spyler and CeCe scream at the audience: "Whoop! We found it! Whoop! We found it! Whoop! We found it! How about you?!" You can try this yourself at home. Flail your arms until you sustain injury, and screech in the most shrill and grating voice you can muster, like a cross between a hyena and Roseanne singing the national anthem. Try it with me.
"Whoop! We found it! Whoop! We found it! Whoop! We found it! How about you?!"
Now do it louder.
Now make it hurt.
Okay, you are about halfway there. Add off-key electronic music, and you begin to have some idea of how annoying this is. I Spy seems calculated less to educate children than to frighten them. Other musical numbers sprinkled throughout the show are mercifully short, but just as terrifying. Maybe there is just something to Spyler's voice that gives me headaches, like that guy who used to get seizures when he heard Mary Hart's voice on Entertainment Tonight. Oddly, Spyler's voice on the Spanish language track on this show is less annoying. After a while, I turned on the closed captioning (there are no subtitles) and listened to the Spanish version. My headache started to subside.
Over the course of these two discs, I Spy: A Mumble Monster Mystery and I Spy: A Runaway Robot, we are treated—or subjected—to six episodes of the HBO Family series. Watch Spyler and CeCe build their own bicycle, hunt a slightly melted version of Cousin It (the titular Mumble Monster), build a maladjusted robot, and even plan a circus act. Kids at home are expected to find the objects in a scene before Spyler and CeCe do, but often the required objects make little sense. To go stargazing, for instance, Spyler and CeCe are told by their cruel duck master to get a cardboard toilet paper tube (for a lensless telescope), a blanket, a guitar—and a baseball glove?
Scholastic includes a five-minute promotional piece billed as a "message for parents" on each disc. In self-congratulatory interviews, the producers of I Spy claim that their show "brings up the fun meter" by depicting a child's world on screen. Perhaps if your child screams constantly, bangs on everything, and requires large doses of Ritalin.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• DVD-ROM Game
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