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October 7, 2015

TV 101: How to fix the Backyardigans (OR: Teach your children well...)

by Jay Black, posted Feb 25th 2009 11:55AM
Just what the hell is Uniqua? Seriously?I have a 19 month-old son named Keane Black who has recently graduated from a boob-obsessed pink blob into a happy-go-lucky toddler. (Little does he know that, if he follows his father's path, he's only a few decades away from regressing back into a boob-obsessed pink blob, except this time with back hair).

The transition has been great for me because it means that my son and I are now actually able to do things together: we play ball, we color, and we watch TV.

Babies are greedy in the sense that my son seems to have no interest in watching PTI (regardless of how many times I explain to him the myriad delights of LeBatard). Thus, when we watch together, we're stuck watching his shows, specifically his all-time favorite, The Backyardigans.

While I've grown to enjoy the show, it's occurred to me there are several ways that it can be made a more effective educational device..

If you don't know The Backyardigans, I assume it's either because you don't have kids or don't smoke pot.

Here's a rundown of the show:

Five friends -- Pablo the Penguin, Tasha the Hippopotamus, Tyrone the Moose, Austin the Kangaroo, and Uniqua the Whatever -- play together every day in their backyards. They imagine grand adventures for themselves and, as they do, the scene shifts from the backyard to whatever it is they're imagining. Along the way, they sing some songs and learn some lessons.

It's easy to see why the show is so popular. Even though it's pretty standard fair for a kids' show, The Backyardigans does a superb job of animating the musical numbers. Further, there's enough ironic nods to the parents watching that only very rarely does the show make you want to rip your own small intestine out -- a rare and excellent feat for a children's show.

Like always, the program raises some questions that were probably never meant to be asked.

For instance, just what the hell is Uniqua?

Why are their heads so big and their hands so small -- do the Backyardigans have a bone disorder?

Why do many of the adventures leave out one of the Backyardigans? We're led to believe that all of their houses connect to the same backyard -- if one or more of the Backyardigans isn't playing with his or her friends, presumably the odd-Backyardingan-out knows about it. Doesn't this hurt their Backyardigan feelings?

(My theory is that when a Backyardigan is missing, it's because they're at the doctor, getting treatment for their bone disorder. When I bring this up, my wife, quite rightfully, threatens divorce).

These questions are easily glossed over. It's a kids' show, after all, and doesn't need to following the strict continuity and verisimilitude of an adult show like 24 (ahem).

More unsettling are the lessons being taught each show. The Backyardigans tends toward easy moral lessons like "sharing" or "acceptance" that may have been appropriate for children in the freewheeling PBS heyday of the 70s, but that are increasingly archaic and meaningless to today's children.

So, while I really enjoy The Backyardigans I can't help but think the show needs to make some adjustments to make it more meaningful for the modern child. Teaching children basic reading and math skills is like teaching them how to churn butter; cute, but ultimately useless for the coming world order. Today's kids need a more sophisticated set of lessons.

With that in mind, here are some sample episode ideas:

1. The Backyardigans in "Foreclosure Bailout"

When Homeowner Austin's adjustable rate mortgage shifts higher and he can no longer afford the mortgage on his 6000 square foot Arizona McMansion, Banker Tasha shows up to see what's going on.

Accountant Pablo informs them that due to the collapsing housing market, Homeowner Austin's two year old home has fallen into negative equity and that even if he sells it, there's no way he'll be able to pay back Banker Tasha. Banker Tasha could easily work out a deal that would save both Homeowner Austin and the bank the pain of a foreclosure, but is told by Supervisor Uniqua that their bank "isn't in the business of underwriting deadbeats" and to proceed with the foreclosure.

Just when all hope it lost, President Tyrone shows up and tells Homeowner Austin not to worry. He hands him a big government check, and then they all sing a song about the wonders of the Chinese Bond market.

Lesson learned: The Government will fix everything, so Buy Buy Buy!

2. The Backyardigans in "Homerun Derby"

Baseball Player Pablo is having trouble affording both Wife Uniqua and Mistress Tasha, so he decides to start taking an designer drug called "The Sheer", based on an illegal Dominican Horse Steroid. The results are phenomenal, with Baseball Player Pablo hitting 61 home runs and earning enough in bonuses to buy Wife Uniqua a mink stole and Mistress Tasha a boob job.

He's found out, however, when Old-Timer Tyrone notices his shrunken testicles in the shower after an Old-Timers game. Old-Timer Tyrone calls his buddy, Mike-Lupica Austin, who writes a scathing editorial about Baseball Player Pablo.

Baseball Player Pablo makes an awkward public apology, then they all sing a song about how much fun it is to judge others.

Lesson Learned: The only PEDs that should be allowed in baseball are amphetamines and discrimination.

3. The Backyardigans in "Reality Show"

Frat-DbagTyrone, Sorority-Slut Tasha, Alcoholic Austin, and Flamboyantly Gay Pablo, are hired by Reality Show Producer Uniqua to appear in MTV's new flagship Monday night reality show, "The Backyard-World."

Sorority Slut Tasha immediately gets drunk and naked, giving Frat-Dbag Tyrone all the opening he needs to commence an evening of wild (and disturbingly angry) blurry-cam sex. Meanwhile, Alcoholic Austin gets into a fistfight with Flamboyantly Gay Pablo over who gets the top bunk in their room.

When it's found out that Sorority Slut Tasha has a boyfriend back in Tulsa who will no doubt be angry that she had sex with Frat-Dbag Tyrone eight seconds into the filming of the reality show, the four of them convene a meeting to question whether or not it makes sense for them to be prostituting themselves for the entertainment of others. Alcoholic Austin openly weeps that he once wanted to be an Architect.

The day is saved when Reality Show Producer Uniqua arrives and explains that in America there is no more noble pursuit than the reality show fame.

Relieved, they all sing a song about dignity.

Lesson Learned: Everything is okay, so long as it's filmed for a network (or a major cable station).

4. The Backyrdigans in "Zombie Trouble"

When Government Scientist Uniqua accidentally drops a test tube with "Sample 7" of her new biological weapon, it's up to CDC Official Tyrone to investigate. He circles the globe with Government Hack Tasha to try to find Patient Zero Pablo before the world is wrapped in a death shroud of biblical proportions.

CDC Official Tyrone is, of course, too late, and finds Patient Zero Pablo a frothing zombie-like creature. Patient Zero Pablo bites CDC Official Tyrone and then the two of them bite Government Hack Tasha. This creates a domino effect that leads to everyone in the entire world becoming either the hunter (Zombies) or the hunted (Backyardigans).

Sole Survior Austin sings a mournful dirge to all that was lost because of man's inability to love more than he hates.

Lesson Learned: We're all doomed! DOOMED!

I think you'll agree that if TV is the lantern by which our children guide themselves through life's murky night, then the Backyardigans owe it to them to provide the brightest light it can. So, come on, Janice Burgess, get on the ball and make this show useful!

(Jay Black is a writer and a comedian who is best known for having his last TV 101 mentioned on The Howard Stern Show and lying to his wife that meeting her was much more important to him than any stupid mention on Stern. For more information about Jay or to catch one of his live shows, check out his website www.jayblackcomedy.com.)

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We have our own theories but unfortunately it's only about Austin, as most of the DVD's we have (okay not some of the newest ones we've bought, but the older ones, yes) he was always the one missing in action, or getting really crummy background parts basically (one episode I've seen, he was the Tarzan that could only say "ugh") which furthered some of my studies.

My husband and I believe that Austin is constantly locked in the basement of his home by his dad. His dad only lets him out once a week to go play with his friends, who don't really like him that much because he's never around, thus the reason he always seems to get stuck with really crappy parts in the show.

Yah, definitely horrible theorizing, but seriously. Austin needs better parts. That is my daughters favorite character; every time he comes on the screen she gets excited and smiley.

We obviously don't share what we know about poor Austin.

I believe I heard somewhere that Uniqua is Unique. That's her species and it was meant to show people that not everyone in the world is the same, but everyone still gets along... or some nonsense like that.

Seriously, all the characters are different, they didn't need to throw some random thing in the show thats two different shades of pink.

I think she's an ant myself. That's what we tell our daughter anyways.

March 05 2009 at 8:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

For the longest time I thought Austin was a panther, but then my little one corrected me quickly. Silly daddy. I should have known better. ;)

Anyone else noticed Tyrone's voice just isn't the same lately? I didn't know if the actor had grown some or a different one.

February 27 2009 at 2:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This post =

February 27 2009 at 4:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cate's comment

Bleh, it won't let me make a heart so

This post = LOVE

February 27 2009 at 5:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If you liked this post, you'll probably like this one, too. It's called "The Backyardigans Bug Me."


February 26 2009 at 6:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kevin Ehl

I always thought Uniqua was a salamander!

When you put the backyardigans' songs up against mickey mouse clubhouse, yo gabba gabba (wait 'till your son gets into that one!), doodlebops and the wonder pets - it's clear they spend way more time with the songs. That's awesome that Evan Lurie writes the songs - makes sense now.

February 25 2009 at 6:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You forgot to mention the best part of The Backyardigans - the catchy songs that are written by Evan Lurie from The Lounge Lizards. Not sure what Uniqua is (other than unique), but the little girl who voices her has the best singing voice on the show. My daughters outgrew Backyardigans, but I would still watch it - esp. episodes like "It's Great To Be a Ghost" or "The Volcano Sisters" -- if I were flipping and they were on.

February 25 2009 at 2:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to deebopalula's comment

The girl who sings for Uniqua is Jamia Nash - if your daughters ever watched Jack's Big Music Show, she's the girl with the drum who sang the Bongo song.

She was also the lead singer for one of the 2007 Best Song nominees and sang at the Oscars last year. (Raise It Up from August Rush) With any luck, she's got a good long career in front of her.

Oh, and to stay on topic, Backyardigans is definitely one of the better children's shows on the air right now.

February 26 2009 at 12:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Daune Calovini

HAHAHAHAHA! I spit water on my keyboard, when you theorized about their proportions.

On a much more serious note, I saw "Backy Yar," as it's termed in my house, as more like watching a movie musical. Only broad lessons of love are necessary, it's all about entertainment, with the colors and the dancing and the music. They definitely teach about different musical genres. But, no real academic lessons.

Unfortunately, my son moved from Backy Yar, The Wonder Pets and Wow Wow Wubzy, directly into Disney XD (formerly known as Jetix). So, while we should be building words and counting and going over letters, instead I am trying not to get Hulk Smashed on a daily basis. He doesn't know what comes after D, but he can tell you the real name of every member of the Justice League. Which skill set do you think is going to serve him best?

February 25 2009 at 2:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Uniqua is unique. It's the name of both her and her species. She doesn't represent a real animal.

February 25 2009 at 1:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

as a parent of a 3 & 5 yr old the Backyardigans were a welcome treat after dealing with the Wiggles.

WTF is Uniqua!?!?! My husband and I ponder this question every single time we watch this show. She doesn't look like anything!

And yet, we love her...my kids love her and we all love the show. Okay enough with the Cumbaya.

This piece is great - and hilarious - I'm forwarding to my equally confused parent friends.

February 25 2009 at 1:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Laura's comment

Uniqua is just that...UNIQUE. Hence her name. I learned this in my son's sticker book.

When one of them is 'missing' they are out with their mom and dad...usually at Target, sometimes at Burger King. (Lord, why are you guys so morbid?!)

February 25 2009 at 1:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As the parent of a 4 year old who did go thru a 'Backyardigans' obsession 18 months ago (they were the Theme for her 3rd birthday), I found this quite funny. I would have the same nagging questions - 'Uniqua' wha ? .... and how they would exclude some characters from certain adventures (they do it in the books too, not just the TV show) - so mean ! If your kid is anything like mine then get ready for 'The Wonder Pets' - they are the current obsession - you too will be asking - wtf is a 'flyboat' ....

February 25 2009 at 12:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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