You should skip my explanations and go straight to enjoying the videos at the end of this post.
I say this in part because I have a shameful secret: I grew up without TV (or soft drinks, but I’ll get to that). We were so broke when I was a kid that we never fixed our little black-and-white TV when it stopped working. Oh, sure, there was a tiny lifestyle choice in this non-action—my mom was a teacher, after all—but in any case, I dropped out of the media zeitgeist at early Ed Sullivan and didn’t return until the fifth season of Magnum, P.I. By then I was into my working life and had little opportunity to watch. (Okay, for a short time I gorged on what had been denied me so long, watching hours of food programming the same way I chugged root beer by the quart once I finally got my hands on some.)
My peers, who were fully versed in Mannix and Happy Days, taunted me for my ignorance for a dozen years or so, then gave up in disgust.
Still, I’m no tele-luddite. We have a TV now. (The national average is 2.24 sets per household.) We love to watch DVD movies on it, when we’re not too tired or busy, and I used to put the set on with no sound while I fed or coaxed a baby to sleep. (As a result, I can read lips a little.). We pay for cable, but it’s the 12-channel version, so we can see local news. I do believe in the American Academy of Pediatrics Report on Children, Adolescents and Television, which says, “Time spent with various media may displace other more active and meaningful pursuits, such as reading, exercising, or playing with friends.”
“By the time the average person reaches age 70,” the report says, “he or she will have spent the equivalent of 7 to 10 years watching television.” Yeesh.
But sometimes we all get the urge, like Homer Simpson, to “bask in television's warm glowing warming glow.” It’s the same feeling you might get four weeks into a six-week backpacking trip through a foreign land, when all you really want is a Diet Coke in your own glass with ice made in your own freezer. (“That’s just pitiful,” a student said when I told his class about this urge. “Land of the Big Gulp,” we used to call it wistfully, in the army.)
For our family, there’s no show, other than The Simpsons, which fills this need better than Nanalan’. It’s a quiet, gentle, kind show, aimed at a preschool audience, with a three-year old protagonist named Mona, who stays each day with her grandmother (Nana) while mom is at work. One viewer wrote that Nanalan’ is genuinely a show about nothing, in a way that Seinfeld could only pretend to be (and there’s nothing wrong with that). It’s by the Grogs, a Canadian puppetry troupe that also does Mr. Meaty for Nickelodeon.
Mona is a sweet little green puppet. Her Nana is a jovial woman with an enormous rump and bust, a Jack Russell named Russell, and a funny old neighbor, Mr. Wooka, who puts on (meta?)puppet shows for Mona and Nana. Viewers have noted the flirtation between Mr. Wooka and Nana.
This report on television in infancy and early childhood mentions the Moderate Discrepancy Hypothesis: “The notion that young viewers will attend to visual portrayals that are moderately novel, moderately complex and somewhat surprising in the context of the viewer’s experience.” It’s the certain slant of light that brings on consciousness. Nanalan’ has just the right slant, and there’s not a transformer-ranger-animaniac (or insipid purple dinosaur) in sight.
I would venture to add that the show is not about nothing. Quietly, humorously, obliquely, (and perhaps platonically in the case of Nana and Mr. Wooka), but in a way a child can sense, the show is about love.
Here’s my favorite of Mr. Wooka’s backyard puppet shows.
Here’s another, with mountain goat.
Click here to be jammin’ with the Nanalan’ Band.
They call this Magical Sniffy Thing, but I think I went to high school with him.
Finally, the puppets sing to a real-life Nana (there are usually no humans onscreen).
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