Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Where Do They Come Up With This Stuff? A Few Truly Strange 80s and 90s Children's Shows


It takes a special kind of creativity to dream up the premise of a truly unique kids' show. In grown-up circles, it's more commonly referred to as certifiable insanity. It's almost as if some of these children's show writers have some special gene that grants them an eternally youthful point of view. Otherwise, craziness is probably the most flattering description of their professional endeavors. We'll go with the gene thing.

Though the 80s and 90s saw its fair share of educational children's programming, many kids' shows lacked that level of justification for production. At best the characters might learn a moral lesson or two, but in general the themes of these shows fell into the "WHAAAA?" category. It's hard to imagine the shows' creators delivering their respective pitches for these absolutely ridiculous concepts.

We can only imagine it went a little something like this:

"So there are these Martian mice, right? Oh, and they're motorsports enthusiasts. That part's pretty important, too. And--"
"Say no more. We're putting this into production immediately. Biker Mice? From Mars? Brilliant!"

It's almost enough to make you want to start keeping a dream journal. All of those unrelated thoughts shuffling around in your head just might turn out to be the premise of a lucrative children's entertainment franchise. Maybe.

Regardless of the germination process of these strange concepts, kids embraced these shows as gospel. That's the best part about children's entertainment: your viewers won't question a thing. Everything you show them makes perfect sense to them. Why? Because you said so. It's a perfect balance of getting away with insanity and never having a fan dispute or question anything you present. What's the worst they can do--write a scathing review in crayon on the living room wall?No, they'll watch it and they'll like it. It's just that easy.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles



We've had such heavy exposure to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that it can be difficult to remind ourselves that the concept is utterly ridiculous. They're not just mutant turtles, they're also adolescents with a penchant for mixed martial arts. Brilliant.


Biker Mice from Mars



As many shows on this list have firmly established, kids go for the literal. When naming your animated or puppet-populated series, it's best to just come up with an exact description of your major concept and just go with that. Biker Mice from Mars are a perfect example, as they are indeed mice from Mars with a passion for motorcycling. Don't fight it, it makes perfect sense.

It's amazing we made it all the way to the 90s before someone turned this into a TV show. You would think someone would have come up with it sooner. After all, motorcycles, mice, and Mars are just so darn intrinsically connected. Anyway, Ian Ziering was in it. Ian Ziering! You've got to have a soft spot for that.


CatDog



Like I said, save the creativity and craziness for your show's concept. The title should be simplified to a point of dumbed-downness. It's half cat, it's half dog, what do you call it? A CatDog. Of course.


Popples



To be fair, in the case of the Popples, the toys came first. At least we know where they came up with it, though the back-story the writers filled in is a tad questionable. The Popples are adorable little pom-pom tailed puffballs who pull mysterious objects from their kangaroo-esque pouches. They also consistently thwart the efforts of well-meaning human children. It's crazy, sure, but their cuteness is a reasonable distraction from how little sense it all makes.


Teletubbies



These may have risen to popularity a bit after our time, but their impact on the genre of strange kid shows was incredibly resonant. They're colorful, they roll on the ground in the sunshine, they laugh uncontrollably, and they believe they can see children through a screen on their tummies...I don't know what these guys are on, but I want some.


Eureeka's Castle



This was pre-Harry Potter wizardry, meaning the Eureeka's Castle producers still got away with making up their own arbitrary rules on sorcery. They also gave us a slew of unique characters, including the peanut butter-sandwich gobbling Bogg twins, the flying impaired blind-as-a-bat Batly, bumbling dragon Magellan, and vaguely ethnic pushcart owner Mr. Knack. Magellan even had some terrifying claymation pets, Cooey and the Slurms. Maybe it's just me, but I have always been terrified by claymation. I'm pretty sure it's just me.


The Smurfs



Despite the conspiracy theorist arguments claiming the Smurfs to be a pro-communist vehicle, I've never really bought into it. Yes, the Smurfs are admittedly strange, but their intention is to get kids to share. Maybe we should stop teaching that in kindergartens, too, to simulate a more capitalist classroom environment. Survival of the fittest five-year olds. How could it possibly go wrong?


Bananas in Pajamas



The title says it all: the main characters are indeed bananas eternally clad in pajamas. That's pretty much all there is to it. They don't even get the courtesy and respect of real names, stuck as B1 and B2. You get the feeling the writers meant to fill that in somewhere along the way, but then just gave up on it.


Rocko's Modern Life



What, you've never seen an Australian wallaby with a pet dog whose best friends are a steer raised by wolves and a neurotic over-phobic turtle? You can't accuse Rocko's Modern Life's creators of being unoriginal. The characters are undeniably idiosyncratic, but they're all charming in their own right. Well, charming if you're not too visually squeamish; the show can get a tad gross.


Fraggle Rock



To their credit, the Fraggles did teach us to dance our cares away. That probably counts as moderately educational. They can share dreams by making head contact with another Fraggle, they subsist on doozle sticks and radishes, and they coexist with Gorg giants. Their incredibly specific and detailed existence is at least justified by the show's relative complexity for a kid's program. And, you know, we danced our cares away. That part was the best.


Wee Sing in Sillyville



This one was actually a straight-to-video musical series, but its craziness warrants a legitimate place on this list. Sure, it has a legitimate message of togetherness and anti-prejudice, but the songs are so over the top that you've got wonder what these adult actors were on.


Aaah! Real Monsters



There's something to be said for the originality of 90s Nicktoons. Shows like Aaah! Real Monsters created a fully formed highly imaginative world of monsters-in-training. Ickus, Oblina, and Krum were fully realized characters, which makes up for their sometimes unsavory behavior. We can probably let it go, though. They are monsters, after all. Plus they live in a literal dump. Let's cut them a break.


Zoobilee Zoo



Perhaps this one qualifies more aptly as creepy than just strange. Those costumes are reallysomething else. Adults in full animal makeup and get-ups are sure to simultaneously delight young children an scare the bejeezus out of adults. The older and allegedly more mature I get, the scarier the pictures of these guys seem.


This list is just skimming the surface of the under-examined weirdness of the kids' TV series with which we grew up. Additions to the list are more than welcome in the comments section. Just don't think about any of the shows' premises too hard; you could easily strain a neuron or two trying to wrap your brain around their convoluted reasoning.

20 comments:

Hope Chella said...

OMG these shows were amazing!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I just had to comment on this post, Zoobilee Zoo was my FAVORITE show as a kid. I think I wanted to be whazzat! a ballet dancing pink kangaroo, what could be better for a little 4 year old girl? love love love it! (and ok yea, maybe a little creepy looking back at it now..)

Badass Geek said...

Thanks. I'll be singing the opening theme to "Rocko's Modern Life" all day today.

Cee said...

Some of those shows were disturbing to me even as a child...although it's funny you should mention Fraggle rock b/c yesterday a guy I work with was talking about how he just got the dvds so his daughter could watch it.

Shannon SVH said...

Popples! I'd forgotten all about them, but I loved my Popple.

Wendybob said...

First of all, Claymation scares the SHIZ out of me, too. You're not alone.

And I can still sing the entire TMNT theme song. I had no idea.

Must be because they're the Worlds Most Fearsome Fighting Team...They're Heroes in a Half-Shell...And They're Green!

Anonymous said...

One fine day with a 'woof' and a 'purr' a baby was born and it caused a little stir... :) I still watch Catdog and Rocko late at night when I can't sleep. I'd like to be able to add Ahh! Real Monsters to that list. Get with the program, NickToons!! Best. Show. Ever.

Sadako said...

Has anyone ever heard of the Babaloos? I think they were Spanish originally. The song went "The babaloos, the babaloos, when the moon comes out that's when they're on the loose!" It was about household objects that were conscious. I guess Beauty and the Beast but in a more common setting.

Also, Johnson and Friends about conscious toys (one of which was a concertina and another was a hot water bottle).

Oh, and Samurai Pizza Cats. If you think about it, it's not that much more bizarre than the turtles but weird name all the same.

Melanie's Randomness said...

Is it bad that I used to watch every single one of these shows!! Even Zoobilee Zoo!! That one was my favorite & the Biker Mice from Mars. I think these shows might be the consequence of inhaling all the hair spray in the 80's & the radiation from the cell-phones that made them have these ideas because yeahh.....they're definitely pretty out there!!

Peace Omen said...

CatDog and AHH real monsters is not a weird concept. How the ideas were thought of totally makes sense. Motorcycle Mice from Mars on the other hand....

Chad said...

anyone rember neds newt cow and chicken and i am weasel

Pana said...

I feel like I heard once that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was made up as a joke (as in, people will buy anything, watch!) -- I don't know if that is true, but I like to pass on the urban legend.

Also, as weird as these shows are, I'm afraid it didn't end in the 90s. I was recently introduced by young elementary kids to a cartoon about three sumo wrestlers who seem to attack people with their butts.

Chels said...

I LOVED Zoobilee Zoo as a kid...my fave part was probably the beginning and end when they would sing the main theme song lol I am sure I drove my parents crazy with that! You should do a post about Zoobilee Zoo and remind us of all of the characters and whatnot :)

Amber K. said...

I loved (& still love, let's be honest...) Wee Sing videos!!!

RAY J said...

awww I LOVED Zoobilee Zoo and was so upset when it was canceled...

I always wondered how CatDog went to the bathroom - the logical answer just doesn't seem right!

And Rocko is still genius to this day - I wish it was still on TV, I'd definitely watch it!

Hope Chella said...

Awe, that's a cute story and I'm assuming he likes 90s stuff too??? When my boyfriend told me he grew up watching the same good TV as me, I knew we were meant to be :) haha

coulrophobic agnostic said...

A great list! Adding to it, what were they on when they came up with The Wuzzles, Today's Special, Bucky O'Hare, Ren and Stimpy, The Noozles...and these were all things we accepted as perfectly reasonable once!

Lorelai said...

Go Bananas in Pyjamas! Australia REPRESENTIN'!

Kristine said...

Have you ever tried explaining Care Bears to somebody who didn't know what they were? "They're these colorful bears that live in the clouds. And they have symbols on their tummies that... um, shoot out these, uh... laser beams... of love..."

Lil' Woman said...

I loved these shows....Fraggle Rock was the best and how they hell did I forget about Zoobilee Zoo

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