Does S.H.I.E.L.D. know about this? No case is too big or fantastical for the pint-size investigators on Odd Squad, an ambitious new live-action PBS Kids series that trails secret agents Olive (Dalila Bela) and Otto (Filip Geljo) as they try to solve a head-scratching array of problems in their goofy hometown. Whether it's runaway dinosaurs or citizens suddenly vanishing into thin air or a basketball team that's been hit with a string of bad luck, Olive and Otto always save the day. But get this: They do it by using various forms of mathematics. Consider it damage control.
"Math has an absolutely terrible reputation," says Linda Simensky, PBS's vice president of children's programming. "It's considered hard and boring and useless — not just by kids but by parents, too. Math needs new PR people!" So Simensky and her team are leading the charge. Last year, they launched the hit animated series PEG + CAT, which inspires preschoolers to get excited about math, and now they're aiming a little older with Odd Squad, which is geared toward children ages 5 through 8. And that requires a high level of lunacy.
"Kids today are so sophisticated when it comes to comedy, yet they also love things hyper-silly," says cocreator/executive producer Tim McKeon. "With that in mind, we set the tone for Odd Squad by borrowing from Men in Black, Scrubs and Airplane! We've even thrown in a little Being John Malkovich."
The latter homage can be found at Odd Squad headquarters, where all the ceilings are extremely low — perfect for the little agents but forcing adults to hunch over whenever they drop by to ask the kids for help. "It's total wish fulfillment!" Simensky says with a laugh.
PBS's commitment to this series — 80 stories in 40 half-hour episodes — is as big as the production itself, which includes lots of cool CGI creatures, such as unicorns and monster blobs, and sprawling, you-are-there sets. "We've created a very real, immersive workplace comedy," says McKeon. "We want kids to feel there could be an Odd Squad office in their own town."
Odd Squad premieres Wednesday, Nov. 26 on PBS.