Good news not just for kids, but for intelligent homemakers, imaginative slackers, and wise layabouts as well: Gumby is back on television, thanks to Nickelodeon, which begins broadcasting reruns of the little green clay-boy on June 6. It is possible that most people these days remember Gumby primarily through Eddie Murphy’s brilliant Saturday Night Live parody (“I’m Gumby, dammit!”), but you really should reacquaint yourself with this utterly original pop-culture phenomenon.
Starting in the ’50s, creator Art Clokey used stop-action animation to film a series of adventures featuring Gumby, his solemn orange pony, Pokey, and a slew of soft-bodied, hard-headed characters. This sort of animation — which laboriously entails filming a few frames of 3-D models, then moving the figures a bit, and shooting a few more frames — results in a unique combination of cartoon and live-action movement. Gumby episodes are dreamily quiet and soothing, with our hero doing things like entering a mirror only to find himself face to face with a sort of anti-Gumby, who talks backwards. At his frequent best, Clokey fashioned a canny combination of surrealist and naive art, anticipating both the David Lynch of Eraserhead and the Paul Reubens of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.
If Nickelodeon were extra-smart, it would also air Gumby shows on Nick at Nite, where his disorienting antics might draw bored Beavis and Butthead fans, and blow their minds once and for all.