'Doc McStuffins': The Olivia Pope For Kids?

Aug 7, 2016
Originally published on August 7, 2016 8:14 am
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

If you have young children at home, chances are you know Doc McStuffins. If you don't, our next guest can certainly vouch for her. W. Kamau Bell is a comedian and commentator He's also the father of two little girls. Welcome, Kamau.

W. KAMAU BELL: Oh, thank you for having me.

CHANG: So I know you are a huge fanboy of "Doc McStuffins."

(LAUGHTER)

BELL: Yes, that is true. And I want to be clear, not just because my daughters like them but because I actually like "Doc McStuffins."

CHANG: (Laughter) Well, for our listeners who aren't faithfully watching "Doc McStuffins," who is the doc and what does she do with her magic stethoscope?

BELL: Yeah. I mean, Doc McStuffins, on her show, she is the smartest, most important. She's the straw that stirs the drink, as they say, so the whole show revolves around her. It's a 6-year-old black girl who is a doctor for her stuffed animals and toys. And the whole conceit of the show is that she has a magic stethoscope that, when she's in the room with her toys by herself, they come to life. And every story, like, a stuffed animal or a toy has a problem, like, an action figure has a broken arm and then it's all about how to get a cast set.

And so the whole show is about teaching kids how to not be afraid of medical situations, but then it goes bigger than that. And as the father of two young black daughters, the impact of that was that when we went to the doctor for the first time with her that she could remember and she realized she was at the doctor and it was a white man, she sort of looked at us like this isn't what a doctor is.

CHANG: (Laughter) And on top of that, this is a show that goes beyond just the main character, Doc McStuffins. I mean, her parents play a role. It's not only inhabited by children. Her mom in the show is a real doctor, right?

BELL: Yes. And so that's the thing. It's not a fantasy (laughter). Like, it's not about wouldn't it be crazy if I was a doctor? It's clearly a little girl who wants to be like her mom who is a doctor. And they go to her - and there's episodes where they go to her mom's private practice and shows that she's the leader of this practice, and there's other black women there.

And so it shows that it's not - this is not a dream. This is actual reality, which is, again, what's big about the show is that it creates a new reality. And the dad, who we also see, Marcus McStuffins, he's always at home, so he looks to be a stay-at-home dad but they don't ever make it 100 percent clear. And he's usually in the kitchen cutting vegetables and working in the garden, which, again (laughter) these are, like...

CHANG: That's awesome.

BELL: These are things that break down stereotypes and traditional narratives with, like, yeah, that's what black dads do. We have gardens of vegetables, and we hand out strawberries. That's what we do. That's what black dads do.

CHANG: (Laughter) So was there an episode where you were like, whoa, "Doc McStuffins" just went there?

BELL: Yeah. I mean, that's the thing. The show's ostensibly about just the doctor thing. But the thing that surprised me was there was a show about a storm and about how to prepare for a storm. And then in the middle of it, one of the toys, Professor Hootsburgh, who's the smart toy, says as the world gets warmer, storms are getting bigger. And I was like, did they just say global warming (laughter)? I'm like - it was just like...

(LAUGHTER)

BELL: I mean, I was just sitting there like - and I rewound it and I watched it again and again. And it wasn't like the whole episode was about that. It was just, like, planting seeds, which, as a comedian, I know that's - it's important to plant seeds so that you can continue the conversation later.

CHANG: How one of a kind is "Doc McStuffins?" Are there other shows that provide cool role models too and are also fun to watch?

BELL: There are certainly other shows that have good role models and have good storylines and have good songs and have a - what I would say is somewhat of a progressive agenda. But there's not one that has as clear an agenda as "Doc," and I really appreciate that as a comedian who also has an agenda and feels like you should put out stuff in the world to make the world a better place. That's why I'm 100 percent behind Doc because I feel like me and Doc (laughter) - because Doc is real - want the world to be a more inclusive and accepting place and also want kids to be better prepared for the realities of the world around them.

CHANG: So before we let you go, is there any favorite "Doc McStuffins" songs you want to sing to me?

BELL: OK. (Singing) Everyone gets hurt sometimes...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DOC MCSTUFFINS")

LARA JILL MILLER: (As Lambie, singing) It's OK to tell and you don't have to hide...

BELL: (Singing) Person or dragon, tiny or tall...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DOC MCSTUFFINS")

MILLER: (As Lambie, singing) Tiny or tall...

CHANG: W. Kamau Bell is a comedian and TV and podcast host. Thank you so much for joining us.

BELL: Oh, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DOC MCSTUFFINS")

MILLER: (As Lambie, singing) Everyone gets hurt sometimes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.