Writer’s Note: Sorry if this column is out a little later than usual. It took me a while to come up with such a thoroughly imaginative title.
I haven’t actively set out to watch children’s shows for a while now. Some have good enough writing to entertain adults, but the good parts are usually few and far between. And in almost any situation you’re better off just watching watching television made expressly for adults.
You know, unless you’ve got a kid. Then your hands are sort of tied.
I won’t waste time on a column about how children shows are stupid or boring. That’s like watching an untranslated South Korean sitcom and saying that it wasn’t all that funny. In either case, I’m clearly not the intended audience.
Keep in mind, too. When I say children’s shows are weird, I mean it in a very specific way. “The Teletubbies” was generically weird. Giant monsters with televisions in their bellies talked in some demon language while a Sun that was also a baby watched over them and giggled. Any show indistinguishable from chasing six Red Bulls with a Snickers bar-sized chunk of LSD falls neatly into the “generically weird” category and doesn’t need my exhaustive analysis.
But what’s strange is that, after watching every episode of these shows ten or eleven times (and spoiler alert, expectant parents, you will), the “fridge logic” starts to set in. It’s what happens when you don’t immediately notice something odd is going on. Then, after a show, you’ll go to the refrigerator and open it to get some milk when it hits you. “Oh, my God!” you’ll exclaim. “All the parents in these shows are dead or missing!”
And yeah, I’ll be coming back to that specific point a number of times in almost every show.
Let me run you through a few examples.
“Blue’s Clues.” Okay. So we’ve got Steve living in a house with his dog and various talking objects. There’s a few ways I could run with this, but they all involve him being one of the last survivors of nuclear fallout.
If you were looking for something happy and uplifting, keep that in mind before reading on.
Steve has no parents. I mean, he obviously has parents. They’re just happen to be dead. At no point in the series does he visit or speak with them. And I’m willing to write off the single visit by his grandmother as his imagination (remember all the talking objects?) or a kindly old survivor who checks in on him from time to time. You know, until she also dies, because that visit was in Season 1 and she never shows up again. Ever.
In version one of the story, Steve is just imaginative. And sure. It makes sense. Given that he’s one of the last living humans, he’d make his own friends. It’s a solid theory that fills in all the gaps but is about as satisfying as any “it was all a dream” theory – not very.
Version two is better (as an explanation if not in terms of happiness). In that version, the nuclear war happens far enough in the future that technology is the answer to why everything is moving and talking. And if that sounds farfetched, think it over. How far off do you think we are from salt and pepper shakers that tell you when your food is properly seasoned? Shovels that make conversation with you while they dig holes? A blue children’s toy in the shape of a dog that plays simple games with children to occupy their time?
If you think I’m grasping at straws, there’s actually a flashback episode where a young Steve, no older than six years old is alone in the house taking care of his infant brother Joe. There are no parents to be seen at any point, suggesting that they were out of the picture so early that Steve can’t even remember them. So who’s raising him? Why, the sentient salt and pepper shakers, of course.
(That isn’t an exaggeration, by the way. In the flashback they’re literally taking care of the two abandoned children and other household items like doting foster parents.)
From there, the rest falls rather eerily into place. Despite being a young adult, Steve has the mental capacity of a grade school child. But don’t blame him for asking you to find an object in plain sight over and over for him. Like any survivor of a catastrophe that wiped out all the experts, he just doesn’t know any better. He’s just piecing it all together from what he’s got sitting around the house. The only other human he regularly interacts with, the owner of Magenta, seems to be in the same boat.
Sure. There are robots all over, but they only know how to dig holes or be doctors. Even the more advanced artificial intelligence in the salt and pepper shakers can only go as far as taking care of basic household duties – not, say, teaching math and science.
In short, what little was left of the world (after we started letting celebrities be President, no doubt) is doomed.
“But wait,” you say, somehow communicating with me by speaking at your computer screen, “maybe they’ll figure it all out eventually. Surely there’s a book out there they can read. Or some sassy hologram archive Orlando Jones like in the remake of ‘The Time Machine’ to teach them, right?” First off, wow. That was a super-obscure reference.
Second, and more importantly, not likely. And even if they happened across such a find, well, it wouldn’t really matter. Why? Unfortunately, just before going off to college (likely to scavenge it for supplies), Steve is already showing signs of hair loss and acute radiation poisoning. How long does he have left? Hard to say. I’m betting that’s going to be a very depressing game of Blue’s Clues down the road.
“Gee, Blue. What does thinning hair, a cough I’ve had for a month and nausea have in common?” Steve will say, wiping sweat off his brow. Then he slumps down in his Thinking Chair, his breaths coming slower and slower until the credits abruptly roll.
Yeah…maybe I’ll give it some time before I let my son read my blog.
Anyway, since this is starting to get pretty lengthy, I think I’ll end the first part here for now. I plan to go into a number of other popular shows and if I tried to fit it all in one column, you’d be here for hours. I plan to run it all week while I’m getting ready for vacation, so this is a nice way to not have to think very hard about what I’ll be writing for the next two installments.