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.


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.

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.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Some Things Kids Growing Up Today Will Never Understand

After the popular "Technology We Grew Up With: On its Way Out" post back in February, I received a slew of suggestions for other ways technology has differentiated today's kids' experiences from our own. It's pretty incredible to recount the swiftness of technological change over the last 20 years. Things have very quickly become significantly more convenient, but they're also aging us at an equally rapid rate. While in other generations our childhood technological experiences should be reasonably well-matched to those of children ten years down the road, our own are proving dated and obsolete after a short period of time. Pretty depressing, right?

Not necessarily, it turns out. Nostalgia for the disputably existent "Good Old Days" is a thriving marketplace of discussion, ably summed up in the thesis "Kids today just don't understand." Just 15 years ago, we were right there with DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince lamenting the lack of understanding among parents. How quickly the "just don't understand" tables have turned. Soon we may not even have the energy to rap about it.

Before we all turn into old coots grumbling about our simpler lifestyles, let's take some time to bask in the glow of our once taken-for-granted but now nearly obsolete pre-2000s technology experiences:

Being Out of Touch (unreachable by phone, text, implanted homing device, etc)

Gone forever are the blissful days of being dropped off by a parent at the mall or movies with a quarter (a quarter!) in your pocket for emergency purposes. Instead, today's kids have the added mischief-thwarting stress of cell phone GPS tracking and parents' persistent text messaging. We've all but pet-style micro-chipped our children, ensuring that parents know of their children's exact whereabouts at all time.

Getting Lost

I'll admit this still happens to me, but mostly because my on-hand portable technology is far behind the curve. For the majority of us, finding our way from point A to point B is as simple as inputting the destination address and letting a robotically polite voice do the guiding. Even the worst case technological scenario involves a printout from an online map service. It's tough to recall a time when we relied on the more primitive "Take a right on Main Street"-type directives scrawled on scraps of paper during a phone call.

Not Knowing who's Calling When You Pick Up the Phone

Once upon a time, you could lift a receiver with a flutter of hope and mystery regarding the identity of the person on the other line. Today, whether it's a potential date or the automated call service from CVS pharmacy calling to remind you of a prescription pickup, you know before even accepting the call. Where's the intrigue and allure in that?

Calling MovieFone

Imagine never having the joy of hearing the jovial deep intonations of the MovieFone guy. Sounds pretty sad, right? Now multiply that sadness times every child out there today who will never experience the joy of MovieFone. Sad, right? A little? Okay, fine, it's not a huge loss, but I'll miss it nonetheless. It's been real, MovieFone guy.

Looking Something Up in the Encyclopedia

Or better yet, looking something up on an encyclopedia CD-ROM. Before the days of the internet, this seemed like a high-tech research breakthrough. We could search for articles, watch videos, listen to sound know, like what we do now every day with the internet.

Back in the 90s, when we had a query, it was actually possible to come up empty on an answer. A frightening notion, really. There was no Googling to get us out of a quandary. We could go to the library or phone a friend, but failing those options we might actually have to have to write things off as a mystery. When I think of how frequently I type into Google a question about how to get my dog to sit still (positive reinforcement and/or high-grade tranquilizers) or why I'm tired all the time (possibly anemia but more likely daily caffeine overdose,) it's frightening to imagine a time when I'd be resigned to not immediately identifying an answer.

Not Being Able to Place an Actor or Actress
It used to be a source of frustration to see a moderately familiar face in a TV show, movie, or commercial and not remember the 37 other shows in which you'd previously seen that actor. The unanswered question would haunt you, hanging over your head and enshrouding you in a state of generally distracted confusion for days at a time. These days it takes minimal effort to access the internet and putz around for a few minutes on IMDB. Sure, you might learn something, but you're left with that cheap feeling of not really earning it.

Finding a Number in a Phone Book

You know, those moldy old books that get stacked up outside your house or apartment building when you never bother to bring them in out of the cold? After all, why should you? They serve a pretty limited function these days outside of killing a good chunk of our dwindling forest populations. Any and all relevant contact information can usually be found online. Also, there's no real need to speak to an actual person now that an email can serve in its rapid-response stead. Why talk to a human being when some passive non-confrontational typing will do?

Renting a Movie

Pretty soon, I imagine they will just beam a movie directly into our retinas. I can't imagine what other way they could elevate the convenience of watching movies at home. We used to peruse a local video store, picking out physical copies of our intended films. Today, you can easily access any movie your little technology-savvy heart desires at the click of a remote control button. It's hard to imagine them making it more convenient, but I'm sure they'll find a way to do it. Whoever they are.

Partying like it's 1999

This is a major one. They really have no idea. Unless they plan on living another 990 years, these kids will never get that feeling that Prince so eloquently described through the art of song. Heck, to them, he's probably just the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as a symbol formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince. The words "Party over, oops, out of time" mean absolutely nothing to these kids. For shame.

It may not be much, but we've got to cling to whatever makes our generation uniquely us. Sure, it's just MovieFone and encyclopedias, but someday we'll be amazing our technologically superior grandchildren with tales of our cavemen-esque childhood existence. Unfortunately, they won't even get our well-timed Encino Man references. It's too bad, really, because I'm sure we could have set up some great ones.

Monday, May 3, 2010

So You Want to Start a Boy Band...

So you're interested in profiting off of the ignorant and as-of-yet unpubertized voices of photogenic young men. Congratulations, you've come to the right place. We're here to show you the ropes and tropes in your quest to ascend the Billboard charts. Had you thought to jump on the Boy Bandwagon 15 years ago, you would be well on your way to making easy millions off of the hard earned allowance money and babysitting profits of young girls. In today's music market, it's a bit more hit or miss, so try your best to adhere to the formula verbatim.

These tried and tested tips should set you on a path to exploiting aspiring juvenile singers. While we can't guarantee success, if you don't hit it big with this secret recipe, you've probably skipped a step somewhere along the way. Check your work and try again. It should all add up if you're doing it right.

Step 1. Hire Lou Pearlman or like-minded manager. Try best to avoid fraud.

Talent manager Lou Pearlman would make a natural first choice as a partner, but his money laundering and conspiracy charges may cause a hiccup on the road to your goal of wallpapering your guest bathroom with hundred dollar bills. If he's not willing to strike up the biz again for fear of setting off a court-appointed anti-boy band formation ankle bracelet, you can probably make do with a cheaper imitator. A Queens accent and noticeably Semitic last name can't hurt, though.

Step 2. Assemble a pack of harmony-prone teenagers

If possible, try to find a group of teens on the street who randomly but conveniently erupt in harmonious song. Failing that route, feel free to hold some open casting calls marketed at crazy stage mothers and former Mickey Mouse Club members. As a last resort, stage the audition process as a reality TV series. As a warning, the popularity of the resultant band will be fleeting, but you do get the added bonus of some fun televised in-house drama. All in all, sort of a tradeoff.

Step 3. Establish the stock characters:

Try your best to populate your newly formed boy band with some combination of the following prototypes:

The Sensitive One: It doesn't hurt to have one guy who exhibits general displays of feelings. Socially awkward and otherwise alienated teen girls eat that stuff up, so cast with their quiet desperation in mind.

The Baby: To effectively market your group to a wide age range of fans, keep your band demographic varied in age. "The Baby" is a necessary component, both for his help filling in on that high F note and his statistically adorable innocence.

The Bad Boy/Rebel: If the guy you've cast as the Bad Boy doesn't yet have any tattoos, feel free to adorn him with some ambiguous Chinese characters and a barbed wire ring around the bicep. He may also wear sunglasses at inopportune times,such as indoors where there's particularly dim lighting. He does what he wants; he doesn't need to follow society's rules about vision.

The Heartthrob: This is the guy you need at the center of every album cover to ensure the screaming young girls come out in full force. He may be a handful sometimes, but just try not to punch his teeth out. Those pearly whites will be paying your bills.

The Older One: To appeal to the full demographic of pop music listeners, it's always okay to have one out-of-place significantly older band member. Just give him a sort of big brother/fatherly role in every photo opportunity and no one will notice that he's 43.

Step 4. Commence ad nauseum photo shoots featuring matching outfits and comically serious expressions

Matching outfits display a sense of solidarity and unity, so your fans will know not to differentiate the band members as individual human beings. The serious expressions establish their reputation as legitimate artists. Just kidding, they just make awesome centerfold shots for BOP! Magazine.

Step 5. Amass Screaming Fans, preferably of the teen girl variety

Recruit a loyal army of young girls with supple vocal chords and a propensity to throw teddy bears and training bras onstage during a particularly soulful performance of your band's hit ballad. Bonus points if they'll cry on camera as they express their unwavering love and adoration for your act.

Step 6. Sell millions of records

This is the backbone of your operation, so invest most heavily in this step. No one really buys records anymore, so this is one of those steps that would have played out better 15 years ago. Nonetheless, you can't have a successful boy band without some sort of musical backup to justify your existence and matter how inconvenient it is to schedule those pesky recording studio sessions between photo shoots and autograph ops.

Step 7. Release incredibly expensive videos with high production values

Fear no special effect; they will prove invaluable on your quest to mass-marketing your boys' faces as a desirable product. This again may have worked better back in the days of Total Request Live when occasional music videos actually graced the airwaves of Music Television, but try your best to improvise with whatever's left of the genre's diminishing fan base.

Step 8. Decline in Popularity; attempt requisite comeback

Prepare yourself for the inevitable: your once fiercely loyal fans will eventually grow into some semblance of adults and will thus lose screaming interest in what you're peddling. As your popularity wanes, you may want to repackage your band to poise them for a late-breaking comeback. There are no guarantees, but the respect they command is too low to warrant a dignity-excusable cop-out. Milk this one for all it's worth.

Step 9. Hope for the best with members' respective solo careers and/or allow them fade quietly into obscurity

At this point, your boys are no longer boys, but over-the-hill 23-year old men--except the Father Figure guy, who's probably pushing 50 by this point. Some may choose the solo career path, though few will succeed. Others will go quietly into the night, but not everyone will settle for this quick relinquishment of fame. Those select few have several options, the most headline-grabbing of which are to come out of the closet, get arrested, or start a reality television series based on the antics of their colorful family. Choose wisely, though; they only get one shot at that People magazine cover, so we suggest encouraging your guys to tread carefully.

So there you have it: a foolproof formula to establishing and marketing your very own boy band. We're not really supposed to make this sort of sensitive information available to the general public, so consider yourself lucky to be among the privileged privy parties. We don't want this information getting into the wrong hands, of course. Well, not again. And again. Really, it keeps happening. Just be ready to apologize for your eventual fraud charges when they go public, okay? That's pretty much all we can ask.

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