Paramount // 2005 // 170 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // March 22nd, 2006
"Lordy, that Lordmeat is ass-kicking hot."
If kids are the corrupt seedlings of biological ability, then the kidvid show is the degenerate device of their mangled maturation. Yet unless those dark lords of lunacy -- Sid and Marty Krofft -- produced them, very few offerings in the juvenile entertainment arena actually tap into the child's slimy succubus-style soul. Most make the mistake of being light and airy, full of sunshine and life lessons all meant to mask the horrible, painful truth: Wee ones are demons with a direct connection to Satan's own sauna. Don't believe it? Just look at your mom and dad. They seem like sensible people, yet the notion of your kinship usually kick-starts their long-dormant dementia to the point where they perplex the ever-lovin' spit out of everyone around them -- starting with you and your similarly sinister siblings. The minute parenthood enters into the picture, those perfectly normal people known as adults go from sensible to shell-shocked, baby becoming the axis of evil upon which their whole life now rotates.
Thankfully, Wonder Showzen drops the façade. It turns the concept of incorruptible youth away from the highlands of wholesomeness it strives for and back toward the Hitler-like heart of darkness where it belongs. Over the course of eight amazing episodes, Season One of this landmark series envisions childhood as a dangerous, dire realm of death, perversion, fear, loathing, paranoia, hate, humility, shame, repression, horror...and just the slightest hint of happiness, all realized through the boob tube's unique ability to lie, manipulate, and influence. Someone once said that being a kid is like having a constantly scraped knee, endless suffering with an internalized wound that's all hot and hurting. Creators Vernon Chatman and Johnny Lee have given visualization to this raw, festering sore of the spirit and in the process created the first post-millennial masterpiece of dadaesque humor since Mr. Britney Spears, Kevin Federline, announced he was pursuing a career as a rap artist. This is why this DVD is so divine. It allows anyone without access to MTV2 (the show's home base) to wallow in its wicked wisdom over and over and over again.
Part puppet show, part excerpts from the Nuremberg trials, Wonder Showzen is set up like a standard Sesame Street-style show. The crackpot collection of characters includes: Chauncey Darlington Butler, a furry thing with a top hat; Clarence, a blue dinosaur that specializes in man-on-the-street segments; Him, a hunk of meat that has an odd, stilted speech pattern; Sthugar, a lady monster; Wordsworth, a nerdy worm with his brains on the outside, and A.P Gibralter, the many-eyed Showzen newscaster. In combination with stock footage, strangely surreal musical interludes, crazy cartoons, and narrative threads that teach lessons no human should have to endure, we are taken on a frightening ride through the awful truth about the real world. Using a single word to describe each installment, Wonder Showzen's arrival on the digital medium is a two-disc presentation that offers the following figments of freakishness:
Letter N is lost in low self-esteem. When she disappears, the Wonder Showzen gang fear for her safety and hire the Letter S to find her.
Chauncey and a "good white child" named Kaitlin blast off into the heavens, but when our felt friend rejects God, the spirit hits the fan.
A treasure map leads the Wonder Showzen crew to an island and a bottle of liquid imagination. Turns out it's as addictive as crack and twice as deadly.
Letters and Numbers are rumbling over who is smarter, but when a Jewish J and an Arabic 8 fall in love, the battleground moves to a test of the tenets of tolerance.
Mother Nature sells her interest in the cosmos for sex-change money. It is up to the Wonder Showzen squad to defeat the evil Co Cor and win back the wilderness.
After being snubbed by Chauncey for an appearance on Wonder Showzen, Number 2 decides to end it all by deep-fat frying herself to death.
When Wordsworth catches cooties, Him decides the sores make a tasty snack. He soon has the entire planet munching on pus-based appetizers.
The virtues of fortitude are tested in a strangely strict interpretation of the word and its concepts.
Wonder Showzen is the new "it" show. Without a doubt, this cavalcade of corrupted kiddie-show concepts is one of the most brilliantly realized, conceptually creative entities to burst onto the basic cable scene since a certain group of grade schoolers cursed their way to international infamy. Imagine Pee Wee's Playhouse run by the magnificent man-child Paul Reubens in his Sarasota porn store persona and you get the idea of what this sensationally sick show is all about. Like pure pop art smothered in sanctimonious sick perversion turned into playtime, there is something so wrong about what creators Vernon Chatman and Johnny Lee do to the already fractious elements of the kid show that some state is bound to pass a law against it sometime in the near future.
Using cartoon and fantasy elements to comment on the conceits of maturity is nothing new. Something like the often awkward TV Funhouse tried to take this approach, but what Wonder Showzen does is daring. It believes in the inherent heinousness of the human halfling and parades it out for everyone to see in absurdist nuggets of comedic gold. It purposely tackles hot-button issues like racism, jingoism, and sexuality to offer an avant-garde approach to growing up. Most of Wonder Showzen is the subtext of society -- or at least what society thinks is subtext -- trotted out for the tots to talk about. You may not laugh hysterically at everything in an episode of this amazing series, but it won't be for a lack of wit. It's simply hard to guffaw when your mouth is so consistently agape.
At the center of the show are kids -- lots and lots of kids. Using the notion of youthful innocence as the breeding ground for their own intellectualized form of corruption, Wonder Showzen's staff creates instantly classic clips where our wee ones answer difficult questions (one Q&A asks where babies come from, to which a nodding know-it-all says "the b-u-t") or confront people in the street. These rehearsed reports, under the terrifically tacky journalistic joke name "Beat Kids," feature two of the most sensationally strangling-worthy children ever given their own five-minute segments to shine. As the far more confrontational creep, little Trevor is a terror, a red-headed muckraker who makes adults nervous with his age-inappropriate questions (a classic: dressed as Hitler, our spunky sprite asks people "What's wrong with kids today?"), but don't underestimate fellow reporter Tamela. She wanders around Wall Street asking astonished moneygrubbers whom they've exploited recently.
Indeed, many of the shows most amazing moments come when the surreal interacts with reality. Clarence, an irritating blue reptile who does man-on-the-street interviews, asks such unnerving questions as "What are you running from?" (he means literally) and "What makes you angry?" (he is usually the answer). Proof positive that puppets and people don't mix, Wonder Showzen becomes magnificent when it confronts the truth of our everyday existence. Indeed, this is probably one of the few shows that finds a fresh and interesting way to make such ambush antics work.
In addition, the series offers some dead-on recreation of the classic cartoons that used to accompany the kidvid extravaganzas of the '60s and '70s. The work of the geniuses at Augenblick Studios INC includes such satisfyingly strange offerings as "D.O.G.O.G.B.Y.N." (bowser delivering babies), the terrifyingly twee "Boogie Noogie Bunch," who speak in a language that makes the Teletubbies sound positively macho, and the unmitigated masterpiece "Global Politics in 30 Seconds," which features a ferocious USA devouring and defecating on the rest of the planet. Since these sit alongside everything else in this slapdash amalgamation of mosaic amusement, Wonder Showzen becomes instantly rewatchable. You will definitely feel the urge to go back and catch clips you've missed or study those momentary images that gain new insight when viewed in a frozen frame (is that really little JFK Jr. at his Dad's state funeral at the beginning of the show???).
>From songs celebrating slavery to the occasional animal atrocity (a trip to the hot dog factory has one small child commenting that a pig is like "Hindu kryptonite"), Wonder Showzen basks in the baneful and jumps on the jugular of political correctness. There is stereotyping o' plenty here, some startlingly insensitive, yet the series uses these antisocial attributes to create layers of laughs, from the painfully obvious to the obviously painful. The episodic stories are hilariously self-referential and each of the puppets maintains a very concrete characterization while easily being manipulated to match the surrounding ideas. Occasionally gross (scabs as the new snack food), often gory (cartoons depicting abhorrent acts teach life lessons), and certifiably great (at least before it jumps and humps the shark), Wonder Showzen is Zoom before its daily dose of Ritalin...only, in this case, the home office is located in the blistering bowels of Hades, not Boston, Mass.
Paramount offers a refreshingly dense presentation for this relatively unknown show. Over the course of the two-DVD set, we are treated to commentaries, bloopers, music videos, assorted bonus segments, and even a sneak peek at Season 2. From a purely technical standpoint, Wonder Showzen's digital designs are excellent. The 1.33:1 full-screen image is loaded with radiant colors and everything, from the archival stock footage to the newly-made cartoons, comes loaded with well-defined details. On the sound side, the Dolby Digital Stereo is superb, packing a true aural punch. Conversations are easily understood, dialogue definitely discernible. The show's sensational music is a major plus to the production and it's captured expertly in this solid sonic mix.
In keeping with the conceptual nature of the series, the bonus features offered here are equally arcane. Sure, we get the standard series of auditions and outtakes (kids are so cute when they are totally screwing up), bits left over from various Beat Kids segments, a couple of additional moments with that irritating interviewer Clarence, and a series of promos for the series. Some of the best material however is new, including an additional "Story Time with Flava Flav," a manic music video from the band PFFR (the creative teams side musical project), and the totally bizarre alternate narrative tracks. Of the eight episodes, four get commentary, but none actually gets a scene-by-scene show breakdown. "Space" gets a computer-generated voice claiming to be Screamin' Steven J. Hawkins, while the aforementioned PFFR do a cacophonous "conversation" about the "Diversity" installment. Activist Dick Gregory (who plays Mr. Sun in "Nature") is present to add a few comments, while prickly-pear author Gordon Lish is corralled into talking about the "Patience" show. Each of these unique offerings deconstructs the added content conceit, and provide more mystifying proof that there is some kind of addled genius in residence over at the Wonder Showzen studios.
Like looking in on little eight-year-old Davy Lynch as he dreams his stream-of-consciousness cancerous night terrors, Wonder Showzen is the most amazing series you (probably) never knew existed. Whatever the cost, wherever you can find it, this is one of those must-own DVDs, a package to prize before right-minded politicians and their liberal lackeys ban it outright for fear it will teach children the truth about the world. Indeed, in our hermetically-sealed social order, where civil rights are sacrificed for ill-defined progeny safety concerns, some brat will watch an episode of this show, turn to his professional or present guardian, and ask if love really is "something between the dog's butt and the carpet," sending all Hell breaking loose. Wonder Showzen will be dissected, then denigrated, and, before long, it will be a mourned memory for those who were lucky enough to see it before the banishment. If you run out right now and buy this digital dystrophy, you can keep it locked away from the prying, pensive eyes of the censors. Then, when all the rioting is over and everything is back to normal, you can begin the process of corruption the way it was always intended -- one innocent child at a time. Wonder Showzen is a malignant magnum opus. It's one of the best shows on TV today.
Not guilty -- well, actually guilty as sin, but not for the crime of being derivative or boring. Wonder Showzen is shown amazing mercy by this court and is championed as a new corrupt classic.
Review content copyright © 2006 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 170 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary on "Space" by Screamin' Steven J. Hawkins
* Commentary on "Diversity" by rock band PFFR
* Commentary on "Nature" by Dick Gregory
* Commentary on "Patience" by Gordon Lish
* Auditions and Outtakes
* Beat Kids Outtakes
* Clarence Outtakes
* PFFR Music Video
* Story Time with Flavor Flav
* Sneak Peak at Season Two of Wonder Showzen
* MTV Trailers
* Official Site
* Augenblick Studios