That One Kids TV Show You Barely Remember
Yeah, I haven’t written anything in a very long time. So sue me (please don’t sue me. Also, I don’t think you’d have a plausible reason to do so. But if you can find one, please let me know. I will then use it against you and monitise it.)
Over the last few months, I’ve noticed little things coming back. Whether it’s my brain firing synapses that haven’t been touched in a very long time or if it’s that things from the past are becoming cool once more, I’m not entirely sure.
RETRO IS IN, I declare to nobody in particular.
A few months ago, my husband (first time I’ve written that in a blog post…feels weird) was playing a game on his phone based on He-Man. I wanted in, so I downloaded it for myself. (It’s called He-Man: Tapper Of Grayskull, and can be found here for Android if you’re so inclined.) It was enjoyable enough with its idle clicking with micro-transactions: it’s a fun way to while away the commute anyway. But the game triggered a different set of thoughts beyond simple gaming: it made me think of all those old TV shows that I couldn’t really remember, the shows that had one little thing that stood out just enough to make them not-entirely-forgettable.
I say nearly, because I couldn’t remember the names of most of them.
This blog post started off as something completely different: through the amazing power of Google, I ended up using terrible search criteria only to finally find a lot these shows. From there, it was a hop, skip and a jump to YouTube and wikipedia to find out a little bit more about them.
But each show let me to another, and ss the number of shows grew, each new memory set off another. “Wasn’t there an alien in this show” and “I thought the words of that theme song were different” sent me off on other quests, only to realise my singular memory was actually an amalgamation of multiple things. And so, the search continued.
As I started writing this post, I realised that a) I needed to add some context and b) there was no definitive connection between these shows. In some ways, why would there be: they were just TV shows after all.
But when I went through the list of TV shows, I felt compelled to match them up and link them together, wondering if different shows aired as part of the same block, or maybe even were sold that way.
See, you gotta remember that I grew up in the Ireland of the 80s and 90s: we were sort of limited when it came to choice in TV channels. But as everyone who lived through those time-frames will tell you, both the 80s and the 90s were cool.
They’d also be lying to you.
Both the 80s and the 90s were pretty shit: the clothes were ugly and really itchy (POLYESTER!!!!), the food was bland (my Irish memory suggests most foodstuffs were boiled) and there were so few TV channels, there was no such thing as “choice.”
Access to kids’ programming in the Ireland of the 80s and 90s was limited: there was the secondary station from the national broadcaster, RTÉ2 (probably called Network 2 back then) and then you were reliant on the exotic channels like BBC, UTV. When Sky TV came along, you got treated to programming curated around the DJ Kat Show.
TV in my childhood home (and the homes of most of my family) was provided by Cablelink (they then became NTL, UPC and currently Virgin Media.) Satellite TV was for people with that bit more money, so with Cablelink, we got maybe-ten channels (though there might have been 12 or 15?) (With just the rabbits’ ears, you might’ve gotten five of those channels, provided the weather was just right and you didn’t move ANYTHING and the Mir Station was at just the right position of its orbit.)
Some of those channels only existed for a few hours at a time before making way for another station, and you could never be entirely sure of any schedule: you watched what was on, and you hoped it was something good. If you gave out about it, one of the adults would change the channel, and you’d be stuck with Live At Three and other shows with an incredibly geriatric lean.
Most of those programs were targeted at a UK audience, so we got the benefits of British ads, continuity announcers with English accents and competitions that you couldn’t enter because the phone numbers couldn’t be called from Ireland.
Except for Network 2 and Dempsey’s Den, which later became The Den.
Irish TV didn’t have a definitive list of these shows, when and where they aired, so I had to look that little bit further afield. I remembered one of those stations that was JUST FOR ME and only ever on TV for a few hours at a time.
You know, that channel that was just for children?
Once I got the name of that channel, I started to look into it and quickly realised that most of the shows I was thinking of had aired on that channel.
But maybe not all of them. Some still remained obscure, perhaps pointless shows that meant absolutely nothing to anyone except the production team and some kids like myself who still remembered a certain character or a catchphrase.
Oh, and yeah, I’m well aware that this blog-post is uncannily familiar to the plot of SyFy’s Channel Zero (which I still haven’t finished watching yet.)
There’s no real order, rhyme or reason to these shows, except for the fact that I’ve tried to make sense of some memory of them. Some of them have definitely inspired me in terms of writing or what I watch and read now (just like I wrote this piece two whole years ago about the really queer aesthetic of Thundercats and my love of superheroics like Power Rangers and X-Men isn’t exactly a secret.)
And some of these shows just had a really confusing premise that just makes me wonder why the hell they were made.
For example, there’s Mr Benn. Ultimately, it’s this really sweet show about an older gent who goes on adventures by way of his local costume shop (I assume it’s a costume rental shop.) In a cynical fashion, I suppose I can wonder aloud where his wife is, or exactly what his relationship is with the shop-owner, or what he’s getting up to in the changing room at this shop?
But I wasn’t that cynical when watching the show: instead, I was drawn in by the power of imagination and make-belief.
I definitely wasn’t that cynical when the show was made and first broadcast, because I wasn’t even around for that. All fourteen episodes of Mr Benn aired on the BBC between 1971 and 1972.
Looking back now at some of the other videos for Mr. Benn, I’ve realised the program isn’t even fully animated, and I suddenly feel really old.The show was adapted from a series of illustrated books by David McKee and the books continued well into the noughties, even if the show itself got doomed to never-ending repeats (save a 2005 once-off special.)
Another similarly quaint and ruggedly long-lasting show that I remember fondly is Jamie And The Magic Torch, a show that can only be described as psychedelic and trippy. And yep, this is another before-my-time one that was somehow produced and aired between 1976 and 1979.
What I find especially fun/weird/interesting about this show is Jamie’s pet dog, Wordsworth, an old English sheepdog. So A) we’re working off the assumption that Jamie didn’t have siblings: perhaps a tenuous assumption, but he seems not to have to share a room or a dog; and…
B) I WAS CONVINCED THAT WORDSWORTH WAS THE DULUX DOG AND I WILL FIGHT ANYONE THAT TRIES TO TELL ME OTHERWISE.
Let’s bear in mind that I work in TV advertising and publish books in my spare time, and you should be able to see how my brain works from this…
I’m segueing from one dog to another here to mention Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds. Yep, it’s another show with a dog for some reason. And another show that pre-dates my 1985 birth-date (the show originally aired 1981-1982.
This one is all about the theme tune because it’s a very vivid memory, and one that my family will take every effort to remind me of my obsession with it.
I don’t remember much about the show itself: at some stage, I turned against Dogtanian, and I don’t know why. Perhaps it was because at some stage I read The Three Musketeers and found it a bit boring and too political for me (I was maybe 10?)
Sticking with memorable theme tunes, I guess Chip ‘N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers is one of those shows that I don’t really need to mention here, because my assumption is that everyone remembers this show, airing 1988-1990 and owned by Disney.
But I was convinced these characters were too young and cool and cheeky for any adults to like or understand.
I still can’t actually get my head around the fact that Chip and Dale were actually created in 1943, and I’m convinced that’s just a massive hoax and the internet is lying to me…
I’ve a feeling that Rescue Rangers aired around a similar time-slot to The Raccoons because the two shows are somewhat interchangeable in my head. Airing between 1985 and 1992, I’m still not sure how much of this show was entirely original and how much was just borrowed from Duck Tales with its proto-Scrooge-Mc-Duck, and indeed, even Montgomery Burns himself.
Oh look, another Dulux dog. Wordsworth sure gets around…
Before you wonder out loud, the things with the noses are supposedly aardvarks.
I’m looking at these TV shows now and feeling rather uncomfortable: so many of these shows feature anthropomorphic characters and as an adult, I rather dislike anthropomorphic characters. At some stage, I decided I didn’t like cutesy animals and their adventures, and I think I can blame a lot of this on the French show Diplodos that aired 1987-1988. By that stage, I’d probably seen enough He-Man‘s and Captain Planets (more on that one later) to get over cutesy animals with weird stationery-based superpowers.
For all its cutesy imagery, the show grates on me now, and a lot of that is because of its title credits. The theme tune is credited to Haim Saban and Shuki Levy, the same team that produced He-Man and would later produce various seasons of Power Rangers. Watching this now, I’m struck by an over-long title sequence and a lot of re-used animated imagery?
I’ll take this opportunity to take a quick interlude and move from shows of which I’ve incredibly fond memories to look at the shows that I didn’t like. At least I’m telling myself now that I didn’t like them.
Much like Diplodos fills me with an indescribable sense of irritation, so too does Widget The World Watcher.
So irritating was this show that I only remember the vaguest of aesthetics to this, namely a little pinky alien that some part of me wanted to destroy.
He was just too fucking cutesy, and I just didn’t like it, and those title credits are too long, and…why does he look like Roger from American Dad? (I’m sure there’s some intentional referencing in there that I’ve missed, because let’s be honest, I didn’t do much research on this one above and beyond acknowledging its existence, finding its name and proving to myself that I wasn’t imagining it.)
This aired 1990-1992, so I’d probably outgrown my cutesy phase, and if I really wanted to care about the planet, I would’ve just watched Captain Planet (which aired 1990-1996. That doesn’t belong here when I’m discussing forgettable TV shows; instead it’s one of those shows everybody should remember well enough, but it was clearly a partial introduction to my later aesthetic of superheroic teens, each with a slightly different superpower that might eventually combine into one greater superpower.)
And one more show I really hated (or maybe that just confused me), but possibly because I don’t think I ever watched: Beverley Hills Teens. It was apparently a short show that only aired in 1987, but it must have ended up in some re-run-limbo.
I suppose the theme tune isn’t that bad, but everything about this show makes me think it was targeted at a far-older audience, one that was perhaps too old for cartoons? In fact, a much maligned memory suggests that my younger brain thought that this was an animated version of Beverley Hills 90210 (that show started in 1990, so this animation predates it in terms of production, so it must have been that rerun limbo that triggered that thought.)
There came a stage where I wasn’t all that interested in saving the world (ecologically, anyway), in shopping or in just goofing around. There was a much different type of TV show that I caught in the early 90s that was a lot more me.
At least I hope these shows were all from the 90s, otherwise my attempts to do this in chronological order will have been worthless.
*ruffles some papers*
Oh, 1986. Yeah…
Defenders Of The Earth was an entertaining enough show, but I’m not entirely sure of the reasoning behind it, bringing together old comic strip characters as a team. That’s right, comic-strip, not comic-book. This show features Mandrake the Magician, The Phantom and Flash Gordon fighting against Ming The Merciless; each of those characters have a kid (teenage, to make the crime-fighting a little bit more acceptable.)
This mix of characters and setting looks and sounds like a fever-dream, and I was convinced that the show was just that for the longest time, until I discovered a box-set of the series in a specialist store in the mid-noughties.
With 65 episodes under their belt, whoever says you can’t mix your brands and get lasting, memorable results?
Visionaries was another TV show that I was convinced I was making up, and perhaps that’s because I have no memory of actually watching this show. I just remember having a few of the toy characters from it…it was a Hasbro show after all. Another 1987 memory that I’m only now appreciating as an adult in terms of marketing and brand-awareness, because those action figures and the emblazoned heroes on their chests were very memorable.
And now I want a chest tattoo…
So we’re talking about the late 80s, a period when toys and cartoons blurred so effectively that you couldn’t quite tell what came first…or certainly I never could. Because I was a kid. And I didn’t understand marketing.
Now, as an adult, I’ve a better idea of where all those things fit in together.
Things like the Gobots, which aired 1983 to 1987 and were so totally not like the Transformers. So much not-like the Transformers that the rights were later acquired by Hasbro, and the Gobots now exist in some sort of weird parallel universe to the Transformers where they may actually interact.
Now, like the Visionaries I don’t actually remember seeing any Gobots cartoons on TV: as a matter of fact, my only experience with them was when visiting Xtra-Vision (the Irish version of Blockbuster: as a matter of fact, Blockbuster actually bought the company in 1996 and then the company died completely around 2016.) I’d have a look through the kids videos, I’d pick up one that I wanted to watch…and then I’d watch it again. And maybe borrow it the next time I visited the shop as well.
A lot of times, that video was a feature-length Gobots episode from 1986, Gobots: Battle Of The Rock Lords.
Nope, I don’t remember the Rock Lords either or anything to do with this, but the internet tells me that this little forgettable movie features the voice cast of Margot Kidder, Roddy McDowell and Telly Savalas.
How. Very. 80s.
If I wasn’t picking up the Gobots video, I was probably picking up another specific one instead: this one was Captain Power And The Soldiers Of The Future.
This was another 1987 TV show, (seriously, what was with that year?) and although there were 22 episodes, I don’t think I ever saw them on TV. Instead, I picked up something that the internet describes as a ‘compilation TV movie.’
Other people and web-sites have explained and discussed this show in a lot more detail than I’ve ever been able to find, but I’m just glad to prove to myself that it actually did exist.
A bit too early to truly rival Power Rangers, Captain Power was surprisingly adult in its content for a show that was so clearly targeted at children: even if I don’t remember seeing it on TV, I remember the toys and activity books in stores…and pestering my parents to buy them for me.
Despite that, this show didn’t feature cutesy kids or animals: this was full on post-apocalyptic warfare with vaguely mechanical bad-guys, the main one (Lord Dread) totally looking like one of Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Borg.
One of the head writers on this show was J Michael Straczynski, the same guy who later brought Babylon 5 to TV, has written comics for years and while writing this right now, I’ve just discovered he also wrote for He-Man and She-Ra cartoons.
Say what you will about his writing don’t act like he hasn’t had a meaty career.
If I wanted my parents to buy into the world of Captain Power a show most people barely remember, then I think everyone at least knows the world of Mario, if not his TV history.
The Super Mario Bros Super Show from 1989 had a ridiculously catchy “do the Mario” theme tune and dance. I’m not sure if I was made to do this dance, or if I did it willingly, but the words and the dancing still haunt my memories.
Cutting from studio-based segments featuring the Mario bros to animated adventures in the Mushroom Kingdom, the show also featured adventures from a Legend Of Zelda cartoon that bares little resemblance to any of the Zelda games I’ve ever played.
Fine, fine, I’ve messed with the system and just posted the closing credits rather than the opening ones. Stop judging me, that dance is the important bit. But here’s the opening credits if you really want to see how the animation worked.
This was all a good four years before Hollywood attempted a live-action movie, featuring Bob Hoskins and Mario, John Leguizamo as his brother Luigi and Dennis Hopper as ‘King Koopa.’ It’s a weird film that doesn’t really belong in this post (save for this mention here) that for some reason I remember more about some of the soundtrack than the movie itself.
If Mario had me up and dancing along to the theme tune, Double Dragon had me becoming fascinated with mystical superpowers and tattoos around 1993. If everything else on this list has been a memory of a very childish show that I can only partly remember, this was definitive after-school telly that needed to be watched and consumed.
Let’s be honest, this was the same era as the (first lot) of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles so I can definitely remember those maybe-they’re-a-bit-older-than-teenagers using their ill-defined superpowers against the bad guys.
You know who else fights the bad guys?
That’s right, COPS.
Key memory of this show from 1988: being far too young to understand the punning-power used in naming a villainous character Ms. Demeanor. In fact, in what is perhaps my first brush with gender studies, I was convinced that the character’s name was “Mr. Meaner” (in that the character was male, and they were, indeed, more mean than anyone else.)
Even though it was a different year, I’m confident that COPS aired around the same time as James Bond Jr. on some station. As a suave teenage character, nephew of the far-more-famous super-spy, this show had it all. A team of friends, some of them with glasses and an understanding of technology (HEY, THAT’S A THING THAT’S LIKE A THING THAT I COULD DO!)
As I’m writing this though, I’ve a weird thought about this show: so it aired in 1991-1992, so I would’ve been six or seven when watching it. Maybe eight. Sure, I was a kid, sure I was watching it for the gadgets and defeating of bad guys.
But James Bond Jr had a similar effect as his famous uncle.
James Bond Jr. was a little bit…sexy? No, maybe not the right word, but you can see where I’m going with this, right? A character who was intentionally suave and sophisticated, who had resources (whether financial resources or just gadgets.)
James Bond is one of those characters that all the guys want to be and all the girls want to be with, right? So it would only make sense that his nephew would appeal to younger audiences in a similar way. And if it’s now 25 years later and you’re fully aware that James Bond is a character you both want to be and be with, it makes sense that the younger version of you might have felt the same way about a younger version of James Bond?
Take James Bond out of the world of spies and criminals, and put that mixture into a sci-fi/fantasy world where plants turn into cars (for some reason) and you have Jayce And The Wheeled Warriors.
Now this is a theme tune worth remembering.
Somehow, the show debuted in 1985 and lasted a year, but it seemed to be on TV a lot. There was something about this show that brought something new every time I saw it.
Like why is there a wizard on a team that is basically the animated version of the recent Fast And Furious movies?
Why are these animals capable of turning into cars?
Why was Herc Stormsailor a weird cross between Han Solo (similar initials, eh?) and Bruce Campbell, and he’s definitely acquired some of that sexy rogueish vibe as well…somehow…in a cartoon series…
Of all the other shows I’ve mentioned in this post, Jayce was the most memorable, and that’s partly because I’ve seen it on TV multiple times since I was a kid. I seem to remember Jetix regularly airing it post-watershed within the last 10-15 years, teaming it up with similar shows like Megas XLR to give it a sort of Top Gear feel.
Once we get into the 90s, the TV shows I was watching got a little bit more memorable, and many of those shows still lingered in the public consciousness, probably because they were also re-aired through to the present day. Sure, everyone remembers the various animated superhero TV shows like Batman: The Animated Series, Spider-Man and the best show ever X-Men.
But does everyone remember the shows that were just a little bit enough like the above that they probably never got off the ground?
Shows like Superhuman Samurai Cyber Squad, a weird Power Rangers rip-off where computer viruses were the villains, where one of the eighty-three million Lawrence brothers was the hero and Tim Curry voiced the bad-guy?
The show started airing in 1994, a direct response to the launch of Power Rangers one year previously. Much like Power Rangers, the show is also recut and re-edited from an existing Japanese show (Denkou Choujin Gridman, if you’re wondering.) With that in mind, the show is cheap as chips: unlike Power Rangers it doesn’t even bother trying to put its actors into suits or having them ‘fight’ out of costume. But with the inclusion of a Lawrence brother and TIM FUCKING CURRY!!!!! you can’t pretend like there wasn’t someone behind the curtain who really wanted to make this show happen.
And speaking of shows that people really wanted to happen, we all remember California Dreams anyway, yeah?
The show went through a few reinventions in its five-season run, starting as a quaint, cosy family comedy before moving into some teenagers-at-school based shenanigans by dropping two main characters, their parents and their annoying younger brother.
The show set a standard that’s been attempted multiple times since: don’t pretend like Glee, Hannah Montana and Victorious don’t owe something to this show.
For what it’s worth, I bought the CD album with my own pocket-money and listened to it constantly. I also lent that album to someone I worked with when I was well into my twenties, then never got it back (and this was a time long before social media) so that was an abject lesson in generosity and adulting.
Jimmy Fallon got the cast back together for an appearance on The Tonight Show, suggesting that the show was actually as popular as I remember it being.
And just like I was convinced that Chip ‘N’ Dale were actually far younger than they really were, I was also convinced that the actor who played Jake in California Dreams (Jay Anthony Franke) just had to be related to the first green (and white) ranger, Tommy Oliver (played by Jason David Frank.)
Yep, back in the 90s, all those rebellios characters with black leather jackets and the surname Frank(e) were all related…..
Stop judging me.
California Dreams was accompanied by a similar teen comedy-drama that did for basketball what California Dreams did for teenagers in bands.
Hang Time ran from 1995 to 2000, and was nothing at all like One Tree HIll…nothing at all…
Basketball never got me in the same way as music did, and perhaps the rest of the UK and Ireland thought the same, because while I remember this show, I don’t remember it running for a whole five years.
Or maybe that’s because in the middle of its run, I would’ve become a teenager and realised I really didn’t care that much about sports, especially not American sports that didn’t cross the Atlantic particularly well (sorry, America.)
Over the course of pulling all these thoughts together and proving that these shows really existed, there are still a few random shows that I thought of as well, shows that I’m not sure if I ever watched, and it took a bit of a struggle to place. So now, they belong at the end of this blog post, the stuff that doesn’t actually belong anywhere, but gets a mention regardless.
First was a TV show about people working in a restaurant, and I don’t know why there’d be a kids’ show about people working in the fast-food industry (especially when, under current broadcast rules, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be allowed to show much food in this fashion.)
That show was Spatz, an ITV show that aired between 1990 and 1992.
No, I don’t understand it either.
Next, Escape From Jupiter. I read the book, then saw the TV show, went “the book was better” little realising that the book was adapted from the TV show. 1994 Australian TV, and I think we can assume that at least some of the people in this show ended up in either Neighbours or Home And Away.
Basically, there were a lot of TV shows thrown into the summer months (or aired in bulk over school holidays) that I caught five second of, and then wondered what the hell I was looking at.
Like Shadow Raiders: War Planets (from 1998.) I think they burned off an entire series over the course of a week and it just happened to be on before (or after) something far more watchable (remember when I said we had a limited number of TV channels!)
Or maybe this was the watchable show and I just don’t want to admit it? After all, involved writers Dan DiDio and Marv Wolfman…
Same goes for this weird Flash Gordon cartoon from 1996. Might have been airing in the same slot two years previously, might have been paired with War Planets, I don’t know. But it existed, and I half remembered it.
In case you can’t tell from the intro, it was French…
And there you have it; several months in the making, the essential guide to Ken’s half-remembered-TV-shows-from-his-childhood-that-aren’t-as-easy-to-find-as-they-could-be. (No, it’s not like it took months to write this, it just took months to actually get off my lazy ass and pull it all together.) And I’m sure there’s a lot more information about these shows that I could have researched: nah, I just wanted to acknowledge their existence and prove my own sanity.
If anyone remembers more about these shows than I do, let me know; feck, if anyone was involved in the production or marketing, get in touch and tell me things about it.
Also published on Medium.