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You Can't Do Without 'You Can't Do That on Television'

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Volumes could be written about You Can’t Do That on Television, the Canadian kids’ show which ran in the States on the cable channel Nickelodeon all through the 1980s and into the ‘90s.  Subversive in its silliness as great comedy often is, YCDTOTV offered a brand of children’s sketch comedy that has yet to be duplicated to this writer’s knowledge. And the intro to the show fairly neatly captures all that makes the show itself great. 


The theme music is bizarrely catchy, an odd marching-band arrangement punctuated by screams. This gives a very definite Monty Python feel to the intro, as does the use of cut-out animation. Then, there is the cutting imagery of the “Children’s Television Sausage Factory”, mechanically cranking out “product” of child actors on an automated assembly line. This ought to resonate with anyone who has ever noticed how insultingly bland and rote a lot of children’s televison can be. Then, the kids are loaded onto a bus and cut loose in a TV studio. The face of Les Lye, the actor who played all of the adult male roles on the show, in various costumes and with various voices, is stamped with the show’s title. This is a fairly empowering image for the young viewer, a sort of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” for the Romper Room set.


One often wishes to take care to not tread down the glittery lane towards nostalgia, lest one gets stuck living in the past. So it is nice to see that something one grew up watching turned out to be far more layered and interesting than one could have articulated at the time.


Just watch for the green slime.


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