For my latest entry in my kid’s show series, I go back again to the nerdy days of my youth, when my favorite channel was PBS. I already covered Ghostwriter, my favorite show on the channel, but Wishbone was a close second. The basic premise of the show centers on the title character, a Jack Russell Terrier with an active imagination. He lives with Ellen Talbot and her teenage son, Joe, and frequently embarks on adventures with Joe and his friends David Barnes and Sam Kepler. It just so happens that these adventures frequently parallel the plots of several great works of literature. The audience is then taken on a journey inside Wishbone’s head to reenact these works, with the same actors often playing parts in the stories.
The show stayed true to the source material. Wishbone was noted for its refusal to sugarcoat the less sunny and flattering details of the original stories, such as when they reenact Oliver Twist, and dealt with the issue of child poverty head-on, while paralleling it with a story in which a crime wave hits the Talbots’ fictional hometown of Oakdale, TX.
On a related note, Wishbone was very good at making a sometimes boring subject interesting. English Lit was far from my favorite class in school, because I found many of the stories we read dry and hard to understand, and my teachers always seemed to be speaking a different language when we analyzed them. Wishbone made classic literature come alive before my eyes, and helped me remember not only what happened in the stories, but also the central themes and lessons. I remember one particular instance where I was captain of my school’s academic team in high school, and one of the questions was about Don Quixote. Having never read the story, I was still able to answer a question about it, because I remembered the story from an episode of Wishbone I’d seen a few years back.
The costumes were well-done. Wishbone was deservedly lauded for its costume and set design, which contributed to their ability to bring literature to life. I’m still surprised at how well they were able to dress up Wishbone, which contributed to the show’s authenticity. As a side note, Wishbone was very well-trained, and able to perform most all of the tasks required of him when “acting” in his different roles. The show won three Daytime Emmy Awards for costume design and art direction, and it’s easy to see why.
Wishbone was an entertaining character. Larry Brantley injected Wishbone’s character with a lot of spunk and snappy lines, and made him an entertaining character to watch. Wishbone always had that Garfield-esque “human in a dog suit” sort of persona. The audience could always hear all of Wishbone’s thoughts, but the characters could not, which made for an interesting dynamic.
Sometimes the human characters were a bit stiff. One never expects expert acting in a PBS show, but sometimes the human characters, especially Joe and Ellen, could be a bit stiff. It’s clear that the show’s creators put a lot of effort into casting Wishbone, which left them to sort of cobble together roles for the other people in the show.