Review: 'Puffin Rock' quirky, but not groundbreaking

"Puffin Rock," narrated by Chris O'Dowd, follows the adventures of a family of puffins who live on an Irish island. It originally debuted on Netflix on Jan. 12, 2015. (Courtesy/Netflix)

"Puffin Rock" is a show about birds that look like penguins who fly and have adorable Irish accents. It is a children’s series with a few moments warranting a chortle, but really not worth watching unless you are babysitting your nephew on a very long weekend.

There have been some excellent children’s television shows made in recent years: "Avatar: The Last Airbender" and its sequel series "The Legend of Korra" have earned sizeable adult followings. Before those there were "Rugrats," "Hey Arnold!" and "The Fairly OddParents" (in earlier seasons) that still hold credibility thanks to their occasional moments of oddball hilarity and morbid existential awareness.

All of those shows, however, used the edgy TV-Y7 rating, whereas Puffin Rock is limited at TV-Y. It is intended for children who are quite literally unable to tell make-believe from reality.

Trying to analyze the show, as an overeducated English major and a television snob, is difficult. Stories for this young an audience for the most part follow very different rules. The characters, plotlines and themes have to be simpler, for one thing and a huge selling point in most children’s works like "Adventure Time" or "Wallace and Gromit," is the animation. Animation is to children’s television what music is to musicals or fighting is to action movies.

It is hard to review "Puffin Rock" without feeling like both a jerk and an idiot, as if I were judging a book by how it sounded when I threw it at a wall. I will totally do it anyway though. Here’s my best effort.

"Puffin Rock" is a nature mockumentary where the animals are anthropomorphic. You get the same amiable, fatherly narration for details of the puffins’ eating habits that you do for preschool puffin protagonist Oona’s playdates.

The same narrator, in true fatherly fashion, makes a couple of very cringe-worthy puns. I strongly respect this, considering that dads would be one of the show’s target demographics.

For the most part though, adults will be disappointed at the lack of jokes directed at them. After all, the single best trope in children’s television is the joke that kids will absolutely not get. "Adventure Time" has mastered this, and one particularly memorable episode of "Rugrats" drops a one-liner about Dr. Jack Kevorkian.

However, the best "Puffin Rock" does is toss around high school biology vocabulary like “diurnal” and base characters on specific species of obscure animals like pygmy shrews and guillemots. The joke about Mossy the shrew always being hungry was tired before it was even told.

If children’s literature and television has a special strength, it is in their compact narratives. Some instructors recommend the genre to aspiring writers for its focus in conveying one plot and one message very cleanly. "Puffin Rock" however, manages to ramble even in its eight minute stories. I did not need to meet all of Oona’s owl and seal friends when the focus of the story is about the coolness of supermoons and the importance of a good night’s sleep.

"Puffin Rock" is a completely functional children’s show in that it will give you a nice break from seeking the tireless little people in the same two hiding spots for an entire afternoon. But as an uncle to a toddler, I would alternately recommend Disney’s "Jake and the Never Land Pirates." The musical numbers are excellent.


Christopher McDermott is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at christopher.mcdermott@uconn.edu.