Sunday, 22 June 2008

I will watch children's television until I go blue in the face


It is a well known fact that students are the scourge of society. We are anti-social parasites, ripe with body odour, and worst of all, we have a strange predilection for trashy daytime television – normally the preserve of the elderly, unemployed and infirm. Personally I can’t stand to watch the distasteful working-class baiting on The Jeremy Kyle Show, and Neighbours, now with an advertisement break in the middle and the “five” logo in the corner just doesn’t feel right anymore. Instead I prefer to reg
ress back to my childhood, and watch children’s television. After all, it does start conveniently at around 3.30pm, which is the obscene hour at which I tend to emerge from my bedroom each day.

I am no idiot, I don’t waste my time watching the children’s television on itv, everyone knows that CBBC is far superior to it’s rival CiTV (bar the unadulterated escapism of Fun House CiTV had little offer in my youth). So opting for CBBC, first up is a show named Space Pirates. I imagine this one was a bit of a no brainer for the commissioners. Someone, somewhere, walked into a production meeting and said, “right, the show I want to make is about is two things; space, and errrrr.....piracy.” And with that, a potentially great piece of high concept television was born.

From what I can gather the show is basically about a flamboyantly dressed captain who scours space for songs to sing to young children, who regularly berate him via satellite link-up to entertain them. He is aided in the pursuit of these musical gifts by two children of indecipherable gender, named Honk and Tonk, who are also dressed rather strangely, in clothes that appear to be made entirely of rubber. It being children’s television the piracy element doesn’t really involve slaughtering people to steal their treasure, getting drunk on rum, or contracting scurvy. In the world of Space Pirates it seems to mostly consist of finding musical notes in the far reaches of space. These musical notes somehow become songs, which are subsequently sung, wholly out of tune, by three anthropomorphic rat puppets that are inexplicably aboard the space ship with the human characters. This appears to induce fits of ecstasy in the children who requested the songs in the first place.

So the title Space Pirates is a bit of a misnomer, while there’s plenty of space, there’s minimal piracy. It’s all rather colourful and bizarre - the spaceship’s Jolly Roger, which commentates on the progress of the song-searching seems to have split personality disorder – on one side of the flag it’s arrogant and gruff, on the other it’s an effeminate tease. So to summarise, it’s basically a surreal mess of a show, that is about as subtle as a brick to the face. My guess is that it makes perfect sense to 8 year olds, off their face on Sunny Delight.

Next is Young Dracula. Luckily it’s not a spin-off of the largely forgotten kid’s film The Little Vampire which had that annoying bespectacled lispy kid from Jerry Maguire in it. The central character is the reluctant son of Count Dracula who aged 14, is a year away from becoming a fully-fledged vampire. He wants nothing more than to be normal like his peers at school and awaits his transformation to vampiric status with great trepidation. It’s an obvious metaphor for the anxieties that come with entering into adolescence, which I think is rather clever for kid’s television.

However, again the show too readily dumbs down the very aspects that could make it challenging kid’s television. The central character’s dad is Count Dracula, he of bloodsucking infamy. Yet there are no neck drainings for the viewer to enjoy. Instead he is depicted as a perpetually befuddled and bemused idiot, forced to inhabit a human world (for some reason, in Wales) that he doesn’t understand. The comedy comes from his regular interactions with the human characters. The count is convinced that the locals want to drive him out of town, when in fact they simply want to befriend him. This leads to much confusion. In one scene he mistakes a local plumber’s plunger for a stake and throws him into a cess pit. Which is actually kind of funny. Scatological humour is quite rightly central to a lot of shows aimed at children, so its presence in Young Dracula should be welcomed.

However during all of this, amongst the teen angst and slapstick humour, you can’t help but wish that the show had some of the sheer terror that made shows from my youth like The Demon Headmaster and Are You Afraid of the Dark? memorable. In a similar way to Dr. Who today those shows had a flagrant disregard for their young audiences, as if their sole aim was to give them horrific nightmares. In light of that comparison, you can’t help but feel that for a show about vampires Young Dracula is a bit toothless.

Remember for a moment, these two shows had ‘Pirates’ and ‘Dracula’ in the title. I imagine if you turn on CBBC on another day you will be welcomed by shows with names like Underwater Stabbing and Obscure Sexual Fetishes with Konnie Huq, but the former would have very little stabbing, and the latter no obscure sexual fetishes.


JAMES MORGAN

Previously published in a heavily edited state in the Epigram issue 203, Monday 21st April

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you're so right! I remember as a child thinking: "hey!, I'm not an idiot!" while watching TV. I also loved "Are you afraid of the dark?" even when I watched it here in Mexico it was not brand new.

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