The MTV2 series Wonder Showzen begins with the theme song Kids' Show and a disclaimer that the show is not for kids. Which to believe? Consider the episode that portrays the letter N as a shame-filled, slutty drunk. ("Nobody Needs me!" she wails.) Or a segment in which a kid dressed as Pope John Paul II asks passersby whether he's going to hell.
You might think creators Vernon Chatman and John Lee, both 34, have it in for the shows like Sesame Street that they parody. Actually, Chatman says, "Sesame Street may be the best TV show ever." Big Bird and friends, they say, developed a rapid-fire, absurdist visual language that lends itself to conceptual comedy and even art.
Some of Showzen's humor is gross, some is politically pointed, and plenty is both (e.g., the cartoon "Global Politics in 30 Seconds," in which an animated U.S. urinates on Mexico, eats South America and humps the Middle East). The metajoke of Wonder Showzen is the dissonance between the message of kids' shows (that the world is friendly and understandable) and everything that is left out (hatred, injustice, random suffering). It's best captured in the man-on-the-street interviews, some done by a sweetly obnoxious blue puppet named Clarence, some by children. (One adorable little girl asks Wall Street workers, "Who did you exploit today?")
Chatman and Lee say the parents of Showzen's kids see the scripts and are urged not to let them watch the show. Still, says Lee, "I have a 4-year-old niece who's watched it. A while ago, she saw Kermit the Frog for the first time. She said, 'Look! It's a green Clarence!'"