The ten best children's shows not meant for children
We miss Saturday mornings sometimes, when we would run downstairs filled with sugary cereal and spend the day watching cartoons and "educational programming." Even though these days we're well aware of the alphabet (some of us, at least -- mostly those that don't comment articles on the internet) and the names of colors, we still crave an animated dog or a puppet coming round into our living rooms and teaching us lessons. And for those folks, here are ten children's shows that aren't actually (entirely) for children.
10. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Four turtles and a ninjas master are covered in toxic waste. The turtles are mutated into humanoid form. The human is mutated into a humanoid rat. The rat teaches the turtles to be ninjas and they live in the sewer, protecting New York City from the evil Shredder, his gang of ninja (robots), The Foot and Krang, an alien brain who has been banished from Dimension X, where he was a warlord.
You could also summarize it this way: A bunch of ninjas use lethal weapons to kill one another on the gritty streets of New York city. The not-a-kids-show nature of TMNT gets even more interesting when you take into account their original origin from the black-and-white comics, which were originally conceived as a parody of Frank Miller's Daredevil, where a mutated superhero (Daredevil) learns ninjitsu from a wise old master (Stick) to fight evil ninjas in New York (The Hand). Get it?
9. Sifl and Olly
Created by mad geniuses Liam Lynch and Matt Crocco, Sifl and Olly are sock puppets that mostly say and sing offensive things in between music videos. They would take angry calls from their landlord, interview inanimate objects/concepts (like Death or Orgasm), and report fake news about celebrities (usually Bjork). They shot three seasons, only two of which aired, and the show effectively launched the careers of the cult artists that created it.
Here's a list of things I didn't know about when I was seven years old: Jerry Lewis. Goodfellas. Gilbert and Sullivan. The Agony and the Ecstacy. MAJOR SEXUAL INNUENDO. All of these were present in spades on Animaniacs, which snuck so many jokes past the censors you start to wonder if any of them were even awake during the day.
From jokes about "fingering" to the confusion between "conjugate" and "copulate," Animaniacs was downright filthy for a kid's show, but smart enough to realize most of the jokes would sail right over kids heads into the waiting ears of parents forced to sit with their babies and watch this crap.
7. Paddington Bear
Paddington, in his little hat and blue coat, stuffin' down marmalade and cocoa, is absolutely adorable. The animation style is whimsical, his adventures are light and fun, filled with slapstick and proper-sounding British accents, but none of that changes the fact that Paddington Bear is full of some dark, dark shit.
Found on a train station platform with a suitcase and a note reading "Please look after this bear," Paddington Bear was based on his creator's memories of Child Evacuees leaving London during World War II. It's later revealed that he was sent from Peru by his Aunt Lucy, who took him in after he was orphaned in an Earthquake. When she was sent to a home for Retired Bears, Aunt Lucy sent Paddington away via lifeboat with only a few jars of marmalade for sustenance -- when he reaches London he's nearly starving, and his hunger mixed with his cultural differences cause him to make a fool of himself in a tea shop. Luckily, his ignorance ignites the pity of a nice English family, the Browns, and they take him in and teach him about school and the fun of British beaches (that must've been a short episode).
The Browns adopted exotic children from third-world countries while Angelina Jolie was still wearing Billy Bob Thorton's blood in a vial around her neck.
6. South Park
It's become a vehicle for biting social commentary, but in it's heyday, the four foul-mouthed kids from South Park were a lot more like, well, real kids. And the concept of the show started out "Hey, let's make a kids' cartoon and fill it with offensive stuff." That fact, however, doesn't make the show, even as it started, less ingenious -- there had really never been a show that so handily encapsulated the reality of being a little boy in America, when poop is funny and "dildo" is hilarious because you're not entirely sure what one really is. Our local boys took the idea of a kid's show, and they made it punk rock.
5. Ren and Stimpy
Ren and Stimpy originally premiered on Nickelodeon and ran into problems immediately, as the creators repeatedly stated they had no intentions to create an "Educational" series. The story of an insane chihuahua and a fat, stupid cat, its look went back to older cartoons, using strong colors, detailed layouts, and painstakingly animated elastic characters. It also was madly in love with a good fart joke.
After years of censorship from Nickelodeon, Ren and Stimpy moved to Spike TV with "Adult Party Cartoon," where animators' ids ran wild with bodily fluids, nudity and over-the-top cartoon violence, premiering with "Man's Best Friend," a banned Nickelodeon episode. In the end they pushed even too many boundaries for Spike TV, probably by not showing enough girls in bikinis introducing marathons of movies starring Hulk Hogan, and Ren and Stimpy were let go to find another home.
4. Invader Zim
Created by Jhonen Vasquz, the evil genius and Hot Topic demigod who created Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Invader Zim is the story of an evil imperialistic alien who is sent to the furthest reaches of the galaxy and told to begin invasion proceedings. The problem (for him, not us), is that he's incompetent.
Vasquez paints a picture of Earth as a technology-obsessed, isolating, mean, creatively stifling, violent hell that succeeds in stopping Zim's plans for domination by usually being more awful than whatever Zim's plan is, even when it's something as violent as collecting human organs.
What Vasquez really succeeded in doing is presenting a world that looks and feels exactly the way the real world does for any outcast middle-schooler.
3. The Toxic Crusaders
The Toxic Crusaders was part of the wave of environmentalist heroes that was best exemplified by Captain Planet. They were led by the Toxic Avenger, who was scrawny nerd Melvin Junko before he was exposed to toxic waste and mutated into a superhero. He was joined by NoZone, who had superpowered sneezes after crashing through a hole in the Ozone layer; Junkyard, who was a junkyard dog merged with a homeless man who was covered in toxic waste and struck by lightening; Headbanger, who was the same as The Toxic Avenger but could turn his powers/mass disfigurations off; and Major Disaster, who had fallen into a radioactive swamp and can now control plants.
Pollution and toxic waste are always going to be kinda heavy for a kid's show. But the difference between Captain Planet and the Toxic Crusaders is that Captain Planet's source material isn't a hard-R Troma exploitation flick filled with ultra violence and nudity. That's right, The Toxic Crusaders is a children's cartoon based on this movie:
How many parents do you think ended up buying their Toxic-Crusader-fan kids this flick without realizing what they were doing? (My parents did it.)
2. Wonder Showzen
"If you allow a child to watch this show, you are a bad parent or guardian," reads the disclaimer shown at the beginning of every episode of the subversive and genius Wonder Showzen. It looks and sounds just like any PBS kid's show, but it mostly teaches kids about the most horrible things you can imagine. It skewers religion, sex, and politics, and it does shit like dressing a nine-year-old kid up like Hitler to send him out on for man-on-the-street interviews.
1. Blinky's Fun Club
We here in Denver obviously have love for Blinky, but that doesn't make him or his show less terrifying. Camouflaged as a local children's show featuring a hobo clown, Blinky's Fun Club was obviously a piece of performance art based in part on how much whiskey-stench a group of parents would endure to have a scary clown sing their kids happy birthday on local TV at four in the morning.
Just watching vintage tapes one gets the feeling that the birthday cake handed out tastes like stale cigars and it seems that none of the kids can understand why daddy's friend from the docks has on that funny red nose.
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