H.R. Pufnstuf’s legacy is alive and thriving and hitting the bong.
Yo Gabba Gabba!, the children’s television show that airs on Nickelodeon’s Nick Jr. channel, is gaining fans among an adult counterculture crowd, many of whom don’t have or want children of their own. Why? Trippy visuals by way of basic animation and bizarre costumed characters, plus lessons for toddlers that turn hilarious when removed from a preschool context into a couch-bound privacy of bong hits in front of the television.
Created, written, and directed by Scott Schultz and Christian Jacobs (alias The MC Bat Commander, vocalist of weird Orange County rock band the Aquabats!), Yo Gabba Gabba! features a human host named DJ Lance Rock, five recurring costumed characters that could be straight out of the Banana Splits, and a roster of A-list guests like Jack Black, Andy Samberg, Weezer, Elijah Wood, and skateboarding legend Tony Hawk. While not exactly identifiable figures to a three year old, a celebrity sampler platter like that does appeal to the Sid & Marty Kroft generation, a market slice closer to turning 50 than to turning five. Nostalgia and weirdness are a good combination for video being quietly embraced by channel-surfing marijuana users.
Any segment of Yo Gabba Gabba! could be credibly exhibited as video art. Never pointless or sleep-inducing (like most video art), it is easy to look at, easy to follow and funny as hell, with no segment lasting too long or becoming predictable. A segment titled “Party in My Tummy” begins with DJ Lance Rock standing on a stark white set over a row of bright and tiny puppet chambers, one for each character. Then it breaks into a production of addictive dance music with a character resembling an ugly overstretched sweater rapping about finishing his dinner. Animated carrots cry, grape juice has rhythm, and the whole episode lasts two minutes and 17 seconds, providing the stoner set a truncated, lightweight alternative to the experimental sequence of Terence Malick’s Tree of Life.
Marijuana use is, of course, illegal, so its connection to a children’s tv program will naturally spark some controversy. One chat room dweller suggested that each of the five costumed characters – Brobee, Foofa, Muno, Plex and Toodee – represents a different method of inhalation. An imaginative interpretation, perhaps, but the colorful group does unquestionably walk the edge of humanity’s darker side, which might be called childhood or baggage of childhood. Acting out, making big mistakes and biting your friends are all misbehaviors common to the daycare and the gallery if not the head shop, and Yo Gabba Gabba! is a head trip for the masses.
Betsy Lewis is a Dallas writer and law abiding citizen.