Tag: parenting

Story Time – Grocery Forensics

Pictured: Good decisions.

There’s something out there I like to call “grocery forensics.” It tries to make educated guesses regarding the activities, beliefs and attitudes of those in the past based on the material evidence they left behind – limited to their messes in grocery stores. And while it isn’t a traditional science in the same way as, say, archaeology, they share many similarities. At least for the purposes of writing this article.

For example, I wouldn’t recommend wasting $100,000 on a degree in either.

The picture above is the sort of thing I run across from time to time in my shopping adventures. Shopping isn’t all that mentally stimulating when you’re just walking down aisles and following a list. It’s like the lamest scavenger hunt ever, only without an actual reward at the end.

When I first started seeing this sort of thing, it was easy not to notice. The workers at Wal-Mart seem pretty good at it, after all. Though, I’ll admit leaving stuff in the wrong place on the shelf is probably a skill honed by years of being paid at near minimum wage. In the same position I doubt I’d expend a lot of effort going above and beyond for a company that determined employee pay by taking the level at which they’d be violating federal law and adding a dollar.

(Though, I hear it’s going up, so maybe my days of grocery forensics are numbered?)

Even once I started noticing misplaced items, they were easy to ignore. A box of taco shells in the soda aisle because someone was lazy. A generic item in front of a brand name because someone was careless. It wasn’t something that bothered me much. Except when someone leaves refrigerated meat in, say, electronics because seriously, why?

As time went on, however, I realized there were much sadder stories at play.

Look at the above picture, which I now realize should have been much lower, because I’ve barely referred to it before now. Or did I misplace it on purpose? Is this whole thing getting ridiculously meta?

No, so here it is again.

Pictured: Good decisions AND good blog layout decisions.

I’d forgive you for not seeing the issue right away. Your senses might not be as keenly honed from years of being bored out of your mind at the store. What we gather from this picture is that some individual eats canned pasta. Is that detail alone inherently sad? Yes. Yes, it is. Just because I do it doesn’t mean it isn’t.

But it’s worse than all that. As this individual was walking through the aisles, they noticed this display and realized, “Oooh. You know what’s even better than canned red slurry? Margaritas!”

Or even worse, “Oooh. You know what’s even better than canned red slurry? Margarita mix!”

“Sure,” you say, “but aren’t you being a bit hard on this theoretical shopper? I mean, don’t we all need an iced drink in the dead of a punishing Pennsylvania winter sometimes?”

No, but I see what you’re getting at.

This wasn’t just a person who wanted an off-season drink, though. This was a person who came to the store – from the discarded cans we can safely assume seeking something at least food-like – and picked up two cans of the thing ramen eaters usually buy when they want to be even more disgusted by their poor eating habits. And they left actual (almost) food behind to buy a drink. Mix.

Were they out of money? Did they realize they ate last week and were sick of it? Was someone taking the Food Stamp Challenge and wanted to fail worse than Gwyneth Paltrow when she bought a bunch of limes and herbs? I can’t think of any scenario where the context makes this any less weird.

Pictured: More good decisions.

This isn’t a bag of pretzels left in the cracker aisle because someone changed their mind on what snack they wanted. It’s like finding a bag of bread in the paint supplies. Because neither story makes any sense to me.

Still, these are the sorts of mysteries that keep me going. And it’s what keeps me coming back to the store again and again. To put food on the table. I mean, not in the sense that my grocery forensics work is making me any money. I literally mean, I go to the store to buy food and then, after cooking it, I put it on the table.

Sometimes people even eat it, though I do have a toddler. I’m a realist about it.

Seeing things like a full shopping cart left abandoned next to the seafood really do make you wonder what people were thinking. To me, it just reinforces the idea of “sonder” – the realization that the people around you are living a life as vivid and complex as your own. It also reinforces my hypothesis of “sonderp” – the realization that the people around you are bad at living and are generally making stupid, stupid decisions.

Anyway, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to stare at my archaeology degree and shake my head for the next hour thinking about how smart I am.


Re-Views – “Deep Impact”


It’s strange to think, but out of all the movies I’ve seen in my life, I’ve probably watched about nine out of ten just once and never again.

There are lots of reasons this can happen. Most often, it’s because the movie was so thoroughly forgettable that there’s no reason to waste the additional 98 minutes and 1.4 calories required to press the “play” button again. Or, as in the case of, say, “Avatar,” that it was so unrelentingly terrible that I had to stop watching for mental health reasons.

Terrible movies aside, it’s even stranger when it comes to movies I only saw growing up. They leave a certain impression on you that only comes with the (relative) innocence of youth. Like a movie seeming fairly clean but actually being laden with sexual innuendo. Or wondering why Bambi was so sad after his mom went on that vacation. Or wondering why all the people in “Commando” were full of spaghetti sauce.

More recently, though, I’ve been bored enough to actually watch some of these movies a second time. And wow. It’s certainly dissuading me of a few misconceptions…

But let’s get to the Re-View of a movie I saw almost twenty years ago – “Deep Impact.”

Views on this movie were split into two major groups. Half of people remember this movie as “the movie so similar Armageddon that it might have been Armageddon.” And the other half remember it as just “the movie that wasn’t Armageddon.”

Both groups aren’t totally on the mark because this movie is, in fact, a horrible machine that feeds on the tears of parents.

Of course, I had no understanding of this as a child. I fell pretty neatly into the category of people who looked at this as the almost completely forgettable “movie that was sort of like Armageddon but wasn’t and oh, look, Morgan Freeman.”

I remember it not being terrible. In fact, it was actually fairly good, as disaster movies went. And who knows? Maybe things would have played out differently if Armageddon hadn’t come out at pretty much the same time.

Or, you know, not at all, saving us from that damn Aerosmith song about the guy who didn’t like sleeping or something.

Watching it recently, as the parent of a small child, the movie really hits you differently. It was like the difference between my playthroughs of “The Last of Us” pre-baby and post-baby. Before I was a parent, the opening act of the main character’s daughter getting gunned down while he clutches her and begs her not to die, that was rough. When I played it after my son was born, I think I had to go hold him in the middle of the night while he just sort of wondered what the hell was happening.

“If there’s ever a zombie outbreak,” I whispered into his ear, “you have to let me walk in front everywhere, okay?” At which point, he bit me in the shoulder, so that whole thing was messed up on a lot of levels.

To some degree, though, it’s worse in Deep Impact because that movie has a lot of families in a lot of crappy situations. So if any individual plot thread doesn’t tug at your heartstrings just right, they’ve got about thirty or forty to choose from. How about the estranged father who desperately wants to reconnect with his daughter before the world ends? No? How about the family who gets left off the list of people in the shelter and only their daughter gets in? Or the parents who hand off their infant moments before the impact so a guy on a fast bike might get them to safety?

None of those? How about the astronaut who went to space before his son was born and has to sacrifice his life to save the Earth? And his wife and son are late for a last message but get their juuuuuuust in time. But he never sees his son because he was blinded in an accident. Then there’s cooing and “I love yous” exchanged in the final moments before the video feed finally cuts out.

And then, for the last ten minutes, it just lingers on an old dog’s face as it slowly dies in the arms of the boy it grew up with while Johnny Cash plays guitar in the background.

In any event, I thought coming back to this movie after twenty years was particularly strange. Because missing out on sexual innuendo as a kid just means you’re missing out on a movie’s humor. Missing out on the soul-crushing despair in this movie completely changes the subtext. As an adult, you see the disaster as more of just a framing device for a lot of very raw, emotional stories. They could’ve replaced a comet impact with pretty much anything large enough to destroy the Earth but small enough to be stopped by a scrappy team of scientists, and the movie would have been identical.

The only question is, for what diabolical purpose were they harvesting those tears?

Preview – “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”


So the trailer for this movie just dropped and I am fully ready to jump on the hype train, aircraft, spaceship or any other hype-based mode of transportation.

I won’t pretend to have a lot of insider information on this movie, because I don’t. And to some degree, I’d rather not. The recent leak culture going on disguised as fan excitement isn’t doing good things for the industry. The big reveal of a character six months before a movie releases tickles some people in just the right way, but to me random photos without any real context are the worst sort of spoiler.

But I digress.

Instead, I will just include the trailer, allowing anyone who hasn’t seen it to do so in a single click rather than two or three.

I will also share – perhaps unnecessarily – that I am super-excited about this movie. As I said, I don’t know much about this movie except that I saw the first one. But to me, that’s really enough.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” is one of the few movies that’s had me hyped at every single stage of development. I knew from the first previews that even though I’d never heard of it, I had to see it on opening day. And then my son was born, thus derailing this story quite spectacularly.

(Writer’s Note: In case this wasn’t clear, I don’t consider this a bad trade-off because, hey, free baby.)

But my enthusiasm held for the months it took me to actually go see it, which is pretty rare for me. And when I finally saw it, I wasn’t in any way disappointed. It was, in fact, one of only two movie examples I would classify as “rollicking” – the other being the highly underrated “This is the End.”

And what’s more, it’s something I bought immediately on DVD and have watched over and over since then. That’s not even something “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” can claim. (I did buy the DVD but I’ve only watched it twice since then.) Then again, the movies I tend to watch most often are probably “The Mummy,” “Little Nicky,” “Constantine” and “Hellboy,” so unless you happen to be my wife – who shares my odd tastes – your mileage will almost certainly vary.

I will end with random trivia, because why not?

Vin Diesel was given a version of the script that has English translations of what Groot is saying. The idea is that since his only line is “I am Groot,” he has to stress the words differently or add emphasis depending on the meaning he wants to get across. I found that interesting, but given that it’s a fact about Vin Diesel, I shouldn’t be surprised because everything about that man is inherently interesting.

Kurt Russell is Chris Pratt’s father. (But only in the movie, so far as I know.) No spoilers here. I just thought we’d left the era of “movies with Kurt Russel in them.” And I’m not sad to find out I was wrong.

Reading up on things, it lists a ton of people from the first movie as now being part of the Guardians. I’m not sure exactly what to make of that. So I’ll hedge my bets and say it’s one-half interesting and one-half probably a misunderstanding.

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.