Two Showtime series aimed at kids in the early throes of adolescence make a bold return this week with episodes dealing with homosexuality.
On Ready or Not, Busy (Lani Billard) is confused when she sees the male karate teacher, object of Busy's new crush, kiss a man. On Chris Cross, the season opener finds Chris (Simon Fenton) assigned the topic of gay rights in a history project on a revolution. The schoolwork forces Chris to confront his feelings about his brother, who is gay.
Heady story lines, some might say, for so-called "tween shows," named for that awkward period between pre-adolescence and early teen-age status.
Last season, "Ready or Not" mainly dealt with issues of a "physiological nature," says Lori Kahn, Showtime director of family programming. Stories last year dealt with first girls' first menstruation, first bras and kids' first cigarettes.
This year the show will "fan out to broader topics to mimic real children's growths, as they become more meshed in their social networks," she says. "The show will further the adventures of best friends Busy and Amanda as they sort out life's troubling questions and mysteries."
Kahn says that "Chris Cross," set at a posh boarding school, won't be as antic-driven as it was last season and "will be more thought-provoking." She adds: "We've really hit our stride now and will be dealing with much larger issues."
Other "Ready or Not" shows this year will deal with getting braces, mixed messages and double standards, racial concerns, friendship and loyalty and potential parental divorce.
The "Chris Cross" boys will experience chicken pox, deception, a con, a kidnaping and address wildlife preservation and student politics.
Kahn notes that producers of both shows received feedback from focus groups in addition to weighing in interviews and letters from the " 'tween" group.
\o7 "Ready or Not" and "Chris Cross" premiere Sunday at 5 and 5:30 p.m., respectively, on Showtime. Throughout the rest of the season, the shows air at various times preceding the "Showtime Family Movie." Episodes will be repeated the following Saturday around noon. For ages 8 to 14.\f7
MORE FAMILY SHOWS
In typical clever fashion, Steven Spielberg Presents Animaniacs (Thursday 4:30-5 p.m. Fox) goes eerie and spooky for a two-part Translyvanian Halloween.
Bernadette Peters provides the guest voice of Rita, the sleek, street-smart alley cat. In Part One, Rita and her best friend, Runt the Dog, find shelter at a mad scientist's castle. But the mad scientist has designs on Runt, whose brain she craves for her own monster dog named Phrankenrunt! In "Draculee Draculaa," the Warners find themselves guests at the home of none other than Count Dracula.
Friday's Part Two finds the Warners inadvertently tunneling into Hades, where they give the Devil a dose of his own medicine in "Hot, Bothered & Bedeviled."
And in true Animaniac spoof-fashion, "Skullhead Bonyhands" is a sendup of Tim Burton's "Edward Scissorhands." \o7 For ages 2 to 8.\f7