5 Kids' Shows That Changed A Ton Since You Grew Up
Even if you haven't watched Sesame Street in decades, you can guess how it would evolve with the times. Bert and Ernie probably own smartphones, Big Bird is likely teaching kids about internet safety, and Oscar the Grouch has no doubt had to drastically tone down his infamous anti-immigration tirades. But some childhood classics have changed in far more notable ways. Like how ...
Thomas The Tank Engine Is Woke Now
The first Thomas The Tank Engine book was written in 1945, and the TV show launched in 1984. The franchise has naturally needed updates, and not just to explain to confused modern children why they should give a crap about trains in a world where an Amazon truck can bring them anything they want overnight. Parents had been complaining that the show felt out of touch, thanks to Sir Topham Hatt's ceaseless imperialist browbeating and the trains all being dicks to each other (in one episode, Thomas is given major crap for liking the color pink). An underpaid voice actor controversy didn't help matters, nor did the Island of Sodor apparently having fewer women than a Saudi soccer match. The lack of female characters even caught the eye of politicians, in the most British scandal imaginable since the great Crumpets and Cream Confoundment of 2015.
So in 2018, Thomas relaunched with a slate of new characters, including a Desi female railway controller and a diverse Steam Team made up of lady and gentleman trains from all around the globe. While we're somewhat concerned by the idea of gendered trains, due to the resultant implication of Thomas having a train penis, the reboot at least proved its worth by making a grouchy old Daily Mail columnist waste precious moments of his life pretending to be infuriated by the latest adventures of fictional vehicles for children.
Thomas' brand managers even teamed up with the United Nations to tackle themes like land use, environmentalism, and hopefully the many haunting existential questions raised by a world of sentient trains. Do they feel guilt about their role in facilitating genocide? Were they forced to participate, or did they volunteer? Thomas' so-called managers continue to dodge these issues, but we will continue to demand answers.
And for anyone thinking of rushing to shout "More like Thomas the Tankie Engine" to the howling void of the comments, all of these changes were made after extensive market research dedicated to wringing the most possible money out of the reboot. This is the normal evolution of a media property. Thomas is still hauling whatever junk it is he carries around to keep the Fat Controller in lobster and scotch, and there's absolutely nothing to get upset ab- Wait, they changed the theme song? There are lines you don't cross, you monsters.
The Wiggles Had Some Major Relationship Drama
The Wiggles are like the Fleetwood Mac of children's music, in that large chunks of the fandom have become more invested in the drama than the music. Between their constant releasing of new albums, their television shows, their ceaseless touring, and their merchandising empire, the Wiggles brand is worth tens of millions of Australian dollars, which is almost like being worth tens of millions of real dollars. And with money comes ... gossip.
Wiggleheads know that we're currently in the New Wiggles era, with three of the four original Wiggles having retired from their grueling touring schedule to work behind the scenes. But in 2018, "Music fans everywhere suffered a major blow," according to a deathly serious article about a band for small children that, again, is called the Wiggles. Not to take away from any of their human struggles, but when a group's big hits include "The Toilet Song," "Henry The Octopus," and their daring cover of "The Wheels On The Bus" it's important to have the proper perspective.
Anyway, Purple Wiggle Lachlan Gillespie hooked up with Yellow Wiggle Emma Watkins, who had the proud distinction of being the first female Wiggle. They initially kept their relationship a secret, because their child fans couldn't care less, as long as they continued to crank out sick hits like "Toot Toot, Chugga Chugga, Big Red Car," while their serious adult fans are presumably just, like, the worst.
But in 2015, they announced their engagement, which made them "the Wiggles' foremost 'power couple,'" even though that seems like sort of a default position when you're in a band of four and the other two members are married to civilians. Then their divorce was announced in 2018, leading to a reporter unironically writing the words "We will be thinking of the Wiggles and their fans during this time."
The Australian media began breathless rumor-mongering, with one "insider" telling a gossip site that Gillespie had fallen for Watkins' understudy while Watkins was out battling endometriosis. But another site says that Gillespie is now seeing a ballerina, and the question of who to believe here would be fascinating if we were a stay-at-home Australian parent with nothing better to do than crack open a box of wine before noon. Despite speculation that the group would fall into crisis, the separated couple continues to work well together, because performances of "Old Macdonald Had A Farm" have to go on, even in the face of adversity.
Sesame Street Now Has A Homeless Muppet And A Foster Muppet
Sesame Street has always tried to be relatable. Oscar taught kids that it's okay to be grumpy sometimes, Bert and Ernie made it clear that two men who live together will sometimes be called "best friends" even when they share a bedroom and walk in on each other bathing, and Big Bird encouraged children to stand tall against the rampaging communist hordes in that one episode from the '70s they don't admit to making anymore. In 2017, the autistic Muppet Julia became a regular cast member, and then in late 2018 and early 2019, we got some much sadder representation.
First came Lily, a homeless Muppet. Originally introduced in a 2011 special aimed at tackling child hunger, she returned in 2018 in even more dire straights, her parents having lost their home in what we assume was an adorable Muppet version of the subprime mortgage crisis. The gang taught viewers how to be kind to homeless friends, and they assured Lily that she shouldn't blame herself or worry that her situation is permanent, even though being trapped in a perpetually worsening cycle of poverty that can't be escaped because you're an ageless felt child seems plenty worrying to us.
The show also launched an educational effort that included advice on how to help homeless families, how to talk about the subject in the home and classroom, and how to pressure Count von Count into doing his part to address America's housing crisis instead of continuing to cling to his extensive ancestral holdings while contributing nothing to the Sesame society that couldn't be handled by a child.
Then in 2019, viewers met Karli, who's living with foster parents until her mother is ready to care for her again by dealing with implied substance abuse issues. Karli appears to be the same trash monster species as Oscar, which raises far more questions than we have time for, but the point of both characters was for Sesame Street to gently tackle serious subjects that kids can struggle to understand. Although why they had to create new characters to act as Karli's foster parents when Bert and Ernie are clearly ready to take the next step in their relationship went unexplained.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Are Tackling Space War Crimes
The Ninja Turtles comics have always been darker than the cartoons, movies, and universally beloved stage show. But there's "violence and plot twists" dark, and then there's "a totally tubular take on the Nuremberg trials" dark, and 2017 saw the series embrace the latter.
"The Trial Of Krang" is a three-issue arc about exactly what the title says. You may remember Krang as an interdimensional brain who lives in a goofy robot body and perpetually schemes to conquer Earth, but in this run of the comics, he's more of a free-floating monster who wouldn't look amiss in a D&D manual. This is also a canon wherein the Turtles are reincarnated ninjas and Splinter helps Shredder commit seppuku, after which he goes on an adventure in the afterlife to fight an evil god.
To quickly catch you up on dozens of issues of goofy comic book drama, Krang is the son of Quanin, Emperor of Dimension X's Utrom Empire. Krang commits a variety of war crimes, and between a Triceraton rebellion and an ecological disaster caused by the misuse of Utrominon's valuable ooze, the Empire collapses and the Utrom teeter on the verge of extinction. Yes, we swear that the Turtles will eventually appear somewhere in this word salad.
Krang uses an interdimensional portal to escape to feudal Japan, where he allies with the Foot Clan and plots to build his Technodrome so he can transform Earth into New Utrominon. Skipping ahead several centuries because Christ, it just keeps going, Krang nearly conquers Earth, but is stopped by, thank god, the Turtles, who then ship him off to Dimension X's Neutrinos to face justice for committing atrocities in two dimensions. (If we made any errors in that summary, please let us know so we can studiously ignore your corrections.)
What results is a serious courtroom drama featuring commentary on torture, slavery, and genocide that happens to come from a parade of robots, interdimensional alien, and mutant crocodile witnesses. Krang does manage to have an assassin named Hakk-R murder his prosecutor and judge, but don't worry, Fugitoid and King Zenter take over. Oh, and the Malignoid Swarm try to conquer Planet Neutrino, which is like if the Eichmann trial had been interrupted by a Zerg rush.
The Malignoids are fought off and the trial continues, although Krang's attempt to justify his actions as necessary for the survival of his species are somewhat undercut by his attempts to commit witness tampering with extreme prejudice. Anyway, he's sentenced to life imprisonment, to which an angry Leatherhead responds by eating him. Classic Turtles adventure!
Arthur's Mr. Ratburn Had A Gay Wedding
Arthur is a gentle children's show that encourages reading and good behavior, and therefore obviously inspired a meme about getting angry enough to hit someone over trivialities. The series recently saw Arthur's teacher, Mr. Ratburn, get married to his aardvark boyfriend in, holy crap, its 22nd season? What could Mr. Ratburn even have left to teach his third-graders at this point?
As pointed out by The Atlantic, the story worked because it didn't have the dated Very Special Episode vibe of decades past. The twist is that Arthur and his friends hear Mr. Ratburn on the phone with a domineering woman, and are concerned that he's marrying a figurative and/or literal shrew, only to discover that the woman is his overbearing sister, and he's actually marrying a chill dude who runs a chocolate shop. There's no drawn-out "A man can marry ... another man? Say whaaaaat?" reaction and explanation, and the only thing the kids are shocked by is that their teacher has a life outside of planning assignments.
The episode's reception was largely positive, in sharp contrast to the 2005 appearance of a lesbian couple in the Arthur spinoff Postcards From Buster, which was slammed by the Department of Education for daring to educate children. Even Fox News was cool with it, although noted necromancer Sebastian Gorka found time in between devouring the souls that fuel his unholy flesh engine to link it to a conspiratorial liberal culture war that's been raging for centuries. Because once a fictional rat gets married, you're basically one step away from busting out the guillotines again. Oh, and the episode was banned from airing on Alabama public television, presumably to protest Mr. Ratburn not marrying his sister.
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