Sunday, January 07, 2007

"Wonder Showzen"??

Somewhere in the dark recesses of my subconscious I remember someone recommending a show called Wonder Showzen (was it you marc v., or your roommate at the time?). I had been extolling the charms of Robot Chicken, and this other little-known series came up in conversation. It took me a long time to see the show. I don't have cable, or satellite, or On Demand... or anything beyond the three channels I get with my antenna. I finally saw the DVD releases of the 1st and 2nd seasons at Best Buy last week... I took a chance and picked the first one up. After seeing half of the included episodes, I am stunned that MTV 2 aired this show, let alone renewed it for a second season. And that's not because it's not good, but rather because it pushes the boundaries of what I imagined could be put on cable television.

Wonder Showzen is akin to a twisted, acid-dropping take-off on Sesame Street, written by a cynical group of anarchists. The creators of the show are fairly new to the show biz game. There's precious little info available on the backgrounds of John Lee, Vernon Chatman and Aaron Augenblick. But if the wild imaginative chaos of this title is any indication, they have good careers ahead of them. Of course, the main principles of the show are puppets. There's a pink female with a single fang protruding from her upper lip (Sthugar), a blue hand-puppet (Clarence) that enjoys harrassing innocent passersby on the street, and an Elmo-looking dude with his brain pan exposed. There's also Chauncey, who seems to be the fearless leader of the crew- all fuzzy yellow with an ill-fitting top hat. These main characters, along with real live human children, provide the continuity for this wild ride.

Like Sesame Street, each episode consists of a string of segments connected together by tenuous associations. They are sponsored by different ideas and icons... like "white people", "slavery" and "Mexico". In addition they each have an overarching theme... there are episodes titled "Diversity", "Birth" and "Ocean". Of course they satirize educational television aimed at children, but the creators feature blatant disclaimers in the packaging and introduction of the show... anyone who would allow their children to watch Wonder Showzen is an abusive parent.

The child actors pop up constantly. There are recurring ones- like Tyler ("the world's most perfect kid") and the "Beat Kids"- an investigative team of mini-reporters who visit adult workplaces and ask embarrasing and offbeat questions. And there are also a whole host of others cute tykes that participate in the various skits. These cherubs participate in question-and-answer segments, brandishing snippets of terrible (but achingly funny) wisdom. In addition, we hear unseen pre-adolescent narrators providing (what seems like) extemporaneous commentary to archival footage... like a tour around the farm, or a meat-processing plant.

And what would a "kid's show" be without cartoons? There are a variety of animations from artists working in radically different styles. A lot of it looks vaguely familiar, and someone with a lot more exposure to popular culture might be able to identify a lot of the work. I only recognized Ben Jones of Paper Rad in one brief segment. We see G.I. Joe spoofs and cruder work depicting anthropomorphized boogers and other such nonsense. I found the cartoons hit-or-miss, which should probably be expected in a forum of such broad range. These bits deal with social inanities (like plastic surgery and farting), as well as far-reaching topics like God and politics. In fact that's one of Wonder Showzen's main assets- its creators don't limit themselves to safe material... anything and everything is fair game.

Wonder Showzen's humor hits the viewer so fast-and-hard that it's easy to miss a lot its more subtle undercurrents. While some of the more blatant gags seem obvious and less funny after repeated viewings, there's always the feeling that you are going to catch something you missed the first (or second) time around. Perhaps the thing that is going to put off the largest number of viewers is its main charm- it violates the essential and time-honored notion that children are sacred. This approach resonates with the pre-WW I perspective of young ones... they aren't innocents nor are they necessarily wholesome. They are more like little primitive adults. In this day and age, we don't like to think about our children being exposed to the harder truths of life. To hear these kids spout world-weary and jaded utterances is inevitably going to offend some sensibilities. But if you are able to appreciate the satire of its premise, you are sure to laugh at Wonder Showzen despite your reservations.


Anonymous marc v. said...

yes, i do believe it was me extolling the virtues and unabashedly satirical nature of one of, in my opinion, the most hilarious programs to air on recent network tv. for all of the formulaic and predictable offerings in between commercials these days, it was with much awe and reverence that we at Norfolk St. discovered the journalistic abilities of Trevor and the hard-nosed reporting/interviewing of several others (be they human or puppet) of this eccentric cast of characters. Several people I showed this to were appalled by what they saw.
The subject matter is, without a doubt, not for the faint of heart or mind. The sheer audacity of the creators, the means by which they pull it off and the methods employed to do such - would all seem to denote an extremely creative bunch and their ability to extend themselves into directions that vastly contradict their corporate sponsorship, and most likely below the radar of the Viacom Co. (which owns the station on which it airs/aired). For my money, although it may be hit or miss at times and several instances of humor rely on mining the Sophmoric vein, it is something to check out. I agree with you - if these folks continue to explore this genre, they are to be watched. If this is what they are doing now, I can't wait to see what else they have up their sleeve.... I will never ruminate on the subject of patience the same way again.

9:46 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Yeah Marc,

That was certainly a good recommendation. I've only shown it to two other people, and one of them suggested that it probably wasn't a good idea to watch too much of it in a row. I could understand why he said that, I just don't really agree. I think it's good for people.

9:51 PM  
Blogger Rob Park said...

As a parent I hate to love this show. I find the shows use of actual children hilarious and cruel. Who would exploit their own children in a such a crass manner? Though, I'm glad they did. I wouldn't but I'll laugh loudly because someone out there is daring enough to do it.

And I mean daring. I can just imagine the kid on the show growing up to be some coked up performer raging toward O.D. But the kids might turn out to be all right. Just a risk.

The puppets are a safer laugh and not so guilt riddled. (Pun intended)

You comment on the the pre-WWI young ones seems to hit the mark but I wanted more on that insight.

Although mostly I just want to laugh uncritically.

11:51 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


I don't know if those kids are put at too much risk. I assume they are simply giving some lines to repeat, completely out of context. I'm sure they are not allowed to make the associations the viewer makes. Plus, I'm sure they don't get to see the dailies. The kids on that show probably get tremendous support from their parents.

Maybe someday I'll write more on the perception of little people during the second industrial revolution.

9:20 PM  

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