[Ed. note: OK, so it’s been a month. I fail at blogging, what can I say?]
Eve has become enamored of a television program. I didn’t want this to happen quite so soon; I’ve read the research about young kids and too much screen time. But sometimes a kid just falls in love.
I guess we were at Simon and Stephanie’s when it happened. CBeebies— that’s BBC for kids under six– would have been put on, and I would already have been cringing in anticipation of seeing In The Night Garden.
In The Night Garden is a gently hallucinatory fantasia set in a forest populated by creatures who can only speak their own names. They ride around in a blimp (the Pinky-Ponk) or a train (the Ninky-Nonk) made of tea pots that have a colorful, if sub-Seussian, quality, and… I just… words fail, okay?
Look, here’s a character called Makka Pakka:
Recognize the voice of the narrator? That is Derek Jacobi– pardon me, Sir Derek Jacobi, CBE, one of the titans of British theatre.
If you are under 45 you may remember him from his role in Gladiator. If you are over 45, British, or sufficiently nerdy, you will remember him as the star of the BBC’s adaptation of the Robert Graves historical novel I, Claudius, which is set in Rome in the First Century. The BBC’s own website uses the words “unrelenting depravity” to describe the story. I wonder if he ever thought his career would turn this way?
And I wonder if they ever considered a mash-up of I, Claudius and In The Night Garden? Et tu, Iggle-Piggle? You could turn that blanket into a toga quick-smart.
No, Beanicus Maximus loves Waybuloo. You know, the one with the big-headed noseless critters that do yoga and talk like they’ve been lobotomized? That one.
Where was I? Simon and Stephanie’s. Several months ago. Yes. They have, or were given, a little tent with the purple rabbit character Lau-Lau on the side, and on seeing the tent for the first time, Eve was totally taken with the rabbit. “It a wa-du-duh!” she exclaimed, making bunny ears for herself with fingers.
Then she watched an episode with her cousin. The little characters were flying around, speaking in breathy voices, referring to themselves in the third person like furry Bob Doles while relentlessly emotive music plays. Real children turned up to interact clumsily with them (the critters are CGI). I wanted to hide behind the sofa because I was creeped out. Mostly by the noselessness– when they make a facial expression, the critters get little wrinkles between their eyes where their nose should be, and it’s just freaky.
But Eve lapped it up. She played with William’s toy of the monkey one (that’s Yojojo), which speaks phrases when you press its belly. She marvelled over the rabbit on the side of the tent repeatedly. And eventually, one day, she came back from an extended visit and looked at our telly and said, “Wubbaloo?”
So we put it on iPlayer for her, and she was just overjoyed. The flapping! The repeating of phrases! The attempt to perform Yogo! Talking back to the screen when the characters greeted her with their nauseating “Hi-hi!”
Readers, I ground my teeth. I did not like this show. I thought the repetitiveness of it was stupid– seriously, every twenty-minute episode goes like this:
- One of the Piplings (the fuzzy CGI critters) introduces a situation (e.g., Lau-Lau wants to put on a puppet show).
- They interrupt the situation to do some “yogo”– gentle kiddie yoga.
- They return to the situation and run across a problem. (Lau-Lau doesn’t have enough puppets for everyone)
- As they are puzzling about the problem, the children (called “cheebies” by the piplings) arrive.
- An interminable game of hide-and-seek ensues.
- The Cheebies are introduced to the problem the Piplings are having. They propose a resolution. (Make more puppets!)
- But then it’s time for Yogo again.
- After yogo, the resolution occurs. (The puppets are made! A show is put on!) The Piplings become so happy that they fly up into the air, saying “Bulooooo!”.
- The end.
The music is non-stop. It seems like there’s a magical chiming noise every three seconds on the effects track. I appreciated the fact that there were actual kids in it, though I felt bad for them because you could tell sometimes that they were acting to nothing and didn’t know where to look. And– gah, the Piplings, the way they speak, it’s all “Hi-hi! Lau-Lau paint tree! Lau-Lau love tree!”
But you know what? It’s not about me. It’s not about what I like. It’s about what she likes. She’s too young to be cool or discerning. She is a small human with her own tastes and preferences who will be moved by things I don’t understand. It’s not my job to be hyper-critical of things that aren’t to my taste or to make fun of her enthusiasms.
My job, up until the time she’s eighteen, is to ensure the things she likes aren’t too mature for or actively harmful to her, and to keep any snide remarks to myself. As I’m sure my parents did with many things, from Doctor Snuggles up to and including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Pink Floyd.
So I went on to eBay and bought her a set of the toys. She loves them. They’re carried around everywhere, lined up, made to talk to one another, laid down to go to sleep with a “Night-night! See you bed!” And then they get up straight away as Bean shouts “Time for Go-Go!”
And really, paranoid Christians-of-a-certain-bent notwithstanding, Waybuloo is pretty harmless. Because it’s on the BBC, it has to be somewhat redeeming (they have a requirement to air programming with an educational component). There’s no violence, no super-fast editing or loud music. There’s no wink-wink jokes for grown-ups, and it’s not a slew of pop-culture references. There are no commercials, either. It’s gentle and colorful and calming. It’s for little kids.