Childhood is a a pretty cushy gig. It's relatively low stress. Your creature comforts are all catered to. And the TV isn't bad, as two imaginative new preschool shows confirm.

Johnny and the Sprites was developed into a series from short musical interludes that aired between programs on the Disney Channel.

The show (weekdays at 10 a.m.) stars John Tartaglia, the original Princeton in the Broadway puppet show/musical Avenue Q. Johnny, an aspiring songwriter, moves to a lilac-covered old barn in the country.

But the locale, Grotto's Grove, is a portal to a pixie world, all rendered by hand-and-rod puppets.

The best of the Sprites is Ginger (Sesame Street veteran Leslie Carrara-Rudolph), a purple faunlike fairy who may be the cutest puppet on TV since Lamb Chop. As the Band sings of Spike Jones on "Up on Cripple Creek": I can't stand the way she sings, but I love to hear her talk.

Unfortunately, the show is chockablock with songs, most of them pretty sappy. But it's energetic and wholesome, with bite-size lessons on identity and tolerance.

The human and the wood-spirits help each other get a healthier perspective on their problems. For instance, Ginger and her crew encourage Johnny to give up his video-game addiction and come outside to play in the fresh air.

Johnny and the Sprites is like a combination of Fraggle Rock and Pee Wee's Playhouse, but targeted at a younger audience.

The Secret Show is a fizzy British import on Nicktoons (Saturdays at 8:30 p.m.). In this cartoon, Anita and Victor are a pair of dashing secret agents charged with protecting our World Leader from aliens, cyborgs, and the minions of that evil organization, T.H.E.M.

They report to a bureau chief with a mahogany voice like James Mason's. He is so highly classified that he goes by a different name, usually a demeaning one, every day. (For purposes of simplicity, he is often referred to as Changed Daily.) Anita and Victor are furnished with their equipment by Professor Professor.

The show is a rather dead-on spoof of the espionage genre with high-tech gadgets, outlandish security measures, and spiky music. But it's also double-0 silly.

The Secret Show is a little on the thin side plotwise, and the animation is crudely rendered. (The frequent chase scenes are particularly feeble.)

But the show has pizzazz and numerous winning visual gags. Imagine an animated Avengers designed to amuse adolescents. An acquaintance with John Steed and Mrs. Peel is entirely optional.


Johnny and the Sprites

Weekdays at 10 a.m. Disney Channel

The Secret Show

Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. Nicktoons.

Contact staff writer David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552 or