originally published March 31, 2013
Month’s end – always a great time to look back and reflect on some of the troughs in our culture. For every show like The Wire, there have been hundreds of Manimals – shows so ill-conceived and/or poorly-executed, it’s a wonder how they made it on the air. Especially when a show like Police Squad! only lasted six episodes.
Today I’m going to hover around the children’s shows that should never have been made, or should have been made by someone who might not have leaned so heavily on the ‘Suck’ button. Making a quality kids’ show can be done – just have some respect for your audience. Assume they are knowledge-hungry impressionable young humans, not walking sacks of idiot-flesh, blindly loping from one consumer message to the next.
Even if the latter is true a lot of the time, our collective humanity is cheapened when a show panders to that level.
In the early 80’s, it was thought to be cute to have little kids singing high-pitched versions of grown-up pop songs. Someone once bought me a Minipops album, and I think I listened to it all the way through once before tossing it to the back of the shelf. UK viewers were treated to six whole episodes of Minipoppery in 1983, watching little kids pretend to be grown up while singing “Cruel Summer” or “Dancing Queen.”
The public wasn’t so thrilled about the idea, especially when five-year-old Joanna Fischer sang Sheena Easton’s “9 to 5” (also known as “Morning Train”). The line “night time is the right time, we make love” doesn’t sound adorable coming from a small child’s mouth unless you are a sick, sick individual. I’m also a little confused by the Boy George kid in that photo – is that a young cross-dresser?
There isn’t a lot written about Bucky & Pepito, which could be an indication that our culture has subconsciously decided to erase it from our collective memory. I watched a clip on Youtube and I can understand why. The episode appears to be about a bucktoothed blue dog-like creature trying to steal tomatoes from a Mexican stereotype. The voice acting is awful, the sync is way off, and the storyline looks as though it were written by someone who had seen one children’s cartoon once, years earlier. Possibly while they were drunk.
I think ‘Bucky’ is the white kid in the photo up there. I’m more fascinated by Pepito’s eyes – they’re positioned above the brim of his sombrero, popping out of a band in the hat like some poor guy in a costume at an amusement park. They made 36 episodes of this crappy cartoon though, which suggests a wretched black hole of children’s entertainment in 1959.
Is that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Hell no – those are toys from the Canadian TV spin-off of the low-budget alternative, the Battletoads. Battletoads was a Nintendo product, back when every video game franchise required toys, shows, t-shirts, and other such synergistic bullshit tie-ins. The three Battletoads were named after skin conditions: Zitz, Rash, and Pimple. That’s right – kids were supposed to cheer for someone named Pimple.
The cartoon was meant to be a prequel to the video game series, making the Battletoads into junior high kids instead of the full-grown video game testers depicted in the Nintendo game. The pilot aired in the US on Thanksgiving weekend in 1992. The second episode aired never, because nobody wanted it made. The games received an okay reception, but the TV show tumbled swiftly onto the crap-heap. “Derivative” is usually gold in the TV world, but even this rip-off was too hokey for young 90’s audiences.
Jim Henson’s last big cultural splash before his untimely passing was the TV juggernaut known as Muppet Babies. I was never a big fan of Muppet Babies – I loved the Muppets, and didn’t feel the need to see them as a cartoon. Also, they were babies wearing diapers, suggesting there was a perpetual presence of poop on the screen, which I found really pulled me out of the universe of the show. More twisted was CBS’s attempt to squeeze the pulp of the show by cranking out a spin-off called Little Muppet Monsters.
This show focused on three monsters, Tug, Boo and Molly, who had been banished to the basement by Scooter (who was acting like an asshole that day) and decided to start their own TV show. They blended live-action Muppetry with animation, which drew painful attention to the superiority of the Muppeteers’ skills. This was clearly a rush job; nobody had really thought through what the show was about. Thirteen episodes were produced, but only three made it to air. Henson and crew backed out, CBS aired Muppet Babies reruns in the same timeslot with no ratings decline, and everyone was happy to have this mess forgotten.
Okay, I’m picking on the big guy here. Sorry to any of you who grew up with fond memories of this gigantic purple icon, but this simply was not a good show. I know – I watched a number of episodes with my young daughter, and even she thought it was crap. It aired right before Mr. Rogers in our market, which meant we’d see a bit of Barney every day before waiting for something of actual quality to hit the air.
The thing that bothered me about Barney – and from what I’ve read, I’m not alone – is that his world is one of constant joy and giggles. Problems are not solved with any thought or consideration, they are meant to be reach a simple one-step conclusion, allowing for ample time for everyone to sing and dance and hug. Always with the damn hugs.
My daughter learned nothing from Barney. I suppose the show taught kids some songs they could sing along with, but my kid’s appetite for this was satiated by repeated viewings of Yellow Submarine on VHS. Yes, I was just that awesome of a father.
Barney and his gaggle of cutesy dinosaurs were easy to hate. In fact, there’s an entire Wikipedia article about anti-Barney humor, including the Jihad To Destroy Barney, which is one act of religious-based fanaticism that I can get behind.
I’m not saying I’d do any better in the kids’ show game. But as a parent, I’m a little relieved that my kids avoided most of the stuff on this list. Now if I could just get my daughter to stop watching iCarly and other such crap, I’d be happy.