Toybox: No great shakes

Here’s a message to all fans of Five’s FlashForward: take any strand of toddler’s TV and, like it or not, you are dreaming of the future, but it’s a future that is not necessarily yours. Despite the mawkish sentiments expressed by the likes of Whitney Houston, children are not our future but their own and the fascinating set of booby prizes we are lining up for them grows longer every day: our pensions; the national debt; nuclear waste; ecosystem melt-down and the crowning glory; the aftermath of wall-to-wall children’s TV presentation.

Presenters channel an avuncular television personality that would have real nephews and nieces stare straight through it like the perspex windshield of the plastic bus to Insincere World

I refer not to the programmes themselves - which can be anything on the scale from delightful to a sack full of turds of the size surely deposited by Clifford the Big Red Dog - but about the spaces in between, the painful interstices occupied by simpering, moon-faced continuity announcers. Day in, day out, these hapless graduates from drama school are charged with filling up the schedule with tiresome puzzles, one minute games or doggerel verse and are generally required to ooze with charm when there is clearly none on offer. The best are very good, but others seem to channel an avuncular television personality that would have real nephews and nieces stare straight through it like the perspex windshield of the plastic bus to Insincere World.

Children can naturally see through disingenuity and I fear that repeated exposure to it will somehow inoculate them against their own magical powers, leading to a generation of credulous buffoons that accept at face value everything that the door-to-door N-Power salesman tells them.

At first, it seems that Milkshake! - the Channel Five morning toddler strand - is ploughing a different course and our children’s ability to make rational decisions about their energy supplier will not be compromised. Leaving aside the wholly unnecessary exclamation mark - the typographical equivalent of a squirt of bleach in your eye as well as the product of an enfeebled mind - the strand is rather good and avoids the impulse to fill continuity with trite by leaving its cheery personnel safely behind a desk. That they then blow it with a weekend double-dose of half an hour of filler material called The Milkshake! Show is something of a mystery.

It’s a happy, smiley, sugar sensation of a show, based around a handful of well-executed confectionary dance numbers and quite a lot of attractive people milling around looking cool, waiting for some decent dialogue to be written. They wait in vain. Style hasn’t so much won over substance as invaded it, massacred the residents and then torched the place, leaving it flailing in the ashes unable to recover.

Without any decent lines, the Milkshake! Show presenters demonstrate that there is a thin line between self-possession and self-obsession. The facade quickly crumbles when you realise that the entire premise of it is centred around five continuity announcers, who slouch around the set like the cast of a Vodaphone advert teleported into a children’s library. The self-obsession of the show reaches its pinnacle in an awful claymation feature called the Little Lodgers - where the thumbed out splodges of plasticine all turn out to be ghastly caricatures of, who else, but the presenters themselves.

The worst aspect of all this is that it would only take a couple of decent writers to make it work. The Milkshake! Show makes its otherwise gifted presenters look less real than their plasticine avatars - as they stand around desperately linking the strands of a show only unified by a lack of attention to its audience.

Toybox: Coining Words

Fashions come and go in children's television. It seems it was only yesterday that we were all learning the names of Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy and Makka Pakka, along with their respective character traits of Dead-Eyed Hippy Goon, Little Miss Attention Whore and Victim of a Crippling OCD Affliction. Before them, of course, came countless other bewildering personalities, culminating with the frankly baffling Teletubbies franchise. With matters moving so fast, it is little wonder that parents are occasionally confused, but all of that was before they had to make sense of the world of dismal drivel that is Waybuloo.

to anyone with more moral complexity than a paramecium, it will inevitably look like child exploitation

Waybuloo is a computer-generated/live action mash-up that features four animated plush toys - the piplings - and a consciously diverse group of children who, for some reason, are known as the cheebies. The piplings live in a magical world called Nara - which looks like an oriental garden halfway up the Brecon Beacons - while the cheebies live somewhere unspecified in the valley, but most probably a village called Fear. It would be hard to find out with any degree of precision as the children generally don't say much, their entire thespian output being confined to jumping up and down on the spot like trainee Big Brother contestants, haring around like a lynch-mob in a Zen garden, shouting 'over there' and lots and lots of pointing. After all the running around, a bit of hide and seek and some more pointing, pipling-directed sessions of 'yogo' break out, yogo being a simplified version of yoga that was, according to the plaff, specially developed for the programme. The children copy the yogo moves of the piplings, the whole aim of which seems to be that the piplings achieve happiness, bliss out and start levitating. This is, apparently, 'buloo' but to anyone with more moral complexity than a paramecium, it will inevitably look like child exploitation.

Just as happiness is 'buloo' and yoga-light is 'yogo', the show always seems ready to coin a new noun, making pointlessly distinctive and, one fears, trademark-able versions of perfectly ordinary words. Butterflies become Narabugs, hide and seek is Peeka and a good idea becomes a Thinkapow. For parents of children who are getting to grips with words still, this kind of nonsense is about as welcome as a pitchfork in the eye.

The stated aim of the show is to 'help the audience learn how to relate to friends and the world around them', clearly a noble intention but, in this case, one framed in terms of New Age piety. Leaving aside the sticky issue of whether or not Waybuloo touts enlightenment through Eastern mysticism - and I can safely leave that aside because it clearly does - the worse thing about buloo is not the casual proselytising of faith, but the utter sanctimony of it all.

In every episode the children are called to yogo by the chimes of a kind of magical crystal clock - a device that should set the alternative spirituality alarm bells clanging like a box of saucepans thrown down the stairs. The adenoidal chanting and upbeat bed of music that drive the programme through its simplistic storylines pauses every now and then for bottle, bamboo and other plinky-plonk percussion. All add to Waybuloo's general air of bright-eyed, insipid twaddle and limited educational worth.

Like a New Age' life coach who guffs and prattles on about holistic approaches while selling you all kinds of mauve and spangly tat, Waybuloo extolls the virtues of happiness and love as if they were something that children don't already have a natural affinity with. Meanwhile, the CG plushes turn out to be merely the avatars of their toy shop incarnations, themselves just an expression of an all-too familiar merchandising machine.

Like In the Night Garden, Teletubbies and countless other franchises, those new toys were in place in short order. It seems that it is not only new words that are being minted in Waybuloo.