New Apple TV+ children’s show Jane has zoology, ecology, biology and conservation on the brain. In the series, which premiered today, a young animal lover and devotee of famous primatologist Jane Goodall goes on adventures of the mind with dozens of animal companions in a chance to better understand the natural world.
It’s a charming and informational afternoon daydream — with resources aplenty and a heart that’s in the right place.
Jane recap: Season one on Apple TV+
Season 1: Jane (played by Ava Louise Murchison) is an environmentalist and scientist trapped in the body of a 10-year-old girl. Every week, in order to get a better handle on animals and their places in ecosystems — and in so doing, gain a better understanding of the world — she indulges in what her overworked mom Maria (Tamara Almeida) calls an “extremely active imagination.” Together with her her friendly neighbor David (Mason Blomberg), and her chimp friend, Greybeard (mostly a stuffed animal but also a CGI critter during her adventures), Jane looks out for wild animals both in their habitats and around her apartment building.
This hasn’t won her many cohorts. Her neighbors (played by actors Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Dion Johnson and more) are wary of her antics and her activist sense of “helping them,” like when she goes through their trash to separate the recyclables. But Jane wins them over with her steadfast commitment to a bigger picture.
Fantastic adventures and real-world conservationalists
Her mom and dad (Al Rodrigo) worry that her pretend quests for polar bears, sharks, bees, tigers and other wild creatures may be taking her too far from reality. Jane isn’t very good at apologizing, but she must learn to stay on people’s good side long enough to enlighten them about the world.
Meanwhile, David’s dads (Sam Marra and Dan Abramovici) have to be made to understand that, though Jane can seem like a disruptive influence, she’s actually helping their kid become a more conscientious individual.
And then every week, they talk to real-deal scientists, explorers and other professionals who have been living the life young Jane dreams up for herself. Hearing from the likes of Jill Heinerth, Ruchira Somaweera, Patrick Guerra, Nayla Azmi and Carlee Jackson, Jane and David learn about the practical work of conservation and the study of live animals in their own habitats. The footage and pictures of these people in action is meant to excite kids about the nuts and bolts of this kind of work.
Jane is a great kids’ show with a positive message
Jane was created, written and directed by J.J. Johnson, who worked on the Apple TV+ shows Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock and Ghost Writer, but his career stretches back to the mid-2000s on shows like Dino Dan, Dino Dana, Odd Squad and Annedroids. His work has exactly the kind of PBS-friendly vibe we should be encouraging: funny and silly but informative. These shows try to get kids to want to know more about the world they live in, the space they take up in it, and their role in protecting and stewarding it.
Johnson here has really outdone himself, especially with regard to production design. Just as Ben Stiller fills his comedies with hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of explosions and extras and enormous sets, Johnson makes the world of Jane bright, full and expansive. The apartment where Jane lives is handsomely appointed, of course, but her little flights of fancy really have weight to them, whether our tiny heroes are bobsledding in the Arctic or swimming in shark cages. The CGI animals all look pretty impressive, and their movements through Jane’s real-life environments is carefully rendered.
Jane looks like a million bucks
The money is all up there on the screen in Jane. (The creative team even hired Leona Lewis to do the show’s theme song.) And honestly, what better thing to splash the cash on? Unlike something like Extrapolations, which speaks to and for people who aren’t doing enough about climate change, Jane is a show aimed at minds that can still me molded, consciences still developing.
This is a good use of the opportunity to speak to a grade-school audience. I don’t even have the usual complaints about the cult of personality tie-in, because the person the show genuflects in the direction of is Jane Goodall, who isn’t an athlete with sponsorships, but a scientist who genuinely made the world a better place. There are worse people to idolize and idealize, and certainly a show this confident and full of wonder can only help bring kids closer to the world and the efforts being made to save it.
Watch Jane on Apple TV+
The first season of Jane arrives Friday on Apple TV+.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper and But God Made Him A Poet: Watching John Ford in the 21st Century, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.