In the wake of PBS’ announcement of a Mr. Rogers next-generation spinoff featuring a descendant of Daniel Tiger, I set out to recall exactly who Daniel Tiger was by watching a few clips of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on YouTube. (Because that’s what the internet, and my work days, are for.) The show was not much like I remembered — the rhythm, dialogue, and messages seemed absolutely foreign to me. Do you ever go back and watch a children’s show after 20-25 years and it’s just completely different? And you think, wow, maybe I should be learning anew from this kiddie crap every day?
I have never given Mister Rogers enough credit. I was just never that into him. I believe my younger sister usually stuck around for him after we’d finish Sesame Street while hunched over PB&Js in the mid-’80s. Maybe she was napping? I don’t know. The whole premise seemed lame and below me as the cool older sister. I was instantly skeptical of Mr. Rogers’ kindness and snail’s pace (a deadly combination) in all of his endeavors. Who was buying what he was selling SO SLOWLY? I did not care to find out. Perhaps the bottom line is that I was simply not yet willing to admit that I too could benefit from daily psychotherapy.
The only times I was able to look slightly alive were when the methodical drones of Mr. R. gave way to the emphatic choo-choo of the trolley, full of adventure and urgency and the promise of puppets. I loved watching that trolley barrel into the dark madness of the Neighborhood of Make Believe. That was it, though; once it arrived, everyone was annoying and slow again.
Or maybe not! Let’s take a look at this clip from “Mr. Rogers Goes to School.” Watching it at 30, I detected something I never would have picked up on as a child: Some passive-aggressive sass from supporting character Harriet Elizabeth Cow. Am I just a real jerk, or is everything she says from 6:00 on potentially sarcastic?
“I enjoyed working on it with you.” Nah, I’m sick of it and the irony is that I haven’t done any heavy lifting (I’m a puppet).
To Daniel Tiger: “I’m so glad you brought your truck.” Not again. I am so sick of your attachment to that f—ing truck.
To Lady Aberlin after Lady A’s rather sensual (?!?) dump truck demo: “Thank you for that.” We all know how toys work, woman. Why not lay those hands on Handyman Negri instead?
This one is my fave and also induces the most self-loathing. When Harriet Elizabeth Cow tells the children the best thing they could do on the first day of school was learn from Handyman Negri, she says, “After all, we don’t always have a builder, a guitar player, and a photographer with us.” This is a perfectly fine, complimentary thing to say. So why do I insist that it has undertones of Choose a career already, low life?
Agggggh, I’m as awful as “Lady” Elaine and her perpetually swollen alcoholic’s nose. I’m loving it!
Later, Prince Tuesday and Anna brag about their fathers’ professions and how they both have mommies, too, and Harriet Elizabeth Cow snaps a gruff “Good.” Tragically, all I can hear is Congratulations, you’re not from broken homes. Whoop-de-doo! Good for you. You did it!
Am I a horrible person, projecting my own opinions of Daniel Tiger and the gang onto an unsuspecting cow? Am I trying too hard to make believe that the least subversive show in history may have been slightly sarcastic? The answer to at least one of those is definitely yes.
But okay, okay, all intriguing hints of passive-aggression aside, here’s another adulthood delight that even the most cynical bastard grownup cannot resist/twist into a pretzel of jadedness. As a kid, I remember always zoning out whenever Mister Rogers started singing — which is awful, but it’s the truth. But look at these amazing lyrics that would have gone unnoticed over my empty little head back then. Turns out I could use this advice today more than ever.
You can ask a lot of questions about the world and your place in it
You can ask about people’s feelings
You can learn the sky’s the limit
Did you know when you wonder, you’re learning?
Did you know when you marvel, you’re learning?
Did you know that?
Gulp! Sometimes I forget!
The takeaway: I like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood a little more than I thought I did, and I like myself a little less.
By the way, hi.
Be sure to stick around for the next in my 500-part Wahhhh! I’m So Adult! series: A deep dive into the existential messages within the Sesame Street segment about how orange crayons are made. Not really. But maybe.
Which other kids’ shows are begging for an adult-rewatch? (If you’re about to say the creepy live-action Rainbow Brite where everyone’s doing gymnastics, I’m already on it.)