8 Canadian kids' shows you forgot you loved
If you grew up in Canada in the '90s (or are a parent of someone who did), you know all too well the joys of coming home from school, turning on the TV and feasting your eyes on a world of colourful fun, weirdness and creativity. Many see this era as a high point of innovative children's programming; far from a homogenized, over-produced slate of programming, each show had its own unique look, tone and point of view, launching every kid who watched them into their own little universe. And while we'll never forget shows like Mr. Dressup, Are You Afraid Of The Dark? and The Big Comfy Couch, there are shows that are just as innovative, fun or flat-out bizarre, that might be collecting dust in the back of your brain. So put down your backpack, grab your favourite snack and see if you recall these Canadian children's programs.
Let's start with the weirdest. Nanalan' began airing in 1999 on CBC as a series of 3-minute shorts, following the puppeteered adventures of Mona (a honeydew melon-shaped toddler) and her dog, Russell, as they explored her grandmother's (Nana's) backyard. The puppetry was often purposely rough and in-your-face; many objects and creatures would be shoved on a stick towards the camera and Mona, who had her own twist on the entire English language, was aggressively curious and emotive, making each episode a surreal expression of childhood. After 1 season of 53 episodes, Nanalan' seemed all but forgotten, until our gif-obsessed world discovered it all over it again (on sites like tumblr), so maybe Mona and her dog will return once more.
Running on YTV and the Family Channel for 3 seasons starting in 1990, Maniac Mansion was far ahead of its time. Created by Eugene Levy (also co-creator of Schitt's Creek), the show was loosely based on a LucasArts video game of the same name, which was a point-and-click homage to wacky B-movies. The show was a sci-fi twist on the typical family sitcom, revolving around inventor Fred Edison (played by Joe Flaherty), his family and the giant meteorite underneath their mansion. Fred's experiments caused quite a few mishaps (his toddler son was now a grown, balding man and his brother's head was on the body of a fly), but each episode had plenty of dry humour and family charm. The series is also a must-watch for any fan of SCTV; with guest appearances by Dave Thomas, Martin Short and Andrea Martin.
If you've ever been in a closing department store, you may have had flashbacks to this show, originally airing on TVO and Nickelodeon from 1981-1987. Today's Special, filmed at Toronto's now-defunct Simpsons department store, followed a mannequin named Jeff, who came to life via a magic hat, who was befriended by employee Jodie, puppet security guard Sam Crenshaw, and store mouse, Muffy. Each episode dealt with a particular educational topic, but also included short films and the occasional musical number (that mannequin was a darn fine dancer).
Before Jonathan Torrens was uncovering the politeness of Canadians, the nation was first introduced to him as part of a newsmagazine program for young adults called Street Cents. The show used satirical sketches, investigative pieces and on-the-street interviews to uncover if brands and products were really worth your money. True to their code, Street Cents aired without advertising and products that weren't deemed consumer-worthy were banished to "The Pit". The program enjoyed quite a long (1989-2006) and successful (winning numerous national and international awards) run and, in a world where everyone is their own brand, Street Cents is perhaps more relevant now than ever.
PJ Katie's Farm
Originally starting as interstitial programming for YTV's Treehouse, PJ Katie's Farm is a lesson in energy, imagination and the charm of a low budget. The show starred Jennifer "PJ Katie" Raicot (remember the PJs?), who would enact scenarios on a miniature barnyard set, moving around and voicing all the plasticine farm animal characters. What was lacking in sophistication was certainly made up for in enthusiasm; PJ Katie had a kitschy and ballistic approach as it seemed like each episode just burst out of her and the show developed a cult following among children and teens.
Our nation's televised weirdness was not contained to just live action, Canada has made a bunch of unique animated shows as well. One such show is Stickin' Around, airing on YTV starting in 1996. The show used an animation style known as "line boil", where lines and shapes would constantly wiggle, as if each image was roughly redrawn again for each frame. This made Stickin' Around look like it was drawn by kids and the plots matched. Each episode would follow the elementary school exploits of Stacy and her friend Bradley as they'd encounter bullies, get creeped out by Principal Coffin and always take each story to an extreme and surreal climax, just like listening to an 8-year-old.
If you didn't see this show on your TV, you may have seen it in your classroom; Téléfrançais was often used to teach French as a second language. The TVO show began airing in 1984 and followed friends Jacques and Sophie along with their puppet pineapple friend – bluntly named Ananas – who lived in a junkyard (naturally). If that wasn't surreal enough, the show also regularly featured human characters with puppet heads and the musical stylings of a band consisting of marionette skeletons, known as Les Squelettes.
Saved By The Bell met the Love Boat in this teen sitcom about a high school on a cruise ship. Airing on YTV in 1997 (for only one season), Breaker High had all the typical '90s teenage tropes: cool kids, stuffy authority figures and plenty of flirting all wrapped up in shell necklaces and bucket hats. The ship would always visit "exotic locations" though it was pretty obvious they didn't (being entirely filmed in B.C.). This show may have been lost to the sands of time were it not for one burgeoning cast member, named Ryan Gosling, whose popularity keeps the memory of Breaker High forever afloat. Ryan has of course gone on to star in countless successful and critically acclaimed works, like Young Hercules.