Odd Squad is an organisation run exclusively by children to combat oddness wherever it strikes. They do so in the format of a math-centric educational kids’ entertainment show. That sentence doesn’t sound appealing, does it? Ok, let’s try again. Odd Squad is what happens if you shove The X-Files, CSI, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Men In Black, and the visual gags of Naked Gun through a children’s show meat grinder and then cook what comes out into a link of brightly coloured sausages? With mathematics?
Whether it’s a member of the public suffering with sandwich hands or when an Odd Squad agent is infected with ‘the skips’ causing them to miss out vital steps of tasks (don’t let her do that skydive), the show pastiches police procedurals and spy fiction to bring a selection of delightfully odd crises for the agents to battle. Such problems are, invariably, solved with the application of slowly spelled out arithmetic and a variety of gadgets that always end in ‘-inator’ (“Quick! Grab the Untrashinator!”).
Our core cast for Season 1 consists of no-nonsense boss Miss O who often bellows her orders in between guzzling an endless supply of juice boxes. Top agents Olive and Otto (a running gag is that everyone’s name in the Squad starts with O) work together to combat oddness.
Olive is brusque and no-nonsense but occasionally flustered, whereas Otto is a more laid back, food-obsessed worker who usually has the flash of inspiration that is key to solving a problem. However, the Squad has a large amount of agents who rotate in and out of the episodes much like sit-coms who need a grab bag of gags for any given scenario.
Odd Squad is definitely a Kids Programme (capital letters intended) in that you are not going to watch it without children. But full credit must go to the delightful scripts that consistently provide chuckles from a mixture of sight jokes, witty script, and character quirks.
For example, in season one Agent Oscar is master of the gadgets and his good-natured bafflement makes for many a slapstick moment, but he’s cut from the same cloth as ‘Q’ from the Bond movies and the parody is an extra bit of fun for adult viewers. Similarly, resident medic Dr. O. has a large slab of Star Trek’s Doctor McCoy in her DNA (“Of course I’m right, I’m a Doctor.”)
Praise must go to the young cast who all totally understand the tone and nature of their characters. This is daftness with very minimal pathos. The pairing of Olivia and Otto in season one bounce off of each other superbly. The nature of using child actors means that the cast do get rotated for season 2 and later agent pairings lack the same connection (Netflix claims to have both seasons 1 and 2 but actually just split season 1 into two halves for some reason).
From an adult point of view, the educational content is obviously the least interesting. The characters have to really misunderstand basic math in order to slowly explain it to the younger aged target audience. This is fine for young children, but some wonderful CGI imagery does the grunt work in at least trying to make it visually appealing.
For the most part this is standard usage of devices or a special ‘map room’ used for logical thinking. But then you get the episodes that really play with the formula like simulating a video game, getting trapped in a comic book, turning the cast into muppets, or having the whole episode shot from a man’s POV camera as he slowing transforms into giant spaghetti.
Odd Squad is a show that has been a delight to discover. The large amount of variety and quality of the writing means that even on repeated (and repeated, and repeated) viewings, there is plenty of material in the parody mash ups to provide imaginative gifts of the unusual throughout. Rampaging unicorn, anyone?
Words by Michael Record