When I think of what first caught my eye in Odd Squad, I think it was probably the moment when a singing mayor smeared chili pepper on his face.
It was a Monday through Friday night and I was getting my kids ready for bed in front of ABC Kids when a show about two teenagers in suits talking about recurring number patterns in a civilized chili cooking competition took an abrupt tonal turn: to a savage A guy with eyes applied meat to his head while singing: “I have a big chili beard! Yes, you might think that is quite strange! “
My first thought was, “Well, this looks like my kind of show.” And my second thought was, “Wait, isn’t that Seán Cullen one of the favorites from the 80’s Canadian comedy festivals Corky & the Juice Pigs?”
Yes, friends, it was. And so my love for Odd Squad was born.
Odd Squad is a Canadian children’s program designed to introduce a young audience to mathematical concepts including fractions, rounding, and various arithmetic functions. It’s also one of the most gloriously insane shows I’ve ever seen and now I’ve devoured every episode that Netflix and ABC iView have to offer, even as my kids fruitlessly beg me to put Peppa Pig in her place.
What’s brilliant about the show isn’t simply that it makes math easily accessible to a young audience (an astonishing feat in itself). It’s just that it’s one of the funniest sitcoms on TV right now.
The premise is that Odd Squad, a Men in Black-style organization run entirely by boys, is tasked with fixing whatever weird thing happens in the world (well, the greater Toronto area, at least in the first two seasons). . Perhaps the zeros are disappearing from all over the neighborhood; Maybe there is a puzzle related to the shape, or things keep mysteriously doubling. Odd Squad agents are there, spread out through a series of pinball-style tubes, to save the day with math and dialogue filled with one line.
All agents have names that begin with O, for reasons. They carry an endless supply of devices to solve plots with names like “the Put-Backenator”, for reasons. There is at least one Tyrannosaurus in the building (perhaps not such a big surprise, since Michela Luci, the titular star of ABC Kids mainstay Dino Dana, has a supporting role). Why? Reasons.
There’s even an Aussie angle to the season three film premiere, where they end up in Sydney trying to stop the weirdness in the form of a gloriously landscape-eating Toni Collette as the Queen of the Arena. And if the child actors are great, they enlist the help of a supporting cast that contains a host of Canadian indie comedy royalty including, in one particularly brilliant episode, three-fifths of the legendary sketch group Kids in the Hall.
(It is worth adding that my children were not impressed by this astonishing fact, despite my long and enthusiastic explanations and energetic imitations of Headcrusher and Buddy Cole. It is a shame that today’s under-fours have such little sense of the history of comedy).
And yes, it is legitimately educational. It unveils some pretty complex concepts in ways that are easy for young brains to grasp, but always in the service of an action-packed case where the Squad needs to use math to defeat one or the other of Toronto’s colorful supervillains.
And, like all great kids’ shows from Sesame Street to Bluey, she knows that the best way to encourage parents to watch with their children is to include as much comedy as possible. Whether it’s a mime doing spectacularly lousy freestyle rap about imitation, or a kid furiously interrogating an uncooperative unicorn, or recurring appearances by the surprisingly plausible boy band Soundcheck (with hits like Take Away Four, The Force of Gravity and the timeless seasonal classic Christmas Smells Like Christmas), the show regularly does a better job of comedy without sequitur than a thousand smart twenty-somethings trying to be the next Tim & Eric.
That’s especially true when the occasional recurring character Agent Obfusco (Jaeden Noel, a boy with a spectacular mustache) materializes to speak completely in perplexing idioms like, “Smooth as ketchup on a sweater made of sand.” And there’s something gloriously silly about seeing Mrs. O (Millie Davis, who was 10 when the show started), the boss of Odd Squad, flopping into her chair, banging on a juice box and grunting: too young for this “.
He’s smart and goofy to a perfect degree, and a great family on vacation binge-watching with sons / nieces / nephews once he’s overdosed on blue cartoon heels and anthropomorphized trains. As Agent Obfusco says: “Like a pig in a water park, I will enjoy this sandwich.”
• Odd Squad is available to watch on ABC iView and Netflix.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.