Monday, August 20, 2012

Old School Lane's Nickelodeon Tribute: Gullah Gullah Island

Around the early 90's, educational kid's shows were at a period in which they had released watered down programs that were too cutesy or had preachy life lessons shoved down the kid's throat. You might be saying to me, "But Patricia, what about Beakman's World or Bill Nye, The Science Guy? They came out in the early 90's and they're awesome". Yes they are, but those don't count. What I'm referring to when it comes to educational kid's shows is a show that has either a group of people with puppets, only puppets, or only people telling kid's different valuable lessons every week in a creative environment that kids can enjoy. Not only the kids, but the parents as well. The parents get a different vibe from seeing modern kid's shows than the children do. Whether it's a show that does a good job telling their children or it reminds them of a similar show from when they were kids themselves, it's always a plus if you can have the kid and the parent sit down and enjoy the program.

But as I just pointed out, the early 90's had kid's shows that only kids seem to like, but parents couldn't stand it. A few examples were the following:

The Adventures of Timmy the Tooth was released in the early 90's in direct video. It was about a tooth named Timmy and his toothbrush companion named Brushbrush going through exciting adventures through the power of imagination. Timmy and the rest of his friends had to prevent themselves from being bombarded by the evil Cavity Goon or by the Gingivitis Gang. So yeah, it's basically a lesson about using your imagination and brushing your teeth everyday. Subtle.

The Big Comfy Couch was released in 1992. It was a Canadian children's program about a clown named Loonette and her doll named Molly. They spent the majority of their time in their big comfy couch using their imaginations, reading stories, making messes, and digging through the couch to find games to play. There were segments such as the dust bunnies that lived under the couch that only Molly knows or whenever they would go outside and speak with their neighbor and grandmother Granny Garbanzo. I've seen it on and off as a kid, but looking back at it now, it's a bit underwhelming, boring, and the lessons are just too subtle. Sometimes I wondered if I missed something. 

But the granddaddy of all crappy pre-school shows was Barney and Friends. I'm sure I don't even need to discuss what it's about. You all know about it. But still, nonetheless, many people still call it to this day the worst preschool show ever. TV Guide ranked Barney and Friends #50 in their Top 50 Worst TV Shows of All Time. Yup, it's that bad.

Why did this happen though? What was the major cause of this? Well, there has been many hypothesis to this, but mostly two topics are brought up. One of them was the cancellation of Pee-wee's Playhouse. At the time, it was not only the most popular kid's shows of the 80's, but one of the most popular Saturday morning programs of all time. The show had everything that could satisfy kids and adults; memorable characters, both human and puppet, creative imagination, life lessons that were told in a way that was neither preachy or pretentious, as well as subtle adult humorous jokes for the grown-ups. After the show went off the air, almost no one could top the charm or the creativity that Pee-wee's Playhouse provided. So they decided to play it safe. During the early 90's, despite Paul Reubens' "incident", no one could deny that Pee-wee's Playhouse was not only one of the best kid's shows of all time, but even some people called it "the last great Saturday morning program". That last statement is kinda up for debate, but you get the idea.

But the main reason that most people bring up and agree with is the unfortunate death of Jim Henson. This was the man that pioneered puppetry in a time in which it looked cheap and homemade such as Kukla, Fran, and Ollie. Jim had created puppets for shows such as Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, etc. In the 80's, the Muppets were the top of the line when it came to puppet work and he had influenced many other kid's shows. But when he passed away in 1990, the puppetry that he brought out was slowly diminishing. As we continue through the tribute, it even gets to a point in which puppetry was officially dead. It seemed that the wonderful art and creativity of puppetry seemed to have died with him. We love you, Jim.


Now let's get to the review. Around the early 90's, Nick Jr. was slowly creating their own kid's show instead of acquiring them from other sources like they used to do back in the 80's. Eureeka's Castle was reaching its end and they needed a new kid's show. But they knew that they had to be creative. Nickelodeon was still on its "golden era" releasing hit after hit with their Nicktoons and live action teen shows. If Nick Jr. wanted keep the momentum that PBS was doing with their kid's shows, they needed to step out of the box. So on July 6, 1994, they debuted Gullah Gullah Island.

The show was about Natalie and Jon Daise, an actual husband and wife who live with their children on an island in South Carolina. The children were James, Shaina, Vanessa (their niece), Simeon, and Sara. It's interesting to note that only Simeon and Sara were Natalie and Jon's actual children in real life. James and Shaina were their fictional children and Vanessa was their fictional niece. 

The family were a Gullah family. For those who don't know, a Gullah is an African American who originated off of Angola and referred to themselves as "Geechee". When they were brought to South Carolina as slaves during the 1700's, they kept their heritage and their ways with them. Some of customs and traditions that the Gullahs did were using herbal medicine, preparing gumbos and soups that mostly contained okra, telling stories about the mischievous Bruh or Brer Rabbit, making quilits, and singing Gullah songs. One of them is a folk song called "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" that is based on their Gullah culture. 

There were other characters in the show that interacted with the Daise family. There was a Hispanic family consisting of kids named Armando, Marisol, and their Abuelo (grandfather). But the one character that everyone remembers is a baby polliwog known as Binyah Binyah. He was representing the curious, little baby-like character of the group similar to Baby Bop from Barney and Friends. He was constantly learning lessons from the family as well as being extremely playful and cute. While a lot of people liked this character, I didn't. Not even as a kid. I found him to be a little bit too cute and kind of annoying. I know what they were trying to do when it came to introducing this character to the show, but he was kind of pointless. I mean, after all, we already had toddlers like Simeon in the show that was learning about new things, why have Binyah in it? Because kid's shows needs at least one puppet or one person in a costume playing a cute characters, right? 

Throughout the show, each of the characters would be going through an everyday problem and learn life lessons from them. Also, they would learn about certain things and talk about them. In this episode, we learn about different feelings.

They also brought in some of their Gullah culture in the show such as preparing gumbo that mostly contained okra, having games and celebrations, and traveling around different locations in South Carolina.

The show was not filmed or recorded in an island in South Carolina, but on Nickelodeon Studios in Orlando, Florida. It was shot on the same set that Clarissa Explains it All was shot and recorded. Even the backyard was used in earlier episodes of All That. For the episodes that took place outside the house, they only filmed it once when they did the episode that took place in Charleston. The majority of the show was filmed at the studio.

There was even a spinoff of Gullah Gullah Island in 1998 called Binyah Binyah that starred Binyah Binyah Polliwog. It wasn't as successful as Gullah Gullah Island and it was cancelled one week after it aired.

The show lasted for three seasons until it ended its run on January 9, 1998. Overall, the show was okay. The characters were really nice, especially Ron and Natalie. They knew how to make the audience feel welcome, even if it could be a little cheesy at times. The kids were okay too; James was your typical kid who liked sports and who sometimes complains when he doesn't gets what he wants. Shaina was your typical little sister-type character who was cute. Vanessa was your typical smart, sassy girl. The Spanish family was a nice typical Spanish family. Also the setting was real nice taking place in an island of South Carolina mostly straying away from big cities, technology, and buildings that Sesame Street did already. However, some of the songs were a bit cheesy and forgettable, Binyah Binyah was a bit annoying and pointless, the lessons they taught, while nice, were already discussed about in other kid's shows, and done better. 

But the major issue with me about this show was that they didn't emphasize the Gullah culture enough. I mean, come on. You have a kid's show about a completely different culture that we have never heard about and it stars a family who are part of that culture. Sure we had episodes that took us to varying places of South Carolina, the potluck episode that had gumbo with okra, and such, but that wasn't enough. Why didn't the show included learning a Gullah word of the day? Why didn't it show Gullah celebrations where they would sing, dance, embrace their culture, eat delicious foods that came from their country, and do activities? We had a potluck episode, an episode about Binyah Binyah's parade, and a talent show episode. That's it. They still do Gullah celebrations in South Carolina to this day. Why didn't we have an episode on that? We couldn't it have been like this? 

While the concept is really, really cool and has not been replicated since then, Gullah Gullah Island lost a good opportunity to bring this show to its full potential. Nick Jr. did release a unique kid's show on the outside, but on the inside, it was pretty much just like any other kid's show that they were showing at the time. If this sounds like something you wish to check out, go right ahead. But if you were looking for something unique, I don't recommend checking it out.

That's all for now. Tune in next time as we venture into The Secret World of Alex Mack.

Hope to see you around Old School Lane soon. Thanks for reading.


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