Apple TV+’s new kids show is another musical extravaganza, this time starring the inestimable Jack McBrayer, a comedy veteran with a heart of gold. Hello, Jack! The Kindness Show, which debuts today, treats us to the sensibility of someone who wants us to know about life’s challenges and meet them head on in classic Sesame Street fashion.
Will McBrayer’s inoffensive brand of comedy catch on as easily as the OK Go songs on the Hello, Jack! soundtrack? (They’re written expressly to get stuck in your head, BTW.) And can McBrayer become a household name like he ought to be? Here’s hoping so, because if anyone’s earned that, it’s Jack.
Jack (played by McBrayer, who you probably know from 30 Rock or any number of other popular shows) lives in a tiny town called Clover Grove with friends like Chef (Albert Kong), Olivia (Lucie Vuong), Bebe (Markita Prescott) and Cooper (Teagan B. Johnson).
He runs the Hummingbird Cafe and exists to help his friends and the rest of the townsfolk get through their days with a little more ease and a smile on their face. Jack reads stories and does crafts, sings songs (written by OK Go, the band you probably know for its elaborate music videos). He gives gifts and teaches life lessons in the most sunny way possible.
McBrayer was always kind of a muppet come to life. (They even joked about this on 30 rock, on which he played Kenneth the Page for seven seasons). He came out of improv and sketch comedy and became a fixture to comedy nerds long before he became a household face. (I hesitate to say “household name,” because I genuinely don’t know how the average American relates to mass media anymore.)
He graduated from the famous Second City comedy group, then worked — and worked well — with the likes of Will Ferrell, David Cross, Tim & Eric, and Conan O’Brien (he was a featured player and writer on his late-night show for years). Whenever McBrayer turned up, whether in kids shows (he’s a hugely prolific voice actor — everything from Phineas & Ferb to Puppy Dog Pals) or in esoteric comedies like They Came Together or Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell, his smiling presence was most welcome.
He never had any trouble poking fun at his own persona or letting others do it. He was a true magnanimous comedy presence at a time when ironic distance and hostility were reigning supreme in alt comedy.
Hello, Jack! The Kindness Show showrunner Guy Toubes (Odd Squad, Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi) and producer Angela Santomero (Blue’s Clues, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood) boast two of the most enormous and impressive resumes in children’s TV between them.
Blue’s Clues became a worldwide phenomenon. And my nephew Oliver enjoys some of Toubes’ shows, so he’s got to be a genius. The duo’s new Apple TV+ show is pretty rudimentary in construction — it revolves around Jack just helping the people in his fictitious town.
But that’s fine. Just look up Dennis Wilson’s reply when Brian Wilson said he wanted to tweak the formula of The Beach Boys’ enormously popular and iconic music. Sometimes a winning idea is all you need.
Hello, Jack! is charming and fun from top to bottom. OK Go wrote a raft of catchy tunes to underscore the vibrant antics of McBrayer and his cohorts. The costumes and art direction consist entirely of bright, flashy colors, and everyone takes their queues from McBrayer’s soft and amiable presence.
It’s kind of beautiful to see a show that finally takes after McBrayer’s boundlessly positive energy. His down-home charisma has been the butt of many a joke throughout his comedy career, and he’s been a remarkably good sport about it.
To see him in a plastic environment where everyone loves him and knows his name…. It’s pretty touching even before he has to teach kids that it’s OK to lose things because they’ll always be in our hearts.
I complained in my Puppy Place review that some of the Apple TV+ programming can be a little too padded for its own good. To this show’s credit, McBrayer and company aren’t really afraid of skirting bad news and bad feelings.
They bring it all back in the end, and no one’s ever in any real danger or anything, but I respect that McBrayer hasn’t just outright lied to kids about life. Hello, Jack! is frequently way too damned cute for its own good, but it’s balanced by the occasional hard-earned lesson.
I liked Hello, Jack! The Kindness Show so much that I was able to get over my exhaustion with Apple TV+ constantly producing nothing but musicals. I hope kids like it, because I’d like to see McBrayer succeed with this solo venture. He’s really good at it! He’s the kind of good-natured celebrity voice you want to succeed and become ubiquitous. After all, there are way worse options.
The first season of Hello, Jack! The Kindness Show premieres November 5 on Apple TV+.