As Hollywood basks in the streaming boom and burgeoning the era of premium television, kids, too, get to join in on the fun.
Unlike the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon multi-cam sitcoms that have dominated kids’ TV for decades, newer streaming series like Apple TV+’s “Puppy Place” and “Lovely Little Farm” function more like family dramedies. Avoiding that type of slapstick humor and over-accessorized costumes and sets, these series opt for a more naturalistic approach, oftentimes with serialized storytelling.
“Puppy Place” showrunner Andrew Green, who previously served as a co-executive producer on “Hannah Montana,” tells Variety: “Having worked in kids’ television for so long, you develop a certain rhythm, and Apple was like, ‘Let’s take a step back. Don’t think of it as a kids’ show, just think of it as a quality show that happens to have kids as the leads and stories about kids.”
For “Puppy Place,” and many of the other shows in Apple’s family slate, there’s an active effort to veer from the laugh track-backed comedy that drove shows like “Victorious” and “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” and instead “find humor in the characters and situations and not rely on people falling into big coconut cream pies or things like that.”
Billy Macqueen, co-creator of “Lovely Little Farm,” says: “We’ve always thought it’s important to deliver primetime standard drama to 6 and 7-year-olds. If you can deliver it to the quality that they deserve, and adults will watch with them, it becomes a family show.”
Adds Macqueen’s creative partner Maddy Darrall: “This is quite a new thing for the American market, but we’re known in the UK for making dramas for under 8-year-olds.”
Macqueen and Darrall co-created “Lovely Little Farm” after both previously serving as executive producers on kids’ series like “Chip and Potato” and “Waffle the Wonder Dog,” as well as British children’s staple “Teletubbies.” On that show, Macqueen and Darrall learned a lot about CGI and animatronics, which they were able to employ and improve upon in their new show.
Aside from its stars — newcomers Levi Howden and Kassidi Roberts — “Lovely Little Farm” combines eight real pygmy goats and 12 chickens with CGI-generated animal characters like Alpaca and Quackety Duck Duck. Since all the UK studios were full, the team built a set from scratch in a real-life valley, where they worked with the Greens Team to turn a bare landscape into infinite horizons and “an entire world full of lavender fields and a farmhouse. ”
This gave “Lovely Little Farm” the type of striking beauty no soundstage could provide, as well as a 360 degree set that allowed the young actors to explore their surroundings uninhibited. Shooting in nature didn’t always prove easy, though: “Working with UK weather, you can imagine we had bad rain, we had snow… but you can’t see any of that on camera,” Darrall says.
To account for unpredictable climate, DP Simon Reay employed a light created by famed cinematographer Vittorio Storaro called the “Italian sun,” which provides a natural-looking sunlight wherever it’s needed. This contributes to “Lovely Little Farm’s” natural feel, as well as a general philosophy that allows the child actors to say lines in their own words, and not worry about standing on marks. In fact, the cameras are set at the child actors’ heights in order to show a “knee-high perspective on the world.” Moreover, even the family dog in the series was trained not to make eye contact with the camera as to make the animal feel like a real pet.
Of “Puppy Place,” Green says: “We want these shows to look like mini movies. It’s all very real, and that was a big mandate from Apple. The kids’ rooms look like real kids’ rooms, the homes are real, the clothes are real.”
Starring Riley Looc and Brooklynn MacKinzie, “Puppy Place” follows Charles and Lizzie Peterson as they embark on furry adventures by fostering dogs in search of forever homes.
“The goal of a show like ours is to connect emotionally for the kids,” Green says. “It’s to focus on the characters and the stories and the plight of these puppies and dogs who are looking for a home. We’re looking for a richer experience.”
Apple’s growing kids slate doesn’t stop there. The streamer is gearing up for a summer full of new family series, including “Best Foot Forward” (July 22), “Amber Brown” (July 29), “Surfside Girls” (Aug. 19) and “Life by Ella” ( Sept. 2). “Lovely Little Farm” debuted on June 10, while Season 2 of “Puppy Place” is coming soon.