"Just Add Magic" follows a handful of tween girls who discover a cookbook that calls for magic ingredients. (Image via TV Guide)
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"Just Add Magic" follows a handful of tween girls who discover a cookbook that calls for magic ingredients. (Image via TV Guide)

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting my money’s worth.

Ever the perpetually broke college student, I am determined to make every cent of my Amazon Prime membership count. Way past the six-month trial period for the student discount, one of the only reasons why I still have Prime is for the access to TV shows. The e-commerce company expanded into television in 2013, giving life to many new and notable originals.

With the few weeks of summer sunshine left, what better way is there to avoid the looming reality of school than holing up in a dark room binge-watching kids shows?

Here are the top four kids shows by Amazon Video to stun and amuse the adult mind. Enjoy!

1. Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street (two seasons)

One fateful night, I stumbled upon this gem that precipitated my obsession with Amazon Prime originals. What  is more entertaining than watching Gortimer Gibbons (Sloane Morgan Siegel) and his two best friends Ranger (Drew Justice) and Mel (Ashley Boettcher) navigate living on the not-so-normal (gasp) Normal Street?

In terms of kids shows, of the many seasons of “Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street” are total game changers. The series has no airheaded Ariana Grande from “Victorious” or overly excitable Raven Symone from “That’s So Raven.” Each protagonist has their own quirks and charms and, unlike most Disney Channel shows, the acting is not super cringey. With the kind Gortimer, the energetic Ranger and the intelligent Mel tackling heavy subjects and the realities of growing up, it is clear that the writers take children seriously.

Part of what distinguishes life on Normal Street from living at the Tipton is that their adventures are simultaneously magical and spooky. From the ominous twinkling of the music box intro to whatever fantastical adventure the three friends get into for the day, this show is an addicting mix of witty and whimsical.

However, all good things eventually come to an end, and the ending of this series might actually be the best part. The sense of closure and the fond memories of the three best friends’ trials and joys impart the viewers with a sense of contentment that is hard to beat.

2. Just Add Magic (two seasons)

Amazon video writers have a knack for producing quality kids shows that are also a bit spooky. The “Just Add Magic” series debuted in 2015 and followed the journey of three best friends and their inevitable encounter with a magic cookbook. The premise sounds innocent enough, but the lessons learned about appearances and consequences make this series an enlightening watch.

Set in a quaint suburban town aptly named Saffron Falls, tweens Kelly (Olivia Sanabia), Hannah (Aubrey K. Miller) and Darbie (Abby Donnelly) encounter a cookbook with wonky recipes and unfamiliar spices like “Livonian sugar” or “Cedronian vanilla.”

Based on the children’s books series of the same title by Cindy Callaghan, this series puts a mystical spin on the original with characters who are easy to resonate with. Rather than focusing on a budding romance like many shows aimed at young, impressionable girls do, this Amazon Video adaptation brings to light questions of honest friendship and morality to the table. Moreover, the plot is exciting, with formidable and well-thought-out antagonists played by charismatic actors.

A great story is deserving of great actors, and this phenomenal cast delivers. Sanabia’s hilariously judgemental facial expressions pairs well with her role as the magic obsessed, slightly nosy and intense do-gooder Kelly. Donnelly as Darbie, is probably the most relatable of the bunch, as she plays the light-hearted but forgetful friend of the group. And probably the most natural actress of the three on-screen bffs is Miller’s interpretation of Hannah. With the most acting experience under her belt prior to the show, Miller is the most convincing in her role as the cautious and caring brainiac. The portrayal of each character as vulnerable, authentic and complex with no single “perfect” character makes for quality kids television.

3. American Girl Story — Melody 1963: Love Has to Win (Episode)

Faithful to the original purpose of American Girl dolls, this adaptation of Melody’s fictional story is yet another hidden gem from Amazon studios. Set in 1963 Detroit, this story charges ahead at full speed from beginning to end while the events surrounding the Civil Rights Movement push and pull the plot.

Centered around an ebullient African-American girl and her mother who are facing hatred and discrimination, the story is determined to drive home the point that “love has to win.” Marsai Martin, who plays Melody, delivers her lines verve uncommon for young such a young actress. Idara Victor, who plays Melody’s mother, has an uncanny way of conveying pure parental love and grief through her eyes that is not just convincing but inspiring.

Another aspect that makes this adaptation great is the authenticity of the set and the clothing. From the old Detroit city buses, to the caps and box dresses that were fashionable in the early ’60s, the show makes the story more accessible to younger viewers. It is a story about a girl who has her own dreams, hopes and ambitions and who realizes — as every child should — that each individual voice matters.

4. American Girl Story — Ivy & Julie 1976: A Happy Balance (Episode)

While this installment of the American Girl adaptations lacks the grace of the other Amazon Original series, it is noteworthy in that it hits every single sentiment about growing up as a Chinese American. Tackling everything from immigration to extracurriculars, Chinese school and even California history, this “American Girl” episode accurately depicts what it feels like to be 100 percent American as well as 100 percent Chinese.

Written by May Chan, this episode details the predicament of 9-year-old Chinese American Ivy Ling. Conflicted between going to her all-city gymnastics meet or staying with her family for the annual Chinese New Year celebration, this episode does a great job of portraying a minority family with all the flaws and problems every family has. While it may seem like this story is applicable only to the niche group of Cantonese-speaking, second generation Chinese-Americans, the reality is that everyone faces problems of individual desires versus family obligations.

The depiction of mid-1970s Chinatown, the intensive effort to include Cantonese in the dialogue and the frank message about appreciating one’s cultural roots redeems the general inelegance of the narrative. While it’s definitely more of a kids show, I appreciate that this show brings more conversation about cultural identity to a doll brand that infamously took several colored American Girl dolls — including Ivy — off the shelf in 2014.

Writer Profile

Christine Fang

University of California San Diego

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