FOR PARENTS ONLY
* The Following Material Is for Parents of Small Children Only and Otherwise Incomprehensible if Not Offensive to Others
Picking on the Food Network has become too easy. It’s low hanging fruit.
So … this week, at least, I thought I’d look at another network. One I actually watch. And these days, when I’m home, the majority of my TV watching time is spent sitting on the living room floor watching Nick Jr. and Noggin. I take an interest in my child’s viewing habits. For all my earlier promises to myself that I’d limit her TV watching time to like–half an hour a day–that has been a hard policy to enforce. Denying a 2 year old when her lip starts to tremble and her face crumples, a look of utter betrayal in her eyes as she implores me: “Da Da? I want Backyardigans!” has proven to be too much for me.
It’s edumacational anyways, right?
Plus, I really like THE BACKYARDIGANS. I find the adventures of Pablo, Austin, Tasha, Tyrone and Uniqua thrilling. It looks unlike anything else on kiddie TV, the characters (animated with the help of live action dancer choreographers) move differently than any other brightly animal colored characters you’ve ever seen. The backgrounds are eerily wonderful and atmospheric–like Grand Theft Auto without the dead prostitutes and chain saws. The music, by former Lounge Lizard Evan Lurie is quirky, catchy, creative and ever changing. In brief, each episode begins with the five (sometimes only four) characters playing in their adjacent suburban backyards. A theme is struck..they wander into an episode- long fantasy world. At some point in the story, one of the characters’ stomachs will begin to growl. A snack is suggested. Whatever beautifully designed world of the imagination they’re in dissolves around them as the friends rush the few steps home for a snack. I actually experience a frisson as the walls of a medieval castle, windswept beach, Mount Olympus– whatever world the little friends occupy that week–dissolve around them, the trappings of a suburban backyard reassembling itself as they toddle inside for cookies.
On the other hand, I resent that the painfully animated WONDER PETS has an unholy grip on my daughter’s affections. And I count the days until she tires of these cloyingly cute little cut outs, seemingly reassembled and animated from scraps of magazine photographs. Is it possible to hate an animated character? Personally hate them? Because my loathing for guinea-pig Linnie and turtle Tuck is exceeded only by my fervent hope that one of these days, the disgustingly cute duckling, “Ming-Ming” will get sucked into a lawnmower or a fan, ending her reign of terror over my household. And if my little girl grows up pronouncing her “l”s as “w”s–as the disgusting Ming Ming insists on doing in a misguided attempt at cuteness? I will hunt down the producers of this show and do them terrible violence.
I love YO GABBA GABBA. I don’t care what you say, DJ Lance, Muno, Broby, Foofa, Toodie and Plex have taught my daughter many valuable lessons–like the desirability of napping, for one. Not to throw objects at Daddy’s skull. Not biting. The value of “trying again” and “not giving up.” All set to surprisingly weird, offbeat songs which–in another venue and with other lyrics, one might find oneself enjoying at a club. They get good indie bands as guests, and Mark Mothersbaugh of DEVO is a regular. I know every song and every lyric by heart.
BLUE’S CLUES I can take or leave. I do greatly prefer the episodes hosted by “Steve” to the ones featuring the seemingly overplucked and man-scaped “Joe”. BLUE’S ROOM, a cynical brand expansion of the original show–with puppets–sucks. Blue’s charm in the original was that she didn’t talk. In BLUE’S ROOM she does. To ill effect.
All parents must, sooner or later, come to terms with DORA THE EXPLORER and her alleged “cousin”, DIEGO. I’ve always found their relationship suspicious at best. And who is this kid, Diego, anyway? Where are his parents? How does he get to run around unsupervised in the jungle? And isn’t he too young to have a driver’s license? If not–then he’s certainly too goddamn old to be hanging out with Dora!! I do like the “Rescue Pack” song, however. And my daughter’s affection for these kissin’ cousins is unwavering. So much so that I brought her to see Dora “Live” at Radio City–which is to throw oneself into a Skittle scented mosh pit filled with thousands and thousands of screaming kids and their mothers. At every appearance of the rascally fox, “Swiper”, the walls shake like a high-pitched Nuremberg rally of sticky children , screaming “SWIPER NO SWIPING” in unison–as avidly as any cries of “Duce!” or worse. But…there’s no arguing with true love. All kids love Dora and Diego–and the sooner we resign ourselves to that, the easier it’ll go for us.
I like OSWALD just fine. LITTLE BILL is kinda charming and sweet–and relentlessly teaches good values. I”m okay with MAGGIE AND THE FEROCIOUS BEAST. That spider show is pretty cool.
I like NI HAO KAI LAN because my daughter loves it–and because any show that teaches her Mandarin is probably a good thing–preparing her for the day that this will be the language of our future masters. I like that Kai Lan’s Granpa, “Ye-Ye” is always cooking dumplings. Not so crazy about Kai Lan’s little friend Toli. He strikes me as a maladjusted, whining little shit–always acting out in hopes of getting special attention and sympathy. She should drop that little koala **** until they adjust his meds and hang out more with her tiger friend Rintu–or the more outgoing and well adjusted Ho-Ho. Every episode that Kai Lan persists in enabling her deeply disturbed, panda-obsessed, passive-aggressive little friend only teaches her impressionable audience that just pouting long enough will get you what you want. Time for tough love for Toli.
LAZYTOWN? This show totally creeps me out. In this candy colored ode to eugenics, live action “Sporticus” matches wits with the malevolent “Robbie Rotten” among various puppets in a stylized village populated by a credulous and generally helpless populace of Untermenschen, all of whom look to their blimp-dwelling hero as their unelected leader. . “Sporticus” is played by millionaire areobic champion and owner of an Icelandic gym franchise–who also produces, directs, designs the puppets–according to the credits, there’s nothing he doesn’t do–and the message, constantly reinforced throughout every episode is that the answer to all life’s problems is relentless exercise, narcissistic exhibitionism–personified by muscle flexing, gratuitous displays of aerobics, and taking credit for everything. We are all helpless bivalves, waiting for a well-cut Uber Man to rescue us in Lazytown. It’s a textbook showcase for apparent pathological narcissism. I find the show creepy and somehow…evil. Exactly how, I’m not sure yet. But I keep my kid away from it like caustic drain cleaner.
There’s no keeping her away, however, from the bombardment of promos and songs from the painful and excrutiating industry created entity known as the “FRESH BEAT BAND.” At the end of every other Nick Jr. or Noggin show, for the last few months, they’ve been pounding us silly, trying to introduce audiences to the music and antics of this hyperactively peppy music and dance group. Until a few weeks ago, they were being touted as the “JUMPAROUNDS” –then, perhaps, some office wag was overheard referring to them as the “ReachArounds” and a sudden name change was instituted over night–as if the previous campaign had never occured. (Causing, no doubt, untold psychological damage and confusion to their young, vulnerable fans). Not to be too cruel–but one of the “kids” in this bunch looks like a 32 year old masquerading as a teen. The lead “singer” (meaning, I gather, he moves his lips obligingly when called upon to do so) has the dead eyes of a man at the end of his string. The “rapper”, a tall, gawky young man, throws himself into his moves with the urgency of someone who wants never to fill another fixin’s bar–whatever the cost to his soul. It’s a genuinely uncomfortable mash up of “street” affectations, “grown up” moves from MTV,and adults and children –that feels (to me, anyway) sleazy and exploitative. I fear the worst. That my daughter will love it.
While Miley and the Jonas Brothers–with any luck–will be in rehab or jail by the time my little girl is at the target age for their brand of hijinks, these FRESH BEAT creatures have me worried.