The Daily Stream: Craig Of The Creek Is The Show Everyone (Yes, Everyone) Needed Growing Up

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Series: "Craig of the Creek"

Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max

The Pitch: Created by Matt Burnett and Ben Levin ("Steven Universe") for Cartoon Network, "Craig of the Creek" is a celebration of friendship, imaginative play, conflict resolution, and embracing one's unique identity. In a similar vein as something like Pixar's "Inside Out," "Craig of the Creek" is definitely a children's program on the surface, but the messaging will kick the wind out of adults and unexpectedly resonate to the core.

Craig Williams (Phillip Solomon) is a middle child who spends his days with his best friends Kelsey Bern Georgie Kidder/Noël Wells), and J.P. Mercer (H. Michael Croner) at their neighborhood creek, the kid-run utopia where different niche groups of children have made their own self-sufficient community free of adult influence ... at least until dinner time when everyone goes back home.

Why It's Essential Viewing

Adult animation like "The Simpsons," "South Park," "Bob's Burgers," "Rick and Morty," and "Bojack Horseman" have developed massive fan bases over the years, but animation in general gets a bad rap, because there are unfortunately a lot of adults that turn away from animation unless explicitly labeled as "for adults," believing it to be "just for kids," when that couldn't be further from the truth. When I think about the cartoons I watched growing up, so many of them featured imaginative and subversive humor, but also tackled serious adult themes I didn't fully process until years later. As digestible and relatable as "Craig of the Creek" is for children, this show is the perfect comfort food for adults.

My wife and I were initially drawn to the show during the start of lockdowns after discovering all of the music for the show was composed by Jeff Rosenstock, the enigmatic musician known for his solo work in addition to The Arrogant Sons of B******, the punk musical collective Bomb the Music Industry! and the indie rock/noise pop band Kudrow. If Cartoon Network was airing a show before bedtime hours featuring music from the same guy who wrote the lyric "I got so tired of discussing my future I started avoiding the people I love," there's no way I wasn't going to check it out. After just two episodes, we were cracking up at the incredible writing and immediately heading down to binge-town.

A World of Pure Imagination

"Craig of the Creek" perfectly captures the unrestrained imagination that comes along with being a kid. There are little sections of the creek inhabited by social groups, and each group has their own hierarchy. The 10 Speeds are a group of kids super into BMX-riding; the Ninja kids hang out by a waterfall surrounded by Sakura trees reading manga all day and seem to possess the ability to teleport; the Horse girls roam the fields pretending to be horses; the Tea Timers are a bunch of rich snobs who throw lavish parties and cause drama in the creek for their own amusement; the Junior Forest Scouts act as the de-facto cops of the creek (which also means everyone thinks they need to get a life); the Creek Elders are high school kids who still hang out to play RPGs — and this is just the tip of the iceberg. The central hub of the creek is The Trading Tree, a trading post and neutral gathering zone run by Kit (Dana Davis).

The kids are fully aware that they aren't actual ninjas or horses or whatever character they've concocted, but when you're at the creek, everyone who enters completely buys in and refuses to break the illusion. There's an episode dedicated to a creek-wide game of "the floor is lava" where everyone dramatically burns alive if they dare step on the ground. Even the teenagers and adults who sometimes get caught up in official creek business are kind enough not to ruin the fun by shattering the imaginative world.

The Show Is A Love Letter to Genre Entertainment

Since the show is from the perspective of the creek kids, their imaginative methods of play frequently pay homage to genre films and other forms of geeky entertainment. References to anime like "Sailor Moon," "One Piece," and "Dragon Ball Z" pop up during serious conflicts, Craig's favorite character ever is "Slide the Ferret" an obvious reference to "Sonic the Hedgehog," and whenever Kelsey dives into her soliloquies, the world around her transforms into a theatrical fantasy epic. In the Halloween episode, Craig's parents Duane (Terry Crews) and Nicole (Kimberly Hebert Gregory) dress as Urkel and Missy Elliott respectively, and Craig's brother Bernard (Phil LaMarr) even teaches Craig the ways of "Bring Out Your Beasts" a card game echo of Magic: The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh!.

There's even an Elder-Con held in the creek where the kids show up to cosplay, sell their own creative works, or catch an exclusive movie in the screening room. And every kid, no matter what their interest, is allowed to love what they love fully and free of judgment. Hell, there's a kid named Deltron (played by rap artist Del the Funky Homosapien), who claims to be from the year 3030 and collects cassette tapes to "keep himself powered up." That's not to say "Craig of the Creek" is free of conflict, because there are of course the traditional growing pains of wondering if liking something is "still cool" as they interact with older kids or family members visiting from other towns.

Every Child Can Feel Represented

The biggest selling point of "Craig of the Creek" is with its incredible diversity. A majority of the cast is non-white, there are openly queer and gender non-conforming kids, and a variety of religious backgrounds are also represented. But more importantly, none of the kids are defined by the aspects of their identity that are beyond their control. Their identity markers aren't like "Craig's Black," or "Kelsey's Jewish," but rather based on what interests them and what kind of a friend they are. The show is also filled with "Creeksonas" or the characterized versions of real people who work on "Craig of the Creek." Most notably, Angel José, who runs the creek's daycare babysitting the younger siblings of kids wanting to play, is the creeksona of storyboard artist and writer Angel Lorenzana, and also the first agender character introduced to the creek world. "Craig of the Creek's" diverse representation doesn't feel forced or unnatural, because they treat everyone as fully realized human beings that aren't limited to a singular character trait.

When teenage goths Courtney and Tabitha were introduced, it blew me away. A fat, green-haired, goth lesbian was in a children's cartoon, and my fat, green-haired, goth lesbian self couldn't believe my eyes. I was desperate to see myself reflected on TV as a child and I genuinely cannot imagine how much more secure I would have felt in myself had a show like this existed when I needed it most.

If you're a parent of geeky kids or a geeky kid at heart, grab a map and head on down to "Craig of the Creek." Trust me.