Years ago I picked up an odd-looking CD called Rock, Rocker, Rocketh by a group called PFFR in a 99 cent bin and was curious about who they were; there was a definite post-Butthole Surfers ethic at play with absurd, dark, monsterlike, and potty-fixated songs while utilizing the cheapest in cheapo gadgetry. It became revealed that they were from Brooklyn, and in 2002 released another disc called United We Doth on the Birdman label which quickly became a heavily played FMU hit (some real audio samples from Charlie's show here and Terre T's show here). We almost had them out to play as well, though schedules didn't gel unfortunately, and then the band got busy on producing an MTV2 show.
Well, the show debuted in March, stuffed away into a Friday 9:30pm Eastern slot, and not only is it a more elaborate continuum of what the band sought out to do with its albums, it's one of the most what-the-fuck things to happen on TV since the early Ren and Stimpy shows (I dare say often bypassing South Park in jawdrop factor). Wonder Showzen, written by PFFR's John Lee and Vernon Chatman, is the satanic TV equivalent to Greasy Kid Stuff, and the big fat disclaimer coming on after each commercial break warning to keep your kids away from the set "or else you're a terrible parent" could be damn well some kind of statement to support. The theme song is even a bunch of youngsters singing/taunting: "kids' show...kids' show...change the channel...".
Each show addresses a theme (i.e. "Patience" takes an entire half hour testing yours), with twisted cartoons, puppet skits, and live action segments and real kids interviewing people on the street. But the mere utilization of the live kids here makes it all the more dastardly. I mean, I cringe for these kids' participation in a way equal to the thrill I am getting by seeing every taboo torn down before my eyes in what is surely the most bizarre program ever aired on MTV (well, MTV2).
Example: child inexplicably in total Hitler regalia, accosting real passersby outside City Hall downtown, asking a cowboy hat-wearing businessman questions like "whose hat represents more damage to society, yours or mine?". Another kid stops Wall Streeters in a hurry and probes "where will you hide when the revolution happens?" While the motif and general air of the show is very much steeped in the cliches, colors, and vibe of 70's kids' programs, this ain't Kidsworld TV. At one point the Hitler kid just stares at the puzzled cowboy guy for an extended time and finally says to him "I'm trying to make your head explode with my mind."
Other times, sock puppets go out to assault unsuspecting victims with behavior that would even make Triumph the Insult Comic Dog blush. Sometimes the puppets are simply beaten up in studio by kids. There's a recurring cartoon about a dog that's an O.B.G.Y.N., and he delivers a baby midair (rather graphically) to a plummeting pregnant skydiver (and inevitably there's confusion when the father falling alongside yells "pull the cord"). The stiffness of the animation and the coloring would convince someone flipping channels that they've hit an old archive of Magilla Gorilla or something, but then when you see what's going on, your brain melts. Such an approach to the corruption of those ideals isn't new; it's been quite annoying over the years to see TV take the once-Utopian aspects of the 70's (shows that were innocent like the Brady Bunch etc.) updated for modern satire by adding the loss of that innocence to the mix (i.e. Greg Brady writing books about how he was a slut on the set, Florence Henderson acting like a dominatrix for MTV Awards spots), but the stark surreality of Wonder Showzen has to be revered for the sheer vicious attack of the senses and cherished memories stored away in your head. Happy talking flower puppets spit blood and die, a live horse out in the field while credits roll gives birth violently. Anything and everything cute is debased. Drawing the band comparison thing again, it's exactly like the kind of stuff you'd see rolling on a screen behind the Butthole Surfers in the late 80's.
The walls knocked down by the Simpsons and Ren and Stimpy seemed to open the pathways for a lot of pale imitators who dumbed down the major points of what those pioneer programs were about. I truly fear a world where this amazing show spawns lesser offspring for the Lowest Common Denominator, especially if they aren't "getting" the vision at hand. In the meantime, prepare to have your senses overloaded.