If you're a 30-something and want to feel truly pandered-to by television, you've got to start watching kids' shows.

It's an open secret, one that parents have known about for years. To reach young eyeballs, children's television first must appease the older screen-time gatekeepers.

Few modern shows do this quite as skilfully as Netflix's Ask The Storybots.

The eight new episodes that arrived last week are a masterclass in subtle parental pandering. For a start, each episode begins with two Storybots (like a less irritating version of Minions that are meant to live inside computers) snickering at the word "Netflix" – a clear and very deliberate homage to Beavis and Butt-head.


Then there's the music. The theme song sounds like it was written and performed by Triple J Hottest 100 CD favourites Ben Folds Five (one of the upbeat ones, not Brick).

Quick word of warning: if you're the kind of person who gets driven to the brink of sanity by having catchy bits of songs stuck in your head for days on end, then delete your Netflix account, throw your modem out the window and run for the hills – the Storybots' theme song is liable to push you over the edge.

Celebrity guests continue the 90s nostalgia theme. Unless you have done significant and unnecessary groundwork with your child, no 3-to-8-year-old is going to recognise Christina Applegate or Edward Norton. Those guys are there exclusively for us, and unshackled from the conventions of grown-up acting they deliver some superb performances.

A scene from Ask the Storybots.
A scene from Ask the Storybots.

Most of all, though, Ask The Storybots taps into the universal 30-something insecurity that we don't know nearly as much as we should by this age. Each episode involves the Storybots answering a question posed to them by an inquisitive child: "Where does electricity come from?" asks a boy in the episode with Norton as a dodgy Eastern European electronics salesman, or "How do computers work?" in the episode where Snoop Dogg plays an operating system ("but y'all can call me O.S.").

While the kids are happy enough with a vocoder-heavy version of The Wheels on the Bus or a Balkan ska song about Thomas Edison, the adults can brush up on the long-forgotten basics of science. A character called Ned the Neutron, who talks exactly like The Dude from The Big Lebowski, offers a genuinely quite helpful explanation of how atoms work to generate electricity.

In an almost Borat-level accent, Norton provides a timely and dark reminder to us all about the dangers of plug sockets: "If you getta too close-a to this, you can end up in the hospital – or worse."

At the end the Storybots always take their findings back to their boss, who seems to be based in part on the famous "angry Hitler" scene from Downfall. They give him a video tape with everything condensed into a catchy and distinctly 90s-sounding song. Days or maybe weeks later, the hooks are still stuck in your head and you realise you sort of understand how computers work now.

Season two of Ask the Storybots is available for streaming on Netflix now.