Tag: children’s shows



In a new year full of new possibilities, a quote comes to mind.

“Just write what you want…”

-My wife (repeatedly), 2012-2017

In all fairness, and as you might guess by the ellipses, that quote was taken out of context. I don’t want to portray my wife as saying something she didn’t, so I’ll include the full quote for your benefit.

“Just write what you want and get me a soda.”

-My wife (repeatedly), 2012-2017

The point of the quote, aside from asking me to get her a drink, was that I should focus more on writing fun articles rather than ones that will get views or what-have-you. More importantly, it’s about me writing what I enjoy writing. Because in the end that’s what’s going to keep me actually writing things on a daily, near-daily or even regular basis. Or, if it got very bad, ever again.

As much as I realize new years are arbitrary when it comes to making changes, I feel like 2017 is a good place to put the plan into action. That way, when people come to me and say, “What happened to all those well-formatted review articles?” I can just roll my eyes and say, “Well-formatted review articles? That is so 2016.”

An answer which, ironically, is so 1993.

So…what do I enjoy writing? Mostly, stories – short or long – that randomly come to mind. These usually involve things that made me say, “I can’t believe that just happened.” And then I notice I’m in Wal-Mart and I rescind my previous statement.

I also like reviews, but not with beginnings, middles, ends and categories to evaluate things on. How are the new vanilla latte Pop-Tarts? Delicious. Except there’s an additive that actually makes your pee smell like coffee afterward. Do I want to turn that sort of thing into a 2,000 word review? Probably not.

I’m fond of watching children’s shows and then doing a reality check. I like mentioning random absurdities that cross my mind. I support the free exchange of recipes with very little backstory. Want to know how to make really good holiday leftover sandwiches? How about when I tell a four-hour story about how I came up with them? Well, good news. The story of how I came up with anything is either “I was hungry so…” or “I was lazy so…” I’m not sure when recipes became books but that’s not my thing.

With all that in mind, hopefully you have a good year, very intelligent and attractive reader of my blog.


Children’s Shows are Weird (Part IV)

Writer’s Note: You get a previous part! And you get a previous part! Everyone check under your chairs. You all get a previous part!


“Creative Galaxy.” There are few children’s shows my wife and I enjoy watching more than this one. And by the fourth part of a multi-column series you’re wondering if the reason why is something completely unironic, then you really haven’t been paying attention.

If you haven’t seen it, the premise is fairly simple. Arty is the green-skinned eldest son of an architect mother and a…dad. Together with his reality-changing friend Epiphany, he explores the Creative Galaxy and solves every problem life could possibly throw at him with nothing more than a can-do attitude and art.

Okay. Quick poll. When did that get weird for everyone? Third sentence? Yeah. That’s about what I thought.

I think what struck me first about this show was how little it took to get Arty rushing off into space. Last-minute school project? “I’m going into space.” Eye-catching letter to a pen pal? “Off to space!” Hang nail? “Space!”

When they’re aware of his whereabouts at all, his parents are always just sort of smiling as they say, “Be safe in the cold, unfeeling vacuum of the void!” If they’ve ever expressed hesitation at letting their eight-year-old child traipse about in the infinite blackness of space, I must’ve missed that episode. And it wasn’t even halfway through the first season before they started suggesting it. Some small problem would arise and the dad would just say, “Oops. My guitar string broke. Why don’t you go hang out in that place where gamma ray bursts are?”

I’ve been quick to note the absence of parents in other series. In this case, though, I’m not sure Arty wouldn’t be better off without their advice.

But Arty’s just fine, of course, because he’s got Epiphany. Epiphany is a soft, huggable pink…well, I don’t really know what Epiphany is. Or what gender. Or really, anything about Epiphany at all, except that they’re capable of changing shape at will, creating objects out of nothing and otherwise just generally raising a giant middle finger to physics as a whole.

Oh. And did I mention that this whimsical reality-changing being is prone to temper tantrums? So…you know, maybe stay on Epiphany’s good side?

Even if Epiphany doesn’t stub his or her toe and then turn Arty into a collection of argon gas in a fit of rage, Epiphany doesn’t really have to. Because without them, Arty would have no way to move from one planet to another in the Creative Galaxy. So if Epiphany decides to cut and run, he’s stuck on whatever arts and crafts-themed world he happens to be on at the time. Hopefully, it’s Cooktopia, because I’ve never seen food on any other planet.

And no, he can’t just hitch a ride on another ship. Because that’s the horrible little secret about the Creative Galaxy. There are no other spaceships.

Not surprisingly for an entire Galaxy so focused on art that each planet has a theme, no one in the Creative Galaxy bothered developing space travel. The only ship we ever see in the entire series is the one drawn by Arty and willed into existence by Epiphany. The entirety of spacial commerce is just one kid flitting from one planet to another trying to finish his art homework and needs to borrow some glitter.

Which makes it all the stranger that the random denizens of these planets – who, remember, have no concept of interstellar travel – never seem all that surprised to see a random kid show up out of the blue.

Now, it’s hard to be too negative about a show like this. Because like all children’s show protagonists, Arty is a good kid. He’s so earnest and helpful it’s impossible not to find him kind of endearing, even for someone as cynical as me. And that’s why it’s especially hard to have to admit that he has zero chance of turning out as a well-adjusted adult.

Assuming he lives that long, I mean.

His problems here are twofold and, like the Creative Galaxy itself, heavily art-related. The first of these is that, well, not all problems can be solved with art. Most problems, in fact, are so far based in science or math that unless you happen to have a friend who can bypass the hardwired laws of reality…oh. I guess we’ll give him a pass there, then.

But it doesn’t do much to help with the issue of his parents. Aside from being so uncaring that they regularly suggest their son leave the planet to give them a break, it doesn’t take long for them to start putting a lot of pressure on their child to solve things like fixing his mother’s poorly designed library or getting his crying infant sister to calm down. You may recognize these problems as belonging 100% to his parents to address.

Okay. So they’re becoming a bit dependent on him to solve the family’s problems. In addition to bumming rides around on his one-of-a-kind spaceship like it’s not a big deal, any issue that arises is up to him to put right. But surely that was just something that happened as the show progressed, right? Nope. Those were the first two episodes.

His mother builds a children’s library, but she’s so bad at her job that she forgot to make it look visually interesting. So she sends her grade school son into space for ideas on how to paint something on the wall…or something? I don’t know. I’m not exactly sure how it ended up that he had to leave the planet to paint a wall there.

Later, when the baby has been crying all night and won’t stop, the parents don’t know what to do. Naturally, they call up the doctor and ask if anything might be amiss when…no, I’m just kidding. They send Arty into space again.

Now, I’ll make it clear that Arty isn’t in the wrong here. He’s being a good bigger brother and that’s admirable. But his parents are so incapable of functioning either as parents or members of the workforce that they regularly rely on an eight-year-old to fix their sloppy mistakes for them. They’re nice enough, sure. They’re kind and seem to…want to care for their children. With these two at the helm of the S.S. Parenthood, though, I think it’s safe to say there’s no happy ending in sight for poor Arty.

Their dependence on him to solve everything probably ends one of two ways.

One, Arty’s parents send him off to single-handedly combat an invading race of interstellar insects that move from world to world devouring their resources. (Not surprisingly, a Galaxy that never stopped painting to learn science doesn’t have much in terms of practical defenses.) This ends predictably when their hard, chitinous outer shells prove resistant to acrylic paint.

Or two, the Season 5 finale has Arty blasting off into space on another adventure. “I need to fix my parents’ failing marriage…with art!” And Epiphany just pats him on the shoulder, shaking its head.

And says, “You’re a good kid, Arty. I just wanted you to know that.”

Children’s Shows are Weird (Part III)

Writer’s Note: If you want to know where this all came from, check out the first part here and the second part here. If you want to read the third part, just crane your head slowly downward.

With that out of the way, on to more weirdness.

“This is food to you guys? Weird.”

“Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” I can’t believe I went so long without hearing about this show. Surprisingly, it’s a side continuation of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” – a show many adults now grew up watching. The only real difference is that it’s a cartoon, is set in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, and is objectively terrifying if you think about it for more than a few minutes.

Sure. It seems harmless enough. And as a parent, I appreciate a show that focuses a lot on feelings whereas most are telling kids how to use objects or learn numbers or letters. Except, you know, the feeling they should be talking about is fear. Of tigers.

Half the episodes I saw involved one inconvenience or another befalling Daniel Tiger. And every time he was kept waiting when he wanted to go to the music store or scraped a knee or told to be quiet, I just kept expecting him to lose it and start killing everyone around him. Because that’s what tigers do when various meal-sized piles of meat try to teach them life lessons through adversity and hardship.

And yeah, yeah. I know. “It’s just a children’s show! It’s not meant to be taken seriously,” you say, rolling your eyes at my third column in a row on the same subject.

“Who are you? Show yourself! Why can I hear you!?” I call back. “And why is our conversation being dictated in my column! I’m starting to get really weirded out by all this,” I say, because I enjoy a good bit of meta-humor as much as the next guy.

Constant interruptions aside, though, that’s not how kids see it. My kid, in particular, is generally shielded from notions like the fact that most things in nature would like to kill him or at least give him a solid mauling. That’s why when we went to the zoo I didn’t tell him that the gray wolves could be bloodthirsty killers (especially if you tried to teach them to calm down by singing). And then he promptly brought home a stuffed wolf from the gift shop that he named “Puppy” and regularly gives kisses.

But okay. Let’s forget all that pesky murder. Luckily, there’s another particularly weird aspect of the show – politics.

As you may or may not remember from the Mr. Rogers’ era, the Neighborhood is run by King Friday. In the Daniel Tiger era, he’s still King (though no longer a hand puppet) and has two sons. In short, he’s built himself a strong dynasty despite living in a Kingdom the size of a Wal-Mart parking lot. With similar wildlife.

Daniel Tiger regularly plays with the youngest Prince like he’s just another kid. And sure, it’s nice that the royal family would rub elbows with the common folk. You know, until the Prince stays over for a slumber party, trips, cuts his cheek and the host family is put to death for causing harm to a Prince.

Except maybe not, since the host family is tigers.

The two major problems with the show intersect quite nicely in the episode where a group of children are playing a version of musical chairs with a smaller and smaller number of sleeping bags. Another bag is removed at the end of each round until, finally, everyone is left with a single sleeping bag to leap onto when the music stops. The result is that the Prince and Daniel Tiger end up on the bottom of a dog pile. And while there were no negative consequences whatsoever, I expect a horrible outcome every time that episode comes on.


And if anyone survived, they’re tried for treason by a very angry King.

See what I mean? The King who’s willing to walk among his subjects seems great. But if history tells us anything, it’s that the best way for commoners to stay on the King’s good side was to stay as far from him as possible. Preferably on the opposite side of a wall. Or at least a very tall bale of hay.

The only reason half the people in Europe weren’t offending one monarch or another was that they were never within walking distance of one another. Now imagine your King is always just hanging out and chatting with you. And you’re just nodding and smiling and trying not to mention how you wish he’d address these constant tiger attacks by doing more than just making them wear people clothes.

Also, I’m skeptical of even fantasy worlds where people regularly break into song, random strangers seem to know the words and no one thinks it’s strange. But in the grand scheme of this show, I suppose it’s a minor quibble comparatively.

Not Pictured: Smoke.

“Sesame Street.” Since I’m pretty sure they turned on the first television and this show was already in its sixth season somehow, there’s a lot of ground to cover here. And rather than do an in-depth look at every single troubling thing about this show, I’ll just distill it down to a single point, save myself six months of writing and you half that in reading.

The cold days are coming soon and I must gather wood for fire.

What’s the deal with the Count, anyway? I’ve heard a lot of excuses ranging from “he’s a friendly vampire” to “there’s no proof he was actually meant to be a vampire at all.” And to at least one these I say, “Well…no.”

He’s clearly a vampire. He’s not just really, really Eastern European. For one, our skin is more olive than purple. For another, he’s got vampire fangs. And for…nevermind. I’m not doing this. He’s clearly just a vampire.

And yes, obviously, he’s friendly. I don’t have any real curiosity as to why he doesn’t regularly devour other members of the cast to feed his insatiable blood lust. It’s a kids’ show. By which I mean…I assume he’s held onto to a tiny shred of his humanity and refuses to give it up by killing those he loves.

All I’m really wondering is how he can just stroll around in broad daylight. Since he already doesn’t do anything else a vampire does, having him be one and not avoid sunlight is kind of the last straw. At that point, I can only picture Jim Henson showing off some character sketches to a producer who asks why the Count has a to be a vampire at all. And Henson just sort of shrugs and say, “I don’t know. I sort of like the cape, I guess.”

Having someone be a vampire without any characteristics of a vampire is like me claiming to be an Olympic medalist. And when someone asks if they can see the medal I’d just shake my head and say, “No, no. I’m not that kind of Olympic medalist.”

Children’s Shows are Weird (Part II)

Writer’s Note: Rather than repeat the same exact explanation as last time, I’ll just assume you’ve read the first part of this. If you haven’t, I’ve included the link here.

Now that we’re all the same page, let’s keep the weirdness coming.


“Tumble Leaf.” Since this one is limited to people with Amazon Prime, I don’t expect most people to have seen it. Still, it’s generally pleasant to look at and has won a number of awards for excellent children’s programming. You know…for those of you who base their children’s programming choices on what the most out-of-touch grown-ups think about them.

The show involves the adventures of Fig the Fox as he discovers new treasures and adventures around every corner. The usual kid’s stuff. Basically, it’s a nice way of saying that he’s an orphan and everyone died in a giant naval disaster some years ago.

But let’s maybe take a few steps back here.

Fig lives on a ship that’s run aground with large sections of its hull missing. And while I might be able to take this as just an interesting set piece, it would also require me to ignore every other one of a dozen pieces of evidence. Not to mention, this column would end right here on a spectacularly unfulfilling anticlimax. So…no.

As far as main characters go, Fig is pretty much the same one you’ll find in every children’s show. He’s cheerful. He believes in the non-specific but often very helpful “power of friendship.” He’s optimistic almost to a fault. And he’s as dumb as a brick full of smaller, dumber bricks.

His catchphrase is literally, “Let me figure this out.” And he utters it over and over again as he tries to solve such mentally-taxing riddles as why a blue mask makes him invisible in blue flowers but not pink flowers, or how to use a megaphone. This lack of any common sense combined with his aforementioned lack of parents, it’s safe to assume that, well, he’s got no parents.

Then again, he’s in good company. Almost no one else in the show has any parents either. The closest we get is the aunt (or at least, “aunt”) of a supporting character. There’s also a pair of chickens with parents, though they’re young enough to have been born after whatever parent-killing disaster befell the rest of the adults there.

It’s possible that all these odds and ends have nothing to do with one another. Maybe all the parents died after eating bad salmon mousse. Maybe the pirate ship is just a random ship that has nothing to do with the plot. But I generally prefer my crazy theory walls to have more connected strings to the various newspaper clippings, as it were.

Given the low population but reasonable level of technological development, I think we can safely assume that something knocked this society down a peg. This is mirrored by the eerie number of ruins nearby – both of the “ancient civilization” kind and more recent “overgrown amusement park” variety. This suggests not only a disaster, but some sort of recurring one. In short, if you were thinking of offering insurance to the people of Tumble Leaf, you may want to reconsider.

There’s more evidence, of course. (What kind of cut-rate conspiracy article do you think I’m writing here?) And just like any good conspiracy theory, the best piece of evidence is crab-related.

It’s heavily implied that all the crabs were originally fishermen. I say “fishermen” because they’re all wearing the typical fisherman’s attire and kind of talk like less intelligible versions of Popeye. And I say “originally” because none of them are doing it anymore. The only boats we ever seen in the show are ones washed ashore and repurposed for other uses. And of the dozen or so crabs we see on the show, only one (known only as “The Captain”) hasn’t retreated far inland under fairly mysterious circumstances.

Tumbleleaf Captain.jpg

“I once caught a fish thiiiiiiiis big. Oh. And then…everyone died.”

The Captain lives in a small underground lair, subsisting on daily casts of a crab trap into the ocean. (I’m not even going to touch that one.) He’s got a wooden claw so severe that it won’t grow back, lending more credence to the whole “something bad happened” angle. And while I have no idea if he has any relation to the crashed ship he lives next to, it’s fairly clear that the local fishing industry ended up at the bottom of the same watery grave as ninety percent of the adults on the show.

“But wait!” I say, unnecessarily, because that’s not how reading works. “There’s more!”

I didn’t even mention what was in the crab traps everyday. Instead of finding food (i.e. crabs) inside, he finds…well, junk. The local shallows are littered with the scattered pieces of civilization. Springs, gears, toys and a wide variety of things that seem more at home in, well, houses than the cold uncaring depths of the ocean, get dredged up twice per episode.

From there, the theory pretty much writes itself. Which is handy, because my fingers are getting tired.

The safest bet is that some sort of natural disaster – very likely a severe hurricane – struck the coastline about a decade ago. In addition to destroying all local industry, it didn’t leave a single post standing of the coastline villages. I don’t want to overestimate the tragedy here, but given that the area has amusement parks and airship-level technology, I feel confident in saying it was definitely enough for the Jedi to notice.

The good news is that there were survivors. The bad news is that it’s probably going to happen again someday. Remember all those pesky ancient ruins I mentioned? Yeah. Judging from the number of abandoned sites scattered all over the area, it seems like the area lives in a constant cycle of growth and purging at the whims of a very grumpy Poseidon. It doesn’t bode well for Fig, especially if he plans on becoming an adult one day.

But…eh. He figured out that sleds go faster when he took his feet off the ground. I’m sure he’ll figure out how to save civilization, too.

“Yo Gabba Gabba!” Yo Gabba Gabba is brain poison. I tried watching it once and actually felt my neurons dying like tiny white-hot pin pricks behind my eyes and suddenly I didn’t remember long division. We shall speak of it no more.

Anyway, more to come in the next installment. I was thinking of going to three parts with this, but I may go to four. There really is no shortage of these weird shows.

Children’s Shows are Weird (Part I)

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.