Is there really anywhere cooler to live than in a treehouse situated inside the natural history museum your mom helps to run? Especially if the exhibits in the museum came to life at night providing you with endless adventure and one-of-a-kind friends?
No, there is not. And after watching Ridley Jones, the new children’s program from Chris Nee, every kid — heck, every grown up — is going to aspire to live in such a home.
Nee, the creator of the hugely popular Doc McStuffins, is behind another strong female character with Ridley Jones who shares qualities with Indiana Jones such as her outfit (though her outfit is accented with purple camo) and her never-ending quest for adventure.
A natural history museum is the perfect setting for Ridley Jones. “For me, the museum was just a great place to bring disparate characters together and explore what it is for characters with different backgrounds and needs to try to get along,” Nee tells Pride Source via email.
Jones’s friends include a dodo bird named Dudley, Dante the dinosaur, a monkey in a space outfit named Peaches and a mummy queen named Ismat.
And then there’s a non-binary bison named Fred. When they meet for the first time, Jones asks Peaches if Fred is a boy or a girl. Peaches responds that they’re “just a Fred.” Jones quickly and easily accepts this and they go on adventuring.
While Fred is a welcome addition to children’s characters by those who support LGBTQ+ equality, Fred will no doubt upset the anti-LGBTQ+ right, a group that loudly complains about any positive LGBTQ+ representation, whether it be Mr. Ratburn getting married to another man on Arthur or a girl with two dads on “Sesame Street.” But representation matters.
“I grew up as a gay kid in the ‘80s and didn’t see anyone on TV like me,” Nee says. “I wanted to create a character that made kids like me feel more comfortable in their own skin. I also wanted to incorporate a non-binary character in an effort to make topics like this a non-issue to children. And, Fred was born.”
Fred is voiced by non-binary actor Ezra Menas. Hiring a non-binary actor to voice Fred was a conscious choice and Fred’s creation was a very thoughtful process. “It was important that we found the right fit for casting a non-binary character,” Nee says. “Ezra Menas is non-binary and we wanted the role to be authentic. We made sure that Ezra felt comfortable with what we were working on. We had non-binary people in our writing staff so that we were always making sure that Fred was coming from an authentic point of view.”
Fred isn’t the only character who doesn’t conform to gender norms. Ridley Jones herself is not traditionally girly, from her name to her outfit to her interests.
“I designed Ridley to be that strong, adventurous and relatable character we all know and love, but female to empower young girls,” Nee says. “We don’t see strong female leads frequently, so Ridley was designed to showcase what girls are capable of.”
While Ridley Jones is a girl, the show is designed to appeal to all genders.
“Ridley is for all kids, and I’m excited for boys to be invested in a girl’s hero story,” Nee says.
Nee is an ideal creator for the first non-binary children’s character, as this isn’t the first time she’s dealt with topics that a lot of people don’t know how to talk to children about. An episode of Doc McStuffins, for example, deals with a girl with cancer who has lost all of her hair.
“The cancer episode was an extremely important episode that we were best equipped to handle,” Nee says. “Kids get cancer. We deal with it because those kids and friends and families should be able to see themselves.”
People connecting despite differences is a common theme in Nee’s shows.
For example, in “Vampirina,” another one of Nee’s hit shows, the lead character is a vampire living with her vampire family among mortal humans. She sings, “I may be blue with pointy teeth, but I’m just like you.” Vampirina’s dad, Boris, tries to warn her that some people might not accept them saying, “Sometimes humans get just a little teensy bit terrified of things they haven’t seen before.”
“I am always writing about community and how we need to take care of each other, even when we’re different,” Nee says. “I love this show and I’m so excited to share it with the world!”
“Ridley Jones” is streaming now on Netflix.