Monday, June 27, 2016

Favorite Childhood TV Shows: #9-12 (MASH, Sesame Street, Muppet Babies, Carmen Sandiego)

Years It Aired: 1972-1983
Years I Was Into It: The 80's 

M*A*S*H: My parents watched it. I watched it because they watched it. The premise of the show was completely lost on me. I just knew it was about a bunch of guys (and a lone lady) who lived in big tents and often clustered around something, holding metal objects and discussing whatever they were looking at. Oh yeah, and helicopters.

So if I didn't understand that it was supposed to be set during a war, nor did I really understand that they were doctors (or maybe I did... I did watch The Muppet Show, and there was that hospital segment on there), and if 99% of the jokes flew over my head, why did I watch it?

Fact: I loved the characters. Hawkeye Pierce and B.J. Hunnicut reminded me of my dad and his friends: serious when they needed to be, but with a fun-loving side. Klinger totally reminded me of my friend's dad -- at least as far as looks and goofiness, maybe not the crossdressing thing -- and I loved him. Radar reminded me of various uncles and cousins -- kind of a geek, but someone who would always be nice to you. "Hot Lips" Houlihan stood out because she was the resident female, not unlike Smurfette or Miss Piggy, and being a girl myself, I couldn't not care about her.

I've seen the show since my childhood, and yes, now I "get it". Now I am truly impressed by the intelligence and humor of this show that, let's face it, has a pretty somber premise. Seeing the characters today is like seeing old friends -- TV friends, anyway. I bet others felt the same way. There's got to be a reason the show lasted for more years than the war itself! I don't think anyone wanted to give these guys up. But it had to happen. C'est la TV life. Thank goodness for syndication and DVDs. And helicopters.

Years It Aired: 1969+
Years I Was Into It: 1983-1992

I don't exactly remember when I began watching Sesame Street. I'm sure I was pretty little. I remember my parents taking me to see Sesame Street Live when I was about three, and I grew bored halfway through and we had to leave. But before we did, my parents bought me a felt poster of Oscar The Grouch, which was displayed on my wall and proceeded to terrify me. It was then passed on to my younger brother, who had no apparent fears of green monsters in garbage cans. My brother, the brave one.

I had some of the Sesame Street Fisher Price Little People. I had Big Bird and Bert and Ernie. Strange that Ernie got all the bite marks, since I liked him better than Bert. I also had one of the Count. He grossed me out. I thought his monocle was a bubble. Nobody should have a bubble over their eye; that's gotta be a sign of leprosy or something.

The episodes would often just end with the CTW logo, but sometimes they'd have this sequence with Barkley -- and I loved it when they did. It was akin to opening up a Wonka Bar and finding the golden ticket. For years I was mystified as to how they got so many kids to hide behind that tree! My three favorite things about the show were:

#1--The theme song. I loved the kids climbing over rocks or running across fields to get to Sesame Street. It was like, hey, ANYONE can come to Sesame Steet, you just have to get off your behind!

#2--The number pinball segments!

#3-- The end credits with Barkley.

What else? Oh yes, I loved the two monsters who were stuck together. (Or was it a two-headed monster?) I was a big fan of the humans on the show. Cookie Monster was great, if not a little crazy. Snuffleupagus was slightly disconcerting to me. And Elmo? Oh, Elmo, Elmo, Elmo...

Here's what wikipedia has to say about the red monster:

Criticism and controversy

* Some longtime fans of the series, particularly those who had begun watching it prior to Elmo's introduction, resent his now-prominent status, which has caused some older characters (such as Oscar the Grouch, Big Bird, The Count, Prairie Dawn, Grover, and Cookie Monster) to see reduced roles.

THANK YOU. I am one of those who resented the Rise of Elmo. It seemed like he came out of nowhere, and shoved most of the other Sesame Street characters into the land that time forgot. Today I lump him in the same mental group as Dora the Explorer and Hannah Montana. I think they'd all get along, I do.

* Some people believe that Elmo's characteristic of referring to himself and others in the third person will teach children improper English usage. In its FAQ, the Sesame Workshop responds to this accusation, stating that this behavior "mimics the behavior of many preschoolers."

More like it mimics the behavior of many mommies. I can't tell you how many mothers of preschoolers I know who talk like this: "Jaydynn, Mommy doesn't like it when Jaydynn hits. Please don't hit Mommy. Does Jaydynn want a lollipop?" I may not like Elmo, but let's find something else for which to blame him. Such as famine. And Paris Hilton.

I hear that Sesame Street nowadays is quite different from how it was when I was a kid. I can't bear to try watching the new episodes. Just give me DVDs of episodes from the 70s and 80s and I'll be a happy camper!

Years It Aired: 1984-1991
Years I Was Into It: 1986-1988

During the 80's, a bunch of network execs apparently got together and decided they needed to take popular TV shows and make them more kid-friendly. And so the world was given Alf: The Animated Series and It's Punky Brewster!, among others. But they didn't stop there. Oh hey, they thought, why not take popular, established, well-loved characters and make shows about when they were young!? And lo and behold, we got The Flintstone KidsA Pup Named Scooby Doo, and -- one of my favorites as a kid --Muppet Babies.

The goofy thing about these last three shows was that they used exactly the same characters as in the original series, the characters were just, now, tiny. Fred Flintstone still hung out with Barney Rubble and knew Betty and Wilma. Scooby Doo still knew Shaggy and Velma and the rest, and they were exactly the same, just miniature-sized. What was the point? I don't know. I guess it opened up a whole new world of adventures for them. But really, who hangs around the same people as adults that they did when they were 5? I mean the exact same group of people? Really?

So about The Muppet Babies: We are supposed to believe that all the Muppets of a certain age were all in daycare together when they were toddlers. Pig, Frog, Bear, Whatevergonzois... they all wore diapers and hung out in a nursery, watched over sporadically by a striped-sockinged faceless being known only as "Nanny." Though the Muppet Babies were stuck in this virtual playland prison, they were never truly dismayed, for they had the power of their imaginations to keep them soaring! And so every episode we were treated to whimsical vignettes straight out of their toddlery Muppety brains.

Meanwhile, even as a kid I was minorly annoyed they had to turn the Muppets into babies. What was wrong with them as adults? And where, dogarnit, was the Swedish Chef? I want to see spoons being thrown around!

But because they were, after all, the Muppets, I watched them weekly. And got the McDonalds toys. And a stuffed Miss Piggy. And... okay, okay, the show was fine. So what if my memories of it, now, make it seem a bit off-putting and creepy?

Gee... I wonder why? 

Years It Aired: 1991-1996
Years I Was Into It: 1991-1993

Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? was a geography game show for kids. It was a part of PBS's afternoon line-up of fun, educational shows for the 5-12 crowd during the early 90's.

Now, I loved game shows as a kid, but I loved kids' game shows even moreso because, well duh, there were kids on there. Carmen Sandiego was hosted by a mildly attractive blonde guy and included an actress (Lynne Thigpen) who would later go on to appear on primetime TV shows, and I'd be all "OMG! It's the lady from Carmen Sandiego!" much the same way I might see a red-haired guy and go, "OMG! J.D. Roth, is that you?!" (Sad fact: it seldom is.) Sandiego also featured an a cappella group called Rockapella; they sang the theme song.

So each episode had three contestants and they had to answer geography trivia questions in the first round. The lowest scorer would be sent home with a T-shirt and a Walkman or something, and the remaining two would go on to play a kind of memory game. The victor would then proceed to do a challenge in which he/she had to correctly identify a certain amount of countries on a specific continent in a short amount of time.

This is where it got good. If the kid won, they'd get a trip to anywhere in the continental U.S.A. If they lost, then Carmen Sandiego would ESCAPE, and it would bring instant shame upon their families. So when the kid was placed in front of the giant floormap of, say, North America, they might be happy, because most of the states in the U.S. aren't terribly hard to identify (hint: Florida is shaped like a... oh, nevermind). But if you got Africa? You were pretty much screwed. (Although one kid did manage to do it. There's video evidence somewhere out there.)

Eventually, the show got kind of tiresome because, as long as I watched it, they never changed the format. In fact, the most exciting thing about the show was finding out what state the winner had chosen to visit and what dinky-do prizes the runners-up got, and even THAT got old after 50 episodes. Still, I look back on the Carmen Sandiego fondly, because for several years it was a must-see for my brother and me on weekday afternoons. 

The above TV show profiles were written in 2009 and 2010 and published on my old website

No comments: