The recent death of Bob Keeshan reminded lots of people that the power of what you watch on TV as a child extends beyond mere nostalgia. Keeshan’s character, Captain Kangaroo, like Fred Rogers’ Mister Rogers, implanted in millions of children a memory of warmth and comfort that is no small gift. The same is true, for another generation, of ”Sesame Street,” and I’m serious when I say that many of us retain enormous, unironic affection for ”Pee-wee’s Playhouse” (1986?91). Watching tapes of that show recently, I felt that creator Paul Reubens’ remarkable achievement – creating a series that worked simultaneously as sincere and camp pleasure – makes his scandal-marred career a genuine tragedy.
It’s difficult to say whether Boohbah, a new show created by British producer Anne Wood (the woman who birthed ”Teletubbies”), will be remembered with similar affection. But I’m positive that ”Boohbah” can be experienced by both its intended audience (kids ages 3 to 6) and its inevitable inadvertent audience (doting parents and stoners of every age) as a mind-blowing gas. Like ”Teletubbies,” ”Boohbah”’s principal characters are nonhuman – or rather, five actors encased in what look like furry, gumdrop-shaped costumes, from which protrude hairless skulls, electronically throbbing eyebrows, eyes, and a hint of nose.
As if this weren’t eerie enough, each is a different, glowing color (yellow, pink, blue, purple, orange) and has an otherworldly name: Humbah, Jingbah, Jumbah, Zumbah, and Zing Zing Zingbah. (Wondering why the latter possesses three names? That’s the least of this psychedelic stumper’s ceaseless stream of non sequiturs.) Creator Wood asserts that the Boohbahs, who jump and caper around in various environments – a green field, a sunny beach – are meant to inspire kids to get up and exercise a bit, and real children on screen stretch and move about occasionally. To the beat of Muzak-techno, the Boohbahs blob around spasmodically in sync, while children yell, ”Boohbah! Boohbah!” Clearly this is a cult in the making: Its roly-poly Jim Joneses are themselves Kool-Aid colored.
At the end of every episode, the Boohbahs morph together into a rainbow-hued globe, soar up into the air, and disappear, as though ascending to Jerry Garcia’s precinct in heaven. This plotless nirvana (a toddler’s dreamscape, a mushroom eater’s paradise) goes on for 30 minutes every weekday. Really, if the imported Boohbah catches on in America, it will spell the end of Bob Barker as daytime entertainment, because ”Boohbah” has it all over ”The Price Is Right” in terms of flashing lights, blinding colors, and silly noise, at undoubtedly lower production costs.