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Monday, November 11, 2013

Pinwheel: Educational Puppet Show or Nightmarish Hellscape of Terror?

As I may have mentioned before, we watch a lot of Sesame Street over here at Giant Electric Penguin headquarters.  It's pretty much the only thing my daughter watches on television, aside from the occasional random PBS cartoon or Sunday afternoon football game.  Luckily, Sesame Street is one of the most consistently entertaining programs going.  It's educational, it's funny, and, most importantly, it's got Muppets, tons of adorable Muppets.  The fact that the majority of Sesame Street's citizens are super cute monsters says a lot about Jim Henson's puppet design.  Monsters, who have every right to be creepy, dead-eyed, blood-lusting ghouls, are warm, inviting and downright huggable in the world of Sesame Street.  The same, however, cannot be said for the allegedly "human" characters on Pinwheel, Nickelodeon's (wrong) answer to Sesame Street in the 1980's.  


I don't remember watching very much Sesame Street when I was younger, though piles of evidence to the contrary exist and there have been plenty of times that a classic Bert and Ernie sketch while pop up on a modern day episode and I will be instantly transported to a moment in my childhood that I wasn't aware still resided in my brain.  I do, for some reason, remember watching Pinwheel, although I can count the things I can remember explicitly on one hand (1. The theme song; 2. The shorts about an anthropomorphic sombrero and his donkey companion. 3. The snail with an elderly human man's face.).

Recently, the AV Club ran an interview with R.L Stine, the author of such literary classics as Let's Get Invisible!, Say Cheese and Die!, How I Got My Shrunken Head, Say Cheese and Die--Again! and Ghost Beach and head writer of Eureka's Castle, a non-educational Nickelodeon puppet show whose characters do not inspire nightmares.  I never watched Eureka's Castle, but it got me thinking about the shows I did watch, and one of them was Pinwheel.  So, I headed over to YouTube to check out the opening credit sequence and see how much I could recall.  Apparently, I had pushed most of it out of my head, because, my God, this thing is horrifying.  You can watch it yourself, but be warned, to watch the Pinwheel opening credit sequence is to unlock a door made of stitched-together human flesh with a key made of bones and set your once-sane gaze upon the deepest, blackest pit of Hell.  You have been officially warned:



CAN'T UNSEE!  CAN'T UNSEE!  THE HAUNTED VICTORIAN BOARDING HOUSE IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE!  THE HAG THAT THRUSTS ITS UGLY HEAD THROUGH AN OPEN WINDOW AND CASTS A DIABOLICAL SPELL ON AN UNSUSPECTING AUDIENCE OF INNOCENT CHILDREN!  THE NIGHTMARISH MIME GEISHA!  THE PSYCHOTIC DUCK WITH MURDER IN HIS EYES!  THE HIDEOUS GREEN GHOUL BEING DEVOURED BY GIGANTIC, GOOGLY-EYED DEMON BUGS!  THE SNAIL WITH A MAN'S FACE (SURELY ONE OF THE SIGNS OF THE COMING APOCALYPSE)!  THE SUB-CHILDREN'S CHURCH PUPPETS!  THE DEFORMED FRUIT SELLER!  A MOLE...IN A TREE!!!  THE HORROR!  THE HORROR!

Phew.  I'm sorry.  Every time I watch this I have a panic attack.  I was allowed to watch this, man!  I always thought I had a pretty good set of parents, but now I'm not so sure.  What were they thinking allowing me to subject myself to this nightmare?!?

Pinwheel's answer to Bert and Ernie.  They suck.

Pinwheel didn't exactly stand the test of time.  It's nearly impossible to find any good pictures or videos from it online and it's Wikipedia page is sorely lacking.  However, some damned soul took the time to put The Pinwheel Songbook up on YouTube in its entirety.  Clearly, ClassicNickUploads is in league with the Devil:


So, what did I learn from this look back at my childhood?  Well, first of all, non-Muppet puppet shows in the 80's and 90's were, and remain, creepy as fuck.  I don't care how many "former Muppeteers" you have on staff--and Pinwheel had its share--if your puppets look acid-scarred and demon-possessed you will not be remembered fondly.  Second, I had terrible parents who I might actually sue if I can find an attorney willing to take my case.  And three, the first time a lady mime shows up on Sesame Street, and I'm around to see it, it is officially banned from my daughter's "ok-to-watch" list.

Lugi O'Brien and Jake perform the Black Mass


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