Roush Review: 'Won't You Be My Neighbor?' Is a Humanizing, Luminous Portrait of a TV Icon

Matt Roush
Review PBS

An evangelist for decency who wore a cardigan instead of a minister's collar, Fred Rogers was the most disarming of children's educators and entertainers.

On his beloved PBS series Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (1968–2001), he didn't talk down to preschoolers, but spoke (and sang) directly to them, sometimes on uncomfortable subjects like death and racial prejudice, always with unhurried honesty and genuine respect.

'Won't You Be My Neighbor?': Why We Need Mister Rogers Now More Than Ever

'Won't You Be My Neighbor?': Why We Need Mister Rogers Now More Than Ever

The children's TV personality's doc 'Won't You Be My Neighbor?' is especially timely now.

His rare ability to connect is still incredibly moving, and Morgan Neville's luminous documentary portrait of the man (who died in 2003) and his "I like you as you are" message arrives as a necessary tonic of civility on Rogers's chosen medium, TV, after a run in theaters.

Won't You Be My Neighbor? humanizes this icon, so prone to parody, as he despairs of the wasted potential of TV to "make goodness attractive" — which he achieved with low-key dedication.

Daniel Striped Tiger was Rogers's puppet alter ego, expressing the fears and uncertainty of childhood. "He never forgot how vulnerable it was to be a child," says one of his producers. And the child within us all will never forget Mister Rogers.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Premieres Saturday, February 9, 8/7c, HBO and PBS (check local listings at pbs.org)

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