Category Archives: Children’s TV Reviews

THE ONE WITH THE TEEN WHO HAPPENS TO BE A ROCKSTAR

I am taking a small break from the kiddie shows in order to focus on another genre, one possibly more deadly.  Teenie-bopper shows.  Disney and Nickelodeon (or Nick, cause they are trying to be cool) are two of the most responsible for this programming.  These shows tend to feature beautiful, pimple-less teens with major problems, like prom, boyfriends or lack thereof, and parents who are complete morons.

While these shows feature teens, they are usually watched by pre-teens in the 9 to 12 range.  That’s because once a kid reaches the age of the kids on the show, they realize that real school life isn’t remotely like the lives of these teenage stars.  But for younger kids, these shows are great, because they feature great role models they can look up to – um, at least until their role models get caught smoking crack.  Which brings us to the first example, by request:

Hannah Montana

Please don’t tell my heart, my achy breaky arghhhhh. . . .

Hannah Montana is about a girl named Miley, played by Miley Cyrus, in yet another T.V. trend of naming the main characters after the actress so that they can more easily remember which part they play.  Also on the show is Miley’s real-life country music has-been mullet-headed father, Billy Ray Cyrus.  Billy Ray made it big with the song “Achy Breaky Heart” which was played on the radio so many times in the early 90s that people were poking at their own ears with sharp sticks.  The song even spawned a line dance.  No, really.  Horrible times, the 90s.

Anyway, after Achy Breaky, Billy Ray didn’t do a whole lot until he was able to ride the coat tails of his daughter onto her new Disney show.  In the tradition of Disney, they chose a girl who was both pretty and a good singer.  They would also have her act, badly, but with the goofy scripts, it was really hard to tell.  The plot of Hannah Montana was rather simple.  Miley was a young teen who had just moved from Tennessee to Malibu and had to adjust to her oh-so-difficult life filled with problems like concealing her secret identity as rockstar Hannah Montana.  Her disguise was almost as clever as Clark Kent’s.  She wore a blond wig.  Yup.  A rock solid disguise there.

Totally fooled.

So what were the highlights of this show?  Well, first there was the corny accent that I could listen to for all of five seconds before I started looking for that pointy stick I used back in the early 90s.  Or the costumes, that were always modest and appropriate -for a showgirl.  And the singing – imagine the exact same song played over and over and over again.  Oh, sure, my daughter assures me that she was actually singing several different songs, but they all sounded the same to me.  Here’s some of the songs I got from Wikipedia that thankfully I don’t remember.

“Make Some Noise” (how very apropos!)
“If We Were a Movie” (whut?)
“Nobody’s Perfect” (except for Miley / Hannah!)
“The Best of Both Worlds” (I really don’t want to see the worst, then)

Hannah doll comes complete with bong!

Hannah Montana ran from roughly the beginning of time about a million years until mercifully ending in 2011.   By this time, Hannah had spawned a huge merchandizing frenzy, with dolls, bedspreads, and clothes.  At one point, Wal-Mart carried only Hannah Montana clothing in their girl’s section.  The face was everywhere – like Hannah was purposely following me around.  “Haha, you just think you can avoid me by screaming when the T.V. is on until your daughters turn it off.  I’ll show you!”

As Hannah’s fame grew, so did Miley Cyrus’s.  The little brat is worth millions but you’ll be happy to know she has been very responsible with it.  At 15, she posed nearly naked in bedsheets – pictures approved by her father.  Can’t describe the Ick factor there.  Later, she got a video leaked on youtube of her doing drugs on her birthday.  Parents everywhere were filled with joy.  Around the time of this scandle, I was helping at a kindergarden Christmas party for my youngest daughter.  An adorable five-year-old classmate of hers told me, “Miley Cyrus smoked a bong.”  “That’s nice dear, want a cupcake???”

On the plus side, Hannah and Miley are now of age, and the show has ended.  But never fear, for there are still other shows about kids who happen to be rock stars – dozens of them.  So exciting!  OMG.

Final Analysis:

Irritating, has-been country music star: Check

Teen with totally realistic alter-ego: Yup

Disney actress that does drugs: Uh huh

Ick Factor: Present

OF CYCLOPS CUCUMBERS AND FUZZY ORANGE HATS

This show is one of the more recent offerings by Nick Jr., a spin-off of Nickelodeon, the station that brought you such intelligent offerings as Double Dare.  Which reminds me that I will have to do a special on 80s and 90s kid shows, especially those that routinely pour gelatinous goo all over children.  But first, I introduce to you  . . .
Yo Gabba Gabba
This is a show about a guy with some figurines that become giant, costumed monstrosities.  The only thing scarier than these creatures is the supposedly human man that takes care of them.  DJ Lance Rock (I wonder if he puts that on his driver’s license – Rock, DJ Lance) is tall and unnaturally skinny, with giant glasses, a furry orange hat, and an orange skin-tight jumpsuit.  Fortunately, we don’t see him as often as the others.
The Village Monsters
There are four monsters.  Foofa is a pink blob with a daisy on her head.  I don’t know what type of monster she is, but she definitely makes me wary of going out into the garden.  Brobee is a green monster with stripes, a unibrow, a freaky expression, and long, limp arms.  When he dances, he flops the things around uselessly, like partially severed limbs.  Toodee is blue and looks kind of like a cat, albeit a mutant cat.  Plex is a yellow robot with crossed eyes, which seems like a serious design flaw.  Finally, and I’ve saved him for last for a reason, is Muno. 
Hang on a second, I have to go shudder in a corner.
Okay, I’m back.  Muno is a Cyclops, but not just any Cyclops.  Muno resembles a red cucumber with some sort of horrible, festering disease.  He is the stuff of nightmares.  I want to know who thought this guy up, and what mental institution or drug rehab center he is currently stationed at.  No, I don’t want to hurt him.  I just want to ask him, “Why?”  Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyy . . .
Hey Mom . . . arghhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!
Where was I?  It is easy to get lost when discussing this show.  There are so many questions.  Why is it called “Yo Gabba Gabba”?  Is this Spanish gibberish?  What does it mean?  I talk talk?  I grab grab?  I’m not sure.  I suppose the title is catchier than “OMG, The Horror, The Horror”, but it still doesn’t make sense.  Unless that’s the purpose.  Delightful nonsense is one thing; nonsense that produces creatures that used to hide under my bed at night is something else. 
Well, this is awkward.
This show features many songs that we can all learn from.  For instance, there is “Don’t Bite Your Friends.”  Oh, sure, it’s tempting, but you really don’t know where your friends have been, plus they have the power to sue you.  So don’t do it.  Yes, I know, this is supposed to be directed at children, but somehow I doubt they’re going to listen.  They have teeth and they’re going to use them.  It’s not like a toddler is going to hear this song and go “Ohhhhh.  I get it now.  I was being so unreasonable before!” 
If anything, it seems like this show encourages children to bite one another, if only to get away from the scary cucumber.  It certainly isn’t going to make them want to eat their vegetables, I can tell you that.  Yet the show gained enough popularity to produce a merchandizing storm with toys, clothes, shoes, and sheet sets.  Can you imagine the horror of waking up next to that one-eyed cucumber?  Or almost as bad, the DJ?  I don’t even want to think about it.
I am just thankful that my children have progressed past “Yo Gabba Gabba”.  Now they just watch the teeny-bopper shows on the regular Nickelodeon, a universe where every girl is a gorgeous, pimple-free teenager who just happens to also be a rock star.  Wait . . . I’m starting to miss the cucumber.
Final Analysis:
Diseased Cyclops Cucumber: Yes
Supposedly Human Host: Yes
Educational “Bite Me” Songs: Yes
Didacticism: The cucumber . . . it has one eye . . .

ONE SHOW TO RULE THEM ALL – SESAME STREET

Can you think of any children’s show you actually like?  Well, I could try.  How about . . .
SESAME STREET
Before anyone gets up-in-arms, I will say that I am not going to trash Sesame Street.  I just couldn’t.  It’s an awesome little show.  Almost everyone forty and under grew up with this show.  The fact that it is still on the air after over thirty years, with many of the same actors, is testament to the quality.  But I wish to review it anyway, because the shows I snark on could stand to learn a lot from their example.
Bite. Me.
Are there sunny characters that make you want to puke?  Oh, sure.  But for every Elmo (more on him later) there is an Oscar.  Oscar the Grouch is a hairy green puppet that lives in a trash can.  And he LIKES it there, thank you.  In response to his relentlessly cheerful neighbors, Oscar says, essentially “Bite me.”  I admire that in a puppet.  There is also Bert, who contrasts Ernie in an odd couple sort of way (there has been endless speculation from people with too much time on their hands – like me – who wonder what their relationship is exactly.  I say they’re brothers, since they live in the same house.  And I’m sticking to that.)  Ernie is chipper and bouncy and loves stuff like lollipops.  Bert, on the other hand, likes to sit quietly and read (while Ernie tortures him with joy and gladness).  He prefers linoleum to lollipops.  I like Bert.  My husband has said that when Bert finally snaps, he’s sure to take out Ernie first.  But he hopes Elmo is next.
“H” is not for Homey, Elmo.
Elmo is a special case.  Elmo came after a lot of the first generation of Sesame Street viewers grew up.  He is an INVADER.  And not only that, he has his own little spot on the show, called “Elmo’s World”.  Elmo is another scarily cheerful puppet with a high-pitched voice who speaks in third person.  Elmo wants this, and Elmo wants that, etc.  You know a show has a loyal following when adults get violently angry about a new puppet usurping authority.  “We had Grover, darn it, and we were HAPPY.”   But little toddlers love Elmo.  Which means their parents, people of my generation, had to watch him.  And buy the toys.  One of them, “Tickle Me, Elmo” (less said about this the better) was one of those hard-to-find toys one Christmas.  Which meant parents were tackling each other to get a toy of a character they felt had ruined a part of their childhood.  Ironic, that.
WTF?  Where me freakin’ cookies???
But Elmo is still only one character.  Most of the characters are multi-faceted.  They aren’t just nice or mean or happy or sad.  They have personalities.  Grover is sweet and lovable (and also speaks in third person) but has a definite mean streak, like when he’s acting as an incompetent waiter.   And Big Bird has such vivid delusions they actually come to life.  Anyone else remember when Snuffleupagus was his imaginary giant friend?  Now everybody sees him.  I guess they figured if they were friends with a six-foot tall bird, an enormous  whatever-he-is wasn’t such a big leap.  Cookie Monster will always be one of my favorites because of his total lack of self-control.  Don’t listen to those guys trying to make you eat healthy, Cookie Monster!  “C is for Cookie” is good enough for me, too.  He has been paired with polar opposite Prairie Dawn, who is one of the few puppets that you can actively imagine has a stick up her behind. 
And that’s what makes this show so good.  You forget these things are puppets.   People develop genuine love for these characters.  They are purple, and blue, and green, and no one is better than the other (not even Elmo).  Without resulting to syrupy didacticism, this show does present good values to kids, partly because it all just comes naturally.  Seeing such different looking creatures – and their non-caricatured adult human friends – interact promotes diversity.  You don’t have to spell it all out, as in – “Look, here is Cookie Monster, an obsessive-compulsive blue puppet who is hanging out with a hairy, green, homeless hoarder named Oscar!”  Kids can see that for themselves.
The 70’s were a long, long,
 LONG time ago
Sesame Street also has something to offer adults.  There are parodies of everything from “Saturday Night Fever” to the more recent “Law and Order”.  Even Dr. Phil has been puppetized, to hilarious effect.  Also, there are the guest puppets like the “Yip-Yip” aliens.  These wacky looking characters beam down with their giant mouths yipping as they try to understand human culture, usually mistaking clocks and phones for humans and cows.  I can still watch clips of this show and laugh out loud.
Sesame Street is located on a city street, not a sanitized suburb.  This is not a gated community like so many children’s shows.  This is real life – only with puppets.  It’s true that too many of these inner-city neighborhoods are violent, and unsafe, but not all.  Some of them do have neighbors that will work together and form a community.  And even if they don’t, Sesame Street is something to aspire to – it is hope.  The songs, which also stick in your head, are actually meaningful.  It isn’t easy being green, but there are good things that come with the color, along with the bad.  You can come and play here, everything’s A-okay.  Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?
But my favorite message of all comes from crazy old Cookie Monster.  “What is friend?  Friend is somebody you give up last cookie for.”  If Cookie Monster can give up a cookie, maybe there is hope for the rest of the world as well.
Final Analysis
Hairy, red usurper – YES
Multiple Personalities and Disorders Presented – YES
Diversity Promoted Without Nausea – Yes
Is C for Cookie? – YES

THE ONE WITH THE PURPLE DINOSAUR

Next up, a character we all love . . . to hate.
 
Barney
Why have I waited so long to cover this show?  For starters, it just seems too easy.  Barney has been parodied by everybody.  His song “I love you, you love me” has had its lyrics changed to “Let’s hang Barney from a tree” and the religiously inspired “I am the devil, worship me.”  There is also the song sung to the tune of “Joy to the World” in which children happily barbecue Barney’s head and then flush it down the potty.  Anyway, I doubt there is an adult anywhere who hasn’t at least heard of Barney, whether or not they have children.  He’s just that popular.
Scary what the mind can
do, isn’t it?

 

What is it about Barney that strikes such a chord with people?  Is it the guy in the fat dinosaur suit?  Is it that the dinosaur is a noxious shade of purple?  Is it the sickly, syrupy, sweet messages of love coming from the purple dinosaur?  Could it be that the song is sung in that annoying voice that sticks in your head and never, ever gets out? Or the overacting children who dance and sing with the dinosaur?  It can be all of these things and more!
But there are other possible explanations.   Barney is a dinosaur, and most young boys adore dinosaurs.  Why do they like dinosaurs?  Well that’s easy.  Dinosaurs are big and fierce, they roar loudly, they eat small creatures, they stomp around, and they do not have to go to bed at 8pm.  Most certainly they do not sing songs about love and safety and the ABCs.  And while scientists can’t really be certain what color the dinosaurs were (or even if they have the dinosaurs all assembled correctly in certain cases,) it’s a good bet that they probably weren’t fuchsia with green bellies.  So, in a way, you could say that Barney ruined the good dinosaur name.  I mean, he most resembles a T- Rex, the meanest, deadliest (and thus favorite) dinosaur for crying out loud.  A T-Rex would not sing nursery rhymes.
Hi, I’m a real T-Rex.  Scuse me
 while I eat this guy.
But one of the biggest annoyances of the big, purple dinosaur is that song.  You know  the song.  “I love you, you love me. / We’re a happy family. / With a great big hug, and a kiss from me to you.  / Won’t you say you love me too?”  Yes, I just recalled all of that from memory.  Not only is it annoying and mildly disconcerting (I don’t WANT a six-foot tall dinosaur to love me, or give me hugs and kisses, thanks) it’s not even an original tune.  It is sung to the tune of “This Old Man”.  Granted, it does make more sense than “This Old Man” (what is knickknack, and how do you play it on your thumb?) but it is still a rip-off of a nursery rhyme, all of which are designed to never leave your brain.
It’s not just Barney on the show.  He has friends, of course.  There are two Triceratops (I guess that’s what they’re supposed to be) that are arguably more obnoxious than Barney, because they’ve usually got some sort of problem that nobody cares about.  One is a girl named “Baby Bop” which makes Barney sound like the best name ever.  Come to think of it, you have to feel sorry for men who just happen to have that name.  That would have to suck.  I don’t remember the name of the other Triceratops, and I’m not looking him up.  Anyway Barney never takes the opportunity to eat either of them, which is what any real T-Rex would do.  It certainly would have increased his popularity.
Haha, Stick ’em up, kids!

 

Another disturbing aspect of Barney is how he starts out as a stuffed animal that at random points magically transforms into a giant playmate for kids.  I can imagine they sold many stuffed toys that way to children who waited several minutes (probably armed with sticks) for Barney to appear, only to be disappointed.  Truth in advertising, people!  It reminds me of when I was in kindergarten.  My teacher told my class to wear our moon boots because we were going to the moon the next day.  I was all prepared for the field trip, but there was no sign of the bus.  We went NOWHERE.  The teacher’s explanation was that we were supposed to “use our imaginations” which I thought was a total crock at the time.  I never did totally trust her again after that.  I could imagine other children feeling just that way about the lovable dinosaur.  Barney’s message: adults lie, kids.
Mostly Barney has just infiltrated our culture as a representative of all that is awful in children’s programming.  Yes, if you’re a baby or toddler your standards aren’t so high, so he’s probably okay then, although I wouldn’t advise taking such a small child to see Barney “live”.  I’ve never understood why some adults think a very small child would enjoy an extremely large animal looming over them like that.  There is a picture of me from one Halloween when I my older brother and I were small.  We’re with our mom who is standing beside a guy in a giant pumpkin suit.  My brother looks vaguely uncomfortable, while I am screaming at the top of my lungs.  If you think of it from the kid’s point of view, you probably wouldn’t care for a nine-foot tall monstrosity either.  Especially if it insisted you “love it too.”
Final Analysis
Adult in big, stupid costume: Yes
Irritating songs that NEVER leave your brain: Yes
Overacting, obnoxious children: Yes
Didacticism: You’re soaking in it.
 

DIRECTIONALLY CHALLENGED T.V.

                 A lot of people put down T.V. because they think it makes kids lazy.  I protest, for often my children watched T.V. while standing on their heads, or jumping on my back, which was revenge for when I used to turn somersaults in front of the set, narrowly avoiding electrocution each time.  At any rate, in order to appease those who think T.V. makes you sedentary and brainless (imagine that!), network executives came up with the brilliant idea of “interactive” children’s shows.  These are shows that ask kids to help the people on the screen, usually by shouting out obvious solutions to the problems of very stupid characters.

                I picked two of these shows to highlight, although I warn you now these reviews might cause PTSD in susceptible parents.  First up:

dora title

                  Dora, Dora, Dora the Explorah is a cute little Hispanic kid with a football shaped head.  She has a pet monkey that wears boots, but nothing else.  Together they force children to help them get somewhere, as if they were tiny human GPSs.  Dora is prepared, though, with her trusty backpack (cue song: “Backpack, backpack, backpack, backpack .  . . “) that contains a map.  Yes, that’s right.  You can’t hear that word without also hearing the song that goes with it.  “I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the map, I’m the MAP!!!!!”

Yeah, um, no thanks.

Yeah, um, no thanks.

                Next an arrow – like a giant, supernatural mouse pointer – “clicks” on whatever object the child is supposed to select.  So it’s like a cartoon computer program, for annoying children who grew up with computers and frequently slam their hands into storybooks expecting them to talk.  I guess the arrow helps them identify the obvious even more . . . obviously.

                Since Dora is Hispanic, she often teaches the kids Spanish words, mostly by repeating herself, which if you haven’t noticed, is a major pattern in this show.  I mean, sure, I’ve heard of Spanglish, or using a mixture of English and Spanish, but this kid just says the same thing in two different languages.  Here we go again: “Come on Vamanos!  Everybody let’s go! “

 Okay, so basically this is what Dora is saying, if you just keep it all in English.  “Come on, everybody let’s go!  Everybody let’s go!”  Do you know anyone that talks like that?  If so, they’ve probably been damaged by children’s T.V.  Anyway, besides teaching Spanish, Dora also teaches kids about using a map to get somewhere, which admittedly, most adults still haven’t figured out either.  Each episode, she pulls out a map and points to three places they have to go on their way.  It’s always three places, no matter what.  It could be to the bathroom, and still she would have three stops.  And she would point each one out.  Repeatedly.

What is that thing hanging from the cliff???

Okay, first the river, then the bridge then . . .what is that thing hanging from the mountain???

By the time Dora has done this a dozen or so times, the kids have gotten the hang of it and are calling out answers to her.  But she doesn’t just want help with direction.  She also needs help with basic motor skills, like when she says “Jump! Salta!  Say it with me!  Salta!  Salta!  Saaaaaaaaaaltaaaaaa!”.  Executives and parenting experts think this means the show is actively engaging the child’s brain, which I guess it is, but only so the child can get the character to SHUT UP ALREADY.

To spice things up, the show has a villain fox named Swiper, because he . . . swipes stuff.  Which I guess is a better name than Clepto.  He has to be one of the dumbest crooks ever though, because he’s always stealing things like parts of railroad track, rather than, say, an Xbox that he could sell on Ebay.  He’s also easy to turn away.  All you have to do is yell – you all remember it, don’t you? “Swiper, no swiping!”

Swiper, what are you doing with that chipmunk . . . noooo!

Swiper, what are you doing with that chipmunk . . . noooo!

And magically he stops what he’s doing, says “Oh, man” and leaves.  Imagine if every criminal was that easy to discourage.  My brother pointed out that this could inadvertently encourage children to say “Sniper, no sniping” which would be a pretty bad idea, considering that the sniper would be much more likely to shoot you in the head as snap his fingers in frustration.  But I guess it’s worth a try, huh?  Hint: It might be more effective if you know how to ask in both languages, just in case he’s bilingual.

After some trial and error, and repetition, repetition, repetition, she gets where she’s going and we are mercifully treated to end credits.  But the song NEVER goes away.  Maybe this will help:

blue title

The second of our interactive T.V. shows is about a dog named Blue and her human owner, who is the stupidest man on earth.  There have actually been two owners of Blue – who you notice gets her name in the title over him, despite being not only a dog, but a cartoon dog.  You can’t blame them, though, since Blue is arguably the brightest one.  Steve was first, before he left for “college”.  Personally, I don’t think he was ready for college.  Except maybe clown college.

Never fear, though, for Steve’s brother Joe steps in next.  I liked Joe a little better, because he was at least cuter, even if there was a vacancy behind those pretty eyes.   Unlike Dora, Steve and Joe – for simplification I’ll call them Stejoe – don’t use a map.  That’s way too complicated.  Instead they must search for clues; difficult, considering neither of them has one.  Blue leaves these clues all over the house and yard in the form of paw prints.  This would annoy the heck out of me, but I guess it is better than her leaving “presents” for us instead.

Clearly the dumbs runs in the family

Clearly the dumbs runs in the family

Blue starts the show by leaving clues for kids to follow in order to guess what she’s thinking.  Because unlike Lassie, she can’t convey this in yips.  Of course she can’t talk – she’s a dog.  Everything else can talk, though, including the mailbox, a clock, a bar of soap, a shovel, a pail, a sidetable drawer, and, naturally, the salt and pepper shakers (Mr. Salt and Mrs. Pepper).  (By the way, these two got married and had a baby named Paprika.  Don’t ask.)

Get off my breakfast table this instant!

Get off my breakfast table this instant!

Blue leaves her clues on various objects, and Stejoe searches for them, often walking into walls, getting confused, and walking into the same wall again.  Not really, but this wouldn’t surprise me.   The clues are always out in plain sight, but somehow Stejoe just never sees them.  This frustrated my youngest daughter so much that by three she was shouting at the T.V. in frustration “It’s THERE.  Right THERE!  THERE!!!!”

The clue is WHERE now?

The clue is WHERE now?

Once Stejoe finally gets the hint, he writes down the clue on a notepad.  Because the guy can’t remember squat.  Actually, he draws it, because he’s also not so hot at reading or writing.  Along the way, he stops and talks to the inanimate objects, who give him advice like “Right in front of your face, you dork.”  You know it’s bad when you have less intelligence than the salt shaker.

Once Steve has gathered all the clues, he has kids help him guess the answer.  Because trust me, he would never, ever get there on his own.  One thing I’ll give him – he was always very polite, even when I answered his questions rather rudely.

The concept of both shows is really not that bad.  It’s great to teach kids to look for clues and solve mysteries, and everyone needs to know where they’re going.  A few words of Spanish are nice too, for those moments when you must demand that a Spanish person jump.  But the repetition is hard on us parents, who spend most of our lives repeating things anyway, to no avail.  “Get your shoes.  Your shoes.  On your feet.  Your feet. They’re right there.  There!!!  Your shoes!” and so on.  So obviously repetition is not the answer, since it has never worked for me, so why further punish people?  Just get the kids a GPS and a game of Clue and be done with it.

                                                Final Analysis:

Repetition: Yes Yes Yes

Annoying songs: Yes

Forces interaction for self-preservation: Yes

                                                                  Didactic: Sing with me!

POWERTOOLS ARE MY FRIENDS

I know that men can become attached to their tools and machines.  When you start having conversations with your equipment, though, you might have a bit of a problem.  Next up: two children’s shows feature talking tools and machines.  (What is it with these talking inanimate object shows?  Are there not enough animate objects to make shows about?  Like, say, giant mutant dogs?  Nevermind.)  Our first contestant is:
 
Bob the Builder
                Bob is a likable enough guy.  He is a builder – hence the name of the show.  But he doesn’t do the job alone.  He also works with Wendy (they’re just friends) and a lot of different vroom-vroom machines, making him a natural favorite for boys.  These machines of his, though, are not ordinary machines.  They are living machines, which technically means they are both Bob’s equipment AND employees.  I’m not sure how you would figure out your taxes in that sort of situation.  Are they dependents or work related expenses?
Surprise, Wendy
EEEEEK!
                Either way, they are a little unsettling.  Machines were created because they offered many of the positives of an employee (working until they break) with none of the downsides (expecting a paycheck).  But here Bob has to deal with both.  So you have to wonder – does he pay the machines?  If not, are they slaves, or even weirder, adopted children?  They do act like children, often running off and doing their own thing and messing up Bob’s projects.  He and Wendy  do seem like parents, always disciplining their construction equipment.  And from what I can tell, just like children, the machines have no freaking off switch.  What a pain.
                The machines had names.  I don’t remember all of them, but there was a cement mixer named Dizzy that particularly got on my nerves.  That one was supposed to be a she, I think, although I don’t want to know how you would determine that.  She had an irritating voice, and was always spinning around, cement sloshing around her insides.  Then there was a crane named Lofty, who suffered from self-esteem issues.  I wish I was making this up.  Whenever the crew would yell their catch phrase – later cleverly stolen by Obama as a campaign slogan – “Can we build it?  Yes we can!”, the crane would always add, “Yeah, I think so.”  Because you can never be too sure of your abilities, even when you were specifically built to do the job. 
Haha, welcome to the
nighmare, kids!
                Oh, no, I almost forgot Spud.  No, he wasn’t a talking potato; that would be silly.  He was a talking scarecrow, and a real jerk too.  I wanted one of the machines to “accidentally” rip the thing apart.   Spud proves that the delusions extend past the construction equipment, although interestingly enough, not to the animal characters.  The idea that these machines really are alive reminds me of a Stephen King horror novel, so I’m going to say that they must be Bob and Wendy’s delusions.  Of course, I’m not certain that Wendy – and the other people in the town – are all having the delusion.  Maybe they are just humoring Bob, because they’re afraid he’ll snap like that Killdozer guy.  If you haven’t seen him, you should really check him out on youtube.  Talk about a trip.
                According to Wikipedia, “The show emphasizes conflict resolution, co-operation, socialization and various learning skills.”  Well, okay, I guess it emphasizes all these things, but personally, I think Bob would be better off getting his socialization AWAY from the construction equipment.  Just me, though.
                But it’s not just Bob who has a strange attachment to work related objects.  There’s also:
Handy Manny
                Handy Manny is a lot like Bob, only he’s Hispanic, and he talks to tools, not construction equipment.  His “friends” all ride around together in his tool box, until he needs to take them out to help him with some project.  This show came on after my children were a little old for it, thank goodness, so I don’t have quite as much experience with it.  I have seen bits and pieces of the show, as well as the toys, and it’s enough to be a least a little curious about the prospect of animate tools.
                I had to look up the characters on Wikipedia, since I didn’t know their names.  I think I am even more disturbed now.  Observe:
Turner:  a flat head screwdriver with a fondness for babies (don’t even want to think about it)
Imagine opening your toolbox
to find . . . .THIS
Pat:  a stupid hammer (maybe they shouldn’t have pounded him against nails)
Squeeze:  a female pair of pliers (again I don’t want to know how they tell)
Rusty: a paranoid monkey wrench
Dusty: a female handsaw.  Don’t make her angry, she’ll cut you!  And laugh while you’re bleedin’!
Flicker: a bilingual flash light.  He flashes his light when excited.  Okay.
                There are others, but I got bored going through the list.  I think they’re enough, anyway.  Could you imagine if your tools could talk back to you?  Now I’m not a mechanic, but I do use tools.  I have to wonder how pleased my pencil would be with me, what with repeatedly shaving his head off, then forcing him to leave a trail of his lead blood on my paper, just so I can write. 
Wrench: My teeth hurt
Hammer: Bang. . . bang . . . bang
                Manny’s tools are part of his team, and his good pals.  No one else seems to think it’s strange that he talks to them, and they talk back, so maybe they’re humoring him as well.  I’m guessing he and Bob have the same psychiatrist.  That would make things simpler.  Anyway, I’m sure you’re thinking that I’m overanalyzing a cute kid’s show.  But think about it.  Especially the hammer.  He’s pounding the thing, over and over again, right in the face.  Is there a CPS for tools, because that seems a bit much.  No wonder the thing is a moron; all his brain cells were pounded out.  And all so Manny could get a nail in some wood.  Are you happy, Manny?
                Then there’s Dusty, who you must remember was used as an effective weapon in many horror movies.  I could just see that freak scarecrow grabbing Dusty, jumping into Muck the bulldozer and going on a homicidal rampage through cartoon land.  Let’s hope they stop at the World Tree on their way.
                Final Analysis:
Talking construction equipment/ tools: Yes
Tool Abuse: Yes
Delusional characters: Yes
                                                                                                                                       Didacticism: Just Weird

PLANES, TRAINS, AND OMG!

I decided to combine the next two shows together because they are 1) both about personified modes of transportation and 2) both full of nightmare fuel.    First up, the oldest:
 
Thomas the Tank Engine
Better make yourselves
useful – FAST
                This is a show about trains.  Living trains.  With giant, creepy faces on their fronts.  Thomas is the main character.  He and his friends – the other trains – want more than anything to be “very useful engines” to their boss, Sir Topam Hat, who looks like that guy on the cover of the Monopoly games.  They have a weird competition going on with the steam engines, who are the bad guys, supposedly, although it is really hard to tell, because there isn’t a single likable character.
                I’m not sure if the trains are so grumpy because they are British, or just because they are forced to carry lots of people figurines around all over the place without a tip.  I don’t think I’d really like to carry people around in my stomach and eject them at various train stations.  I carried two people in my stomach, at different times, and that was really quite enough, thank you.  So I can’t imagine someone carrying a whole trainload of people inside them at once, with the exception of the some of the reality show stars on TLC.
All Aboard!  Hahaha . . . I’ll walk, thanks.
                But for whatever reason, these trains have serious attitudes.  They are always griping at one another about something, and getting all whiney and offended about the stupidest things.  Basically like most people on Internet message boards.  Sometimes they play nasty tricks on each other, just for the heck of it.  Some people have linked the show to a celebration of communism (everyone must be “useful”) but I think we shouldn’t disregard the possibility that it’s just a really awful kid’s show that happens to sell a lot of overpriced toy trains. 
                Anyway, I spent my time watching this show either bored to tears or hoping that somehow the trains would take part in one of those Math problems and smack into each other going at high velocity.  If I were at Shining Time Station, I would seriously reconsider other modes of transportation than climbing inside a living train with a surly personality.  Like, say, a plane.
               
Jay Jay the Jet Plane
 
“Gosh, Tracy, we sure are creepy!”
“You said it, Jay-Jay!” 
                Like Thomas, Jay-Jay is a living form of locomotion, this time for the “friendly skies”.   He also has a scary human face on the end of an otherwise normal looking vehicle, only instead of grumpy, his face could best be described as “manic”, sort of like the Joker on speed.  He has friends – a pink, female plane named Tracy and a young plane with a propeller for a nose, called Stuffy, because the propeller causes nasal congestion.  Or something.  There are a couple of other planes, one of them with an irritating Southern drawl, and finally, there is one human.  An actual, real-live human woman in a mechanic’s jump suit.  She takes care of the planes.  And talks to them.  And, as far as I can tell, never leaves the airport.  This is a woman in serious need of a date.  Or possibly psychiatric drugs (more on this in our next installment: Adventures in Psychosis: Bob and Manny.)
“Yeah, I dunno, she’s been standing on that lot talkin’
 to the planes for over an hour . . . better get the white coats.”
                These planes are more cheerful, flying about over “Terry Town”, wasting fuel all over the place, and almost never carrying around any passengers.  They are certainly not being “very useful planes.”  I figure Sir Topam Hat would have them stripped for parts in about five minutes.  They are usually learning lessons, like . . . actually I can’t really remember any of them.  I just remember . . . those faces.  OMG, the faces . . .
                I’m not sure how these shows could fail to freak out small children.  I mean, riding on a plane or a train can be scary all by itself.  You don’t need to think about it having a mind of its own – a creepy, twisted mind of its own at that.   If I’d watched those shows, I probably would have refused to board a plane or a train, just to be on the safe side.  The only use I can see for these shows is as a way to prevent terrorism.  Who would want to hijack something like that?
Final Analysis
General Weirdness: Yes
Scary, Maniacal Faces: Yes
Animate forms of Transportation: Yes
Useful Against Terrorists: Yes

REEFER TREE!

                 As anyone who has read my blog knows, I’m a big, bleeding heart liberal.  So I care about the environment, sure.  Pumping every bit of oil out of the ground only to dump it in the sea is Bad.  I get that.  But sometimes, a show comes along with a Very Special Message that , frankly, makes me want to burn down a whole rainforest full of spotted owls.  Case in point, our next program:
 
Big, Big World

 

 

 

                This is a show with puppets, but not the cute, funny kind like Grover on Sesame Street.  These puppets make you want to commit puppetcide almost immediately.  The animal puppets all live in this Big Tree O’ Life – the World Tree – in a rainforest and teach kids about loving every creature and taking care of nature and all that crap.  As in: “We are the world!  We are the puppets!  We are the ones that make you want to puke and rip your hair out!”  The main character is a sloth.  He had a name, I’m sure, but a fellow mom friend (who also doesn’t like doing dishes) and I just called him “Hippie Sloth”.  I’ve never seen a puppet so stoned.  This guy made Bob Ross look like an ADHD poster child.
How can I stop eating
my FRIENDS???
                And he had friends.  There were two irritating monkeys, an old, wise turtle (how original!), some bitchy bird, and finally an anteater that loved ants.  I mean, the anteater actually wanted to be friends with the ants despite them being the core of his diet.  He was constantly fretting and whining “The antssss, why won’t they be my friendssss?”  I don’t know, because you EAT them?  That would put a damper on a relationship.  That’s like me wanting to befriend Chicken McNuggets.  I’m not sure what the writers were going for education wise with this character.  Hey, kids, some people need therapy, and that’s okay!
Monkey: That thing’s gonna eat us!
Sloth: Far outttt.
                This show was literally painful to watch, with its repetitive message of reduce, reuse, regurgitate! Naturally it came on at a time when the kids were out of school.  So we got to see a lot of Hippie Sloth chilling out in his tree with his message of peace and love.  Not that I can blame the guy – if I had friends like his, I might look into weed too.  My friend came up with the name “Reefer Tree” because that seemed to fit better than Big, Big World (after all, they didn’t show us the world, just the stupid tree).  Also, it made us laugh, and that was the only way to keep our sanity.  Our kids did pick up on it, though, and one of them remarked during a hospital visit that “Hey, Reefer Tree is on!”  Luckily the nurse was amused, and didn’t hop on the phone to CPS.  I bet she had kids too.
                Bottom line, taking care of the environment is a good thing.  This show did not help the cause.  I’ve never hated my environment more than while watching this show.
Final Analysis:
Stoned Puppet: Yes
Peace, Love and Nausea: Yes
General Weirdness: Yes
Didacticism: YES

THE ONE WITH THE BILINGUAL DRAGONS

PBS means well – they really do.  Back around 2000, they started making more shows with minority characters, because I guess they felt left out of the wackiness.  Which brings us to my next children’s program:

THE ONE WITH THE BILINGUAL DRAGONS

Two kids, Max and Emmy, who look white and speak English like Anglos, yet have a disembodied parent voice with a Mexican accent, find a glowing scale in their playroom.  No, not one you weigh on; it turns out it’s a dragon scale – and it’s magical, of course.  I’m thinking if I saw something strange and glowing in my room, I might get Mom and Dad.  But not these two.  They say some magic words – I guess whoever left the dragon scale left instructions or something, I forget.  Anyway, these magic words  – which are repeated every episode so they can reuse the same animation – transport them to dragon land.

Hey wait my hand is stuck arghhhhhh . . .

Hey wait my hand is stuck arghhhhhh . . .

Now I’m a big fantasy fan, and I’ve read a lot about dragons.  They’re big, scaly, and they breathe fire and eat people, especially knights.  They seem oddly fond of kidnapping princesses.  So I’m waiting for these kids to get roasted, but, alas, turns out they’re friendly.  And they can speak Spanish.  No, really!  Who knew?

Anyway, there are several eccentric (read: annoying) dragon characters.  Cassie is the pink one, who shrinks when she’s unhappy and whining, which is pretty much all the time.  Org, or Ord, I was never quite sure, is the token big, stupid one.  And then there’s . . . Zack and Wheezy, the two headed dragon.  They have one body, two heads, yet one’s a boy and one’s a girl and . . . anyway, they also have opposite personalities.  Zack is paranoid, and Wheezy is so obnoxious you want to kill her.  Talk about your therapy issues.

Toys for confused children

Toys for confused children

They also have a teacher, Quasimodo, no wait, that’s the hunchback.  At any rate, he’s the typical old, wise teacher, and apparently the only adult Max and Emmy come in contact w/ besides disembodied parent voice.  From time to time there are guest star dragons, like the one in a wheelchair.  Cause his legs don’t work.  In that case, I don’t know why he doesn’t just fly, except that they all have such tiny wings on such huge bodies that I’m not sure how any of them fly.

Dragon paraplegic?

Dragon paraplegic?

From what I can tell, Max and Emmy spend most of their time in this dragon place, and their parents never know the difference.  They never say how long the kids are gone, but when my kids got quiet for more than five minutes at a time, it usually meant they were covered in Noxema or something and it was time to check on them.   Either this doesn’t occur to the parents, or they’re just so glad they’re gone that they don’t care.  Maybe they left the dragon scale there on purpose.

I really didn’t like Dragon Tales.  I’m not certain which character was the worst – I guess they all tied for last place.  Where the heck was St. George when I needed him?

 

                                                                                                                                             Final Analysis:

Spanglish: Yes

General Weirdness: Yes

Two-headed, Bi-Polar, Dual Gendered Dragon: Yes

Didacticism: Yes

CLIFFORD THE BIG ATOMIC RED DOG

Originally, I had intended the last post to be one post with many summaries.  But since I know a ridiculous amount about this topic, it simply could not be fit into a single blog post.  So now we continue, with the next show on my list:

Clifford the Big Red Dog

Clifford is based on a children’s book of the same name.  The plot is very complex.  There’s a girl named Emily Elizabeth (E.E cause who wants to repeat that name?) and her big red dog.  They have adventures (though none of the ones you would expect with that situation).  That’s pretty much it.  Now this series has always prompted a lot of questions from me.  The first would have to be – how did Clifford get so big?  The show attempts to answer this in the opening song that clearly should have been a Grammy nominee: “Her love made Clifford grow so big, that the Howards had to leave their home.”

Funny adventures alright! Please don’t eat me!

I think the show is lying to our kids, cause I had a dog growing up, and I loved her, yet she did not grow into a forty-five foot dachshund.  So, gonna have to call B.S. on this one.  I’m thinking his growth spurt could only come from one of two possibilities: (1) They live near a leaking nuclear plant or (2) they are putting major steriods in that dog’s food.  Since E.E. has only one head, gonna go with the steroids.

Speaking of the dog’s food, that’s another question.  How do you feed something that big?  The show has a semi truck come and deliver his food.  Okay, fine, but how long are we supposed to think that food will last?  The dog is bigger than her house (or can fit into her house, w/ his head sticking out – his proportions really depend on the artist / animator in question) so he’s going to need a lot to keep going.  Even if they could get that much food every day (and they must, cause E.E. and her family have not been turned into kibble yet), how could they afford it?  I think the answer is simple.  The family signed on as reality T.V. stars, probably with a show on TLC.

Clifford. Must. Feed.

Okay, my last question (and really, this barely scratches the surface) is what happens to the dog poop?  Oh, come on, I cannot be the only person who has wondered about this.  Everything that eats has to eliminate the stuff sometime.  Can you imagine the magnitude of manure the Howards are dealing with?  It would have to be worse than every house ever on Hoarders.  What do they do with it?  Do they rent a forklift as a pooper scooper?  This is never explained, possibly because no one on T.V. ever has to go to the restroom, but I really think it should.  It’s the major reason I have given my children for not having even a regular sized dog.  Come to think of it, Clifford all by himself is a reason not to get a dog. While I don’t think it’s very likely that loving a dog too much could make it mutate to such enormous size, I really don’t think we should take that chance.  The environment will surely thank us.

Look what your dog did to my lawn!

I haven’t actually said much about the show itself.  Besides E.E. (a little girl who NEVER changes her clothes) there are her friends, who happen to be mulitcultural friends.  Because everyone I’ve ever known has a Jamaican friend, an Asian friend, a wheelchair bound friend, and a jerk friend.  Okay, maybe just the jerk friend. Her name is Jetta, and she is pure evil in child form, because E.E. can never show negative emotions.  Why E.E. and the others hang out with this kid is a mystery, but I guess it’s because without her, they’d all be sitting around complimenting each other politely all day.  She certainly helps teach the Very Important Lesson of the day which is: don’t act like a jerk like that Jetta kid.

Clifford also has pals, and when the humans aren’t around, they hang out and also learn Very Important Lessons.  His pals are a weenie bulldog and a self-absorbed (surprise) poodle.  They are not mutant sized dogs, so it’s got to be hard to be friends with things you can accidentally step on and smash into the ground.  I admit I used to wish he would step on them, because they are seriously annoying and likely the reason why dogs do not talk in real life (as far as I know).

Hey, what happened to Bob? Oh, nooo!

This show spawned a sequel called “Clifford the small red puppy” about . . . Clifford as a small red puppy.  I watched it a few times, but I never saw E.E. slip the steroids into the food, so I think there is major editing going on there.  Also, they have effectively removed the only thing that made Clifford interesting, which is his size.  If you can’t ride the darn dog to school, then what’s the point?

Final Analysis:

Giant Dog: yes

General Weirdness: yes

Steroid Use: yes

Didacticism: YES