These days, children’s TV doesn’t take many chances. Shows are so concerned with being boycotted or sued that you get stuff like Dora the Explorer hanging out with a talking map cleverly named “Map”. But it hasn’t always been that way. Check out these shows and some of the creepy cultlike premises they were based on.
Photo credit: Sarah_Ackerman, Flickr
9 Fraggle Rock
Aired: HBO, 1983-87
Cult interests: Elaborate musical performances, living like Al Qaeda
The Fraggles were an odd group, held together by a dreamy, guitar-playing leader named Gobo. He was usually pretty even-tempered, presumably excluding the times he played Wonderwall for Fragglegals Red and Mokey in an effort to coerce them into “dream sharing” together (you see, Fraggles could share a common dream by laying together with heads touching as they go to sleep). And they were a cohesive unit, other than Wembley, the “out there” Fraggle. In one clip, he’s daring to fly and the Fraggles seem disgusted by how Wembley dares to be different or unconventional. So dismissive they are. Then again, when your cultish cohesion leads to beautifully performed numbers like the Fraggle Rock theme, I guess that’s a sacrifice you can afford to make.
8 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Aired: Syndicated/CBS, 1987-1996
Cult interests: Weapons training, cross-promotional ventures on everything from bath bubbles to pies with green goo in them
A group of immature, driftless mutant turtles are held together by two things: the rigid structure of martial arts and Splinter, their mutant rat father figure (who was basically just a random dude with no real relevance to their lives). Even their theme has an odd brainwashed type of repetition to it.
Donatello could have been a great scientist. Leonardo could have been the first Turtle-American nominee for President. Raphael could have been a famous personality. Michaelangelo… was kind of a retard, but he’d have figured it out. They all could have done great things, but instead they were living in a sewer, eating pizza with weird crap like peanut butter and polar bear entrails on it, being forced basically into slave heroism, and hoping that April O’Neil would through them a pity boning.
On the plus side, Uncle Phil from the Fresh Prince was the voice of Shredder in the original cartoon. Man, you learn all kinds of crazy things on the Internet.
7 Power Rangers
Aired: FOX, ABC, Disney, ABC Family, Disney again, Nickelodeon… 1993-wow this thing is still going
Cult interests: Robots saying “ay yay yay”, bad voice dubbing
This is an odd one because, of all these shows on the list, the kids who made up the original Power Rangers were the most normal. They were good looking, athletic, charismatic, intelligent. But the siren song of controlling giant robots and listening to a talking floating head and his robot domestic partner was too much of a lure to keep these kids on the straight and narrow. He’s all floaty. Dreamlike. Who wouldn’t be sucked into that? Plus I’d get to learn kickass martial arts and drive around a badass robot (or a frog if you’re the black dude). Huh, you know, other than the always being on call and constantly having to explain to your parents why you smell like sparks and over-sized monster, seems like a sweet deal. You have to wonder though what the Rangers’ Angel Grove was like before all this. Were the monsters just integrated in society? What was Zordon up to? I’m going to guess a lot of daytime TV.
6 Captain Planet
Aired: TBS, 1990-96
Cult interests: Being green, multicultural “love-ins”
The lives of five seemingly incredibly different kids are brought together by one purpose, to serve a mulleted blue guy and some wacky fairy lady who only appears to them in visions. The show breeds contempt for society in the form of the constant attacks on industrialism (“Stop polluting, wah wah,” said Captain Planet while putting on his Maxi pad) and regularly has characters coming across some bizarre hallucinations, including a race of mouse people with odd sideburns.
The Planeteers are unified by the powers granted to them as a result of their symbiotic relationship. There’s no independence. In fact, in every episode one of the characters gets frustrated with being a part of this little multicultural creep factory, they end up getting into massive problems and have to beg their way back into the group. But Captain Planet probably isn’t the cult leader. He’s just a pawn for that invisible sex pot Gaia. Come on, what cult is kept together by love of the planet alone?
5 Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Aired: Nickelodeon, 1990-2000
Cult interests: Avoiding reality, buying new underpants
What do you do when you’re a child who doesn’t quite fit in? You seek a familial bond that you can’t find at home or at school. Such is the case of the Midnight Society, a group of pubescent kids who go into a forest every weekend and DON’T drink or hook up. While that might be better than the alternative theoretically, it’s pretty unhealthy.
These kids don’t really have anything common. They’re not pals. The only reason they stick together is because they terrify each other, gripping irrationally to absurd situations as a means of escaping their tortured reality of abusive families and torturous exclusion.
Except for Elisha Cuthbert, who appeared at the end of the show’s run. She was cool. She was probably just a spy for the government checking in on these freaks to see what’s up. Don’t lump her in with these other wads.
4 The Smurfs
Aired: Syndicated, 1981-89
Cult interests: Etymology, Vladimir Lenin
The Smurfs were all dressed the same with slight personality differences and every episode was based around the fundamental principle of one Smurf failing at life, turning to Papa Smurf for advice, and everything being okay. Papa Smurf ruled these Smurfs with an iron thumb. The comparisons of the Smurfs to communism have been made multiple times, but what about the comparisons of Papa Smurf to Jim Jones. He has his own little agricultural community, he had a power over all those that followed him, he was the one with the distinguishable outfit. But that would make Gargamel like Leo Ryan. And I don’t think that Leo Ryan wanted to eat the Jonestown inhabitants in a delicious Jones pie, though I guess I could be wrong.
Aired: NBC, 1984-86
Cult interests: Saving money on scuba equipment, sucking
The Snorks was basically a bootleg version of the Smurfs in every way. And if Papa Smurf was the Jim Jones of cartoon cult leaders, Snork “leader” Allstar Seaworthy was the Marshall Applewhite. Only, unlike Papa Smurf, Allstar was out there trying to bed every Snork with an open Snorkhole. And, judging by this episode in which Allstar is trying to date two girls at once, there were a lot of open Snorkholes to be found.
You couldn’t go three minutes into any episode of the Snorks before you got sick of hearing the word Snork in every sentence. It wasn’t even like it was a verbal crutch or a language tool like with the Smurfs. They just tacked “snork” onto everything. Snorkball, the movie Snorkbusters, snorkplans, third snorkmester snorkbortions, ugh. I get it. It’s just so much less charming. It probably doesn’t help that they all seem to have pompous names; Wellington Wetworth, Samantha Waters, Allstar Seaworthy… it’s like Gossip Girl with little colorful people.
2 Powerpuff Girls
Aired: Cartoon Network, 1998-2005
Cult interests: Keeping diaries, Sarah Palin
They’re kind of adorable. And they’re empowering for girls. And their “dad” is kind of a boob who they run circles around, so maybe he’s not exactly David Koresh, but come on! They were made in a lab solely to fight battles for Professor Utonium. He’s too weak to control others so he just mixed some crap up in a blender and POW: Superhuman little adorable anime girls. Just like real life.
Also, totally unrelated, but WTF was up with their main adversary being a superintelligent monkey? Granted I’ve only seen the show here or there with my little cousins (regardless of the Powerpuff Girls’ ubiquitous presence on my comforter), but while I can suspend disbelief enough to buy girls being created in a lab by a scientist NOT for the purpose of sex (Weird Science was a documentary), the monkey thing… bit much.
Aired: PBS, 1997-2001
Cult interests: Staring contests, hanging out in meadows
Just look at them, in the same outfits with different colors with the same lobotomized stares and inability to articulate themselves. The Teletubbies, to put it lightly, “aren’t all there.” The show wasn’t without its scrutiny, what with Tinky Winky being accused of being a twinky… winky. But it’s just weird to watch. Like they’re all lobotomized and with their stupid names and odd voices and kind of unhinged yet overly calm demeanors, it’s just all kind of disconcerting.
Good thing they couldn’t really form sentences, otherwise the dialogue might have featured Po going, “That doesn’t feel like a hand, Tinky Winky. Feels more like a finger! But it’s all swollen! Did you jam your finger? Oh… oh no. Oh no.” Anyway, these monstrosities against humanity had weird names probably bestowed upon them by some “higher power”… my guess: the creepy narrator throwing his voice. Listen to the way he talks. He knows what they’re doing a little too well if you ask me.
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