Kate and Jim McMullan launched a kids book franchise with I Stink, a delightfully illustrated ode to a New York City garbage truck as it makes its rounds throughout the city. The first follow-up was I’m Dirty, centering on a backhoe loader. Amazon Studios has picked up the property and launched The Stinky and Dirty Show on Amazon Prime after a successful pilot launch in its 2015 season. Like the pilot episode, this new series centers on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) lessons, handling them with a light touch and a lot of appealing whimsy. The fact that the lead characters are a garbage truck and a piece of heavy construction machinery is a sure-fire way to guarantee small boys will be interested in what’s going on, and the pair are brought to delightfully energetic life by the performances by child actors Jaden Betts as Stinky and Jacob Guenther as Dirty.
Each half-hour episode is split into 2 shorter segments where Stinky and Dirty are presented with a problem and work their way to a solution. Occasionally, solving one problem makes another appear, and in other cases their initial attempts to solve things doesn’t work and they have to go back to the drawing board. This slightly more realistic depiction of science is one of the elements of the show which I like a lot. Failure is always part of the process, but it can never be used as an excuse to just give up prematurely. A lot of STEM shows aimed at the younger crowd tend to gloss over this more than The Stinky and Dirty Show does. There are some episodes where it will take the pair three or four tries to solve the problem in front of them, but their sunny optimism and never-give-up attitude are as much a part of the scientific process as raw brainpower. I’m also tickled by the way the pair will start fielding truly crazy alternatives if their initial stab at a solution doesn’t work, since they’re amusing in themselves and because sometimes it’s a small variation on the crazy alternative that makes it an actual solution.
Animation is handled by Brown Bag Studios in a way that makes all the characters look like cardboard figures painted with the same watercolor style as the original books. It’s appealingly artificial, making it feel like the characters in the books have popped up and come to life on screen. The newer episodes also guest star a few other characters from the books, like the tugboat from I’m Mighty and the fire truck from I’m Brave. It’s also worth keeping an ear out for Wallace Shawn as Tall the crane, Jane Lynch as Dumpy the dump truck, and even Whoopi Goldberg as a megaphone-equipped car.
10 episodes of The Stinky and Dirty Show are available for streaming now on Amazon Prime.