As an adult, you probably don’t watch a lot of children’s television unless you have a child of your own. Still, there’s a chance you may have missed one of the most progressive, fun, and educational television shows that was on PBS Kids for about 10 years — and it is called WordGirl.
WordGirl follows a spunky 10-year-old with superpowers named Becky Botsford. But Becky isn’t your average girl — she was banished to Earth from her planet, Lexicon. (Get it?)
On Earth, Becky’s super-heroine persona, WordGirl, battles against an assortment of villains who are all prone to malapropisms while spewing big words like “cumbersome.” WordGirl does all this while also maintaining the anonymity of her alter ego, Becky, an average fifth-grade student with a family and friends.
The creator, Dorothea Gillam, wanted to apply this children’s educational show in a somewhat unorthodox way.
As a former teacher and lover of literacy, she wanted WordGirl to be funny and relatable so kids and parents could enjoy the program.
“Part of my mission is to make kids’ television smart and funny. I feel as though we’ve lost some ground there, in an effort to make it more accessible,” said creator Dorothea Gillam.
Part of solving this problem meant hiring actual comedians. She didn’t hire writers who had experience in children’s television...instead, Gillam hired writers from The Onion and Family Guy, with Chris Parnell from Saturday Night Live as the narrator.
Accompanying voices include comedians and actors like Kristen Schaal (comedian, Bob’s Burgers), Tom Kenny (Spongebob Squarepants), H. Jon Benjamin (Archer, Bob’s Burgers), Fred Stoller (Everybody Loves Raymond), Al Yankovic (parody songwriter and musician), Jane Lynch (comedian and actress), John C. McGinley (Scrubs, Stan Against Evil), Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development), Jim Gaffigan (stand-up comedian), and more.
Each episode is 11 minutes long in the 30-minute slot, offering one word that is introduced at the beginning of each episode. Each word adheres to age-appropriate academic guidelines, including:
“Kids who enter school with a vocabulary of 20,000 words will have a lot more success than those who enter with a vocabulary of 2,000 words,” said Deborah Forte, the president of Scholastic Media and the show’s former producer. “That ability to command language and use words to express what you want is incredibly important.”
WordGirl had its last episode in 2017, about 10 years after it first premiered as a miniseries in 2006. There were rumors about a WordGirl movie, but there hasn’t been a word in a couple of years and production of the show has stopped.
But you can still catch reruns of WordGirl on PBS Kids. Maybe you’ll learn a new word while you’re at it.