Dripping with money and dizzy with production values, "3-2-1 Contact," a new science series from Children's Television Workshop, founders of "Sesame Street," premieres tonight at 6 on Channel 26 and other PBS stations.
The purpose is to turn kids on -- as opposed to educating them, of course -- to science by showering them with informational lollipops. One cast member exults, "Hey, science is FUN!" Tell that to the folks who live near Three Mile Island, honey.
The 13-week series of daily half hours is divided up into themes, and each show is the by now predictable mix of modules -- animation, guest stars, fancy-shmancy film editing and kicky graphics. The purpose may be impeccable, but the result has its discouraging overtones, chiefly its implicit philosophy that says we should expend any amount of effort and energy necessary to trick kids into learning.
Back in the '50s, "Watch Mr. Wizard" made science fairly absorbing, and all Mr. Wizard had was a lot of test tubes, beakers and incurably inquisitive neighborhood tots. Mr. Wizard would be knocked for a loop by the visual smorgasbord prepared to dazzle viewers on "Contact." But it is worth questioning whether all the dazzling really contributes an iota to enlightenment. It may be to learning what tickling is to exercise.
Segments on the premiere include an explanation of sound vibrations, partly illustrated by an obnoxious fat man who can imitate noises made by tape recorders and locomotives. He must be a great at dinner parties.
On next week's shows, viewers will see how g-forces keep people from falling out of pretzel-track roller coasters, what makes frisbees fly, how weightlessness affects dinner on Skylab, and what makes the amazing Kurt Thomas such a flexible flyer.
It's a blitz, but sometimes so much frantic manic stuff can be as numbing as no movement at all. In addition, "3-2-1 Contact" lacks something from which "Sesame Street' has always greatly profited. A frog.