My kids don’t watch enough TV. I know that’s a strange complaint to make, not to mention one filled with irony. I am, after all, a child of the television-as-babysitter era and the subsequent, and still vocal, kids-watch-too-much-tv backlash. By all accounts, every misstep in my life is attributable to the hours I spent each week mindlessly absorbing a constant barrage of animated violence and cartoonish sexual innuendo spewing from the omnipresent boob tube. After all, our household had four of the abominations; I was doomed.
My children, by comparison, don’t watch any TV. None. Well, not anymore at least. They weren’t huge consumers to begin with since we limited their screen time to 30 minutes daily but since last Christmas their consumption has fallen to absolute zero. In the old days, they would alternate turns in choosing which cartoon to watch while they ingested their after school snack. Favourites progressed through the modern classics from Octonauts to Paw Patrol to Transformers: Rescue Bots to Ninjago. All was good. They were happy and quiet for half an hour and I was happy and calm for half an hour. Then I made a huge mistake.
I say I because it was my idea. Granted, my wife eagerly agreed to it so some of the shame should befall her, but I was the instigator and thus primarily to blame. This is how things work in parenthood. We spend a lot of time camping during the summer and typically embark on at least one long, multi-week adventure to far flung parts of the country. One of the true godsends of our modern age for families going on such vacations is the in-vehicle entertainment system. Rear seat DVD players are an unshakable cure to the cancer of long road trip boredom, the kind that I’m positive removed a couple years from both my parents’ lifespans when I was a kid. They are fabulous assuming you can handle listening to popular movies repeatedly without actually seeing anything from up front.
We had been contemplating an upgrade to our tow vehicle and our desire, no demand, to have a factory installed DVD system was limiting our options on the used car lots. Not being one to shy away from technological progress, I realized that we could buy each kid their own tablet, thereby solving two nagging problems in one five hundred dollar purchase. Individual tablets (with headphones) would allow each kid to watch their own program of choice without the usual argument and subsequent pouting by the loser plus it would exponentially increase the number of tow vehicles available for purchase.
What a mistake that turned out to be. Oh, they loved the tablets, don’t get me wrong. Probably the most-treasured Christmas present they’ve ever received. Or will receive. The problem is that they are absolutely addicted to these damned things. They were purchased as pacifiers for long drives but have become the solitary source of individual entertainment in our house. Barely a second passes once they step inside the house before I am regaled with requests to play on their tablets. And to make matters worse, we ended up buying a new SUV with a DVD system anyway!
The kids don’t, however, watch cartoons on their tablets. Nor do they watch movies or Youtube or Netflix or anything else resembling television. They solely enjoy gaming. Everything from the expected Minecraft to the perplexing Colour by Numbers app of which my daughter is especially fond. This concerns me. Not because I’m anti-gaming. Hey, I enjoy a few moments (okay hours) relaxing while playing idiotic phone games as much as the next lazy, unmotivated, chore-avoiding, stay-at-home parent. It concerns me because they aren’t watching any television shows whatsoever and that is potentially leaving a huge void in their future reservoir of childhood nostalgia.
Consider the glorious footnotes of television history, so etched in my memory, that would be utterly forgotten had TV not been my sole source of entertainment. I’m not talking about the paragons of 70s/80s children’s programming we are all familiar with, though those certainly were an integral part of my television viewing repertoire. Looney Tunes, Scooby Doo, Smurfs, Flintstones, Sesame Street, Spider-Man; everyone knows these legendary shows. But it’s the lesser known gems (or embarrassments, depending on your perspective) that I treasure and those are exactly the kinds of shows my kids aren’t discovering or watching or, eventually, fondly remembering while drinking numerous bottles of wine with friends remarking how quickly time has passed as their own kids play downstairs before ultimately calling it a night at 9:30.
Here, then, are the kid shows I affectionately (mostly) remember from my days when shaving was not yet necessary and the dial on the television only went to twelve. Some might be familiar to many of you. Some might only be known to Canadians. And still others will be cherished pearls only the Ontarians with access to TVO will remember. All are fantastic!
Wait Till Your Father Gets Home
This one might be better known than I realize since it was actually a broadcast as a prime time show back in the day. I remember it, likely from syndication, being on Saturdays around the supper hour as mom, me, and my sister were preparing the family pizza that we regularly ate before Hockey Night in Canada. I’m not sure if I liked the show all that much, but it had one thing that was pretty important to me – a male child named Jamie. Oh, and Mr. Cunningham as the father likely didn’t hurt either.
You Can’t Do That On Television
This was a Canadian treat, kind of a Monty Python for kids, that became famous for it’s slime and because Alanis Morissette was on it before she started incorrectly teaching irony to everyone. I don’t remember much about it other than feeling a wee bit guilty while watching it. As if I was doing something I shouldn’t be allowed to. That was a great feeling at 10.
Hilarious House of Frightenstein
This drug-induced classic was in a similar vein as You Can’t Do That On Television but with a much smaller cast. And no kids. I loved this show as a kid and remember watching each episode hoping desperately that The Wolfman would make an appearance. Back before copyright became cost-prohibitive for popular music on television, The Wolfman spun the hits much like Johnny Fever and taught us all how to get down. Also – special appearances by Vincent Price.
My childhood wasn’t entirely delinquit. I even watched Christian programming. Yes, me! At the time I was watching this show I didn’t know it was Christian programming, but in retrospect what else could something this lame be?
I distinctly remember in Grade 3 a select few kids in the class were chosen for enrichment. They got to leave the classroom to do special learning while the rest of us were left behind to the usual boring stuff. One thing those priveleged smart kids got to do was watch Readalong at school. I should know, because I made damned sure I eventually got included in that special group. Apparently TV at school was quite the incentive for me and my studies. Not to mention a talking house (sadly no clips online).
The Toothbrush Family
Educational television wasn’t relegated to teaching reading. Personal hygiene was just as important and I doubt I’d still have all my teeth to this day were it not for the lessons I learned from a family of bathroom untensils. Boys love cars and things that go fast. My top three were Bandit’s Trans Am, the Duke Boys’ General Lee, and Hot Rod Harry, the electric toothbrush. I wanted an electric toothbrush so badly thanks to this awesome character and now, as an adult, I finally have one. I also sing this theme song to my kids before bed some nights.
Number four on that list was Speed Buggy. This was a short-lived gem from Hanna-Barbera and a blatant attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Scooby-Doo. Hey, if you can’t plagiarize yourself, who can you plagiarize? The spitzing and spurting vocalizations of this delightful dune buggy would come to characterize my phlegmy, Sarcoidosis-ridden adulthood so that’s nice symmetry as well.
The New Shmoo
Not to be outdone, Hanna-Barbera plagiarized it’s own plagiarization with yet another short-lived Scooby-Doo clone called The New Shmoo. Apparently, I was a sucker for these cartoons cartoons that lived but half a season. I was a huge Scooby-Doo fan, so I guess anything remotely similar was aces in my book. I think I found the Shmoo cute or funny. But good lord, what an awful, phone-it-in theme song!
Fables of the Green Forest
This was the back half of our supper television viewing. Yes, we watched cartoons during supper. Dad was reading the paper anyway so it’s not like conversation was happening. After enduring Polka Dot Door which my sister adored, this wholesome delight hit the small screen each weekday evening. As its name would suggest, these stories taught lessons through the lives of a bunch of forest/pond critters. I think I actually hated this show; the voices and the mannerisms were annoying, the slow pace could put you to sleep, and some of it was just bloody weird. Oh, and the questionable romance between the two woodchucks confused me; were they a couple or siblings? But I’ll be damned if I can forget this cartoon.
Okay, as I look up online I’m more confused than ever. This show went by several different names, having several different versions released for UK, US, and Canadian audiences. It was conceived by two Canadians but CBC rejected it so they went to the BBC. Then it became a hit and other versions were created including ones for Canadians. Each has a different name and different accented narrators and I really don’t know which version I was watching. But rest assured, it doesn’t matter which I watched. It was a show featuring real, living animals including a hamster, a mouse, and a guinea pig. They all lived in homes like hobbits and went on simple adventures along the river they lived beside. The guinea pig owned and used a diving bell. This is what children’s programming came up with thanks to LSD.