Wednesday, May 5, 2010
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.