I’ll be upfront and say I didn’t watch the original Blues Clues (and its updated version), but the cultural import of it certainly seems to rival the Barney’s, Mister Rogers’, and Sesame Streets of previous generations. That’s evident from the response to the return of original host, Steve Burns, in a clip that warmed hearts (and sparked snark) yesterday to celebrate the show’s 25 year anniversary. But while the nostalgia feels propelled that success, separate and apart from that was the upbeat content and tone of the message where Steve meditated on our collective bloom into adulthood with a kind of wonder that we often forget because it’s so easy to just drown in stress and regret of it all. This got me thinking: adults deserve their own Blues Clues.
Remember the sensation of watching low-stakes kid’s shows with next to no complexity? They were mildly educational romps and adventures with larger-than-life characters and a highly positive imprint. And yeah, sure, it was lowkey moralized propaganda, but I miss it. A little. And you could say, “go watch a Marvel movie,” and sure, to an extent that’s right, but there’s always talk of global catastrophe and mass extinction. Literally, every superhero movie starts with the main characters living their lives while surrounded by loved ones. And then, like a financial earthquake, health scare, or sudden loss, they’re thrown into a fight against some kind of outsized villain or invading force who wants to wipe away their control and, by extension, their dreams.
People say stories need conflict and heroes and villains, anti-heroes and action. Sure. And we live for layered storytelling where characters navigate complex situations while primarily or secondarily commenting on the state of things. Even comedies. F*ck, I love it when Hacks talks about ageism and generation gaps, Mythic Quest explores workplace dynamics, and The Other Two goes in on social media culture and the weight of internal pressures to live up to our peers and our preprogrammed goals! But we’re also living in a moment where millions derive entertainment from Twitch streams where people passively watch others play video games, YouTube vids where people meander through an unboxing or some TV or film theory, and uncomplicated gags on TikTok reach millions. Is it possible the tenets of narrative storytelling aren’t always a perfect fit for a culture where plenty of people are content to watch cool sh*t without the ever-present weightiness or existential dread?
For a large part of the pandemic, I have spent my Saturday mornings huddled on Twitch watching old Saturday morning cartoons with friends curated by a retronaut buddy. Again, nostalgia has played a role, but the disconnect from more complex times and the embrace of innocence, overly simplistic and predictable storytelling, and silliness has been the real draw.
I get it. I’m not suggesting we all dive headlong into old episodes of Muppet Babies or Rugrats while hiding from the world all day every day. Adults, including myself, can’t unhook in totality. Why would we want to? I don’t want to be talked down to all the time, but I also don’t want to always feel like the world is on fire (even if it factually is), denying the necessary and restorative moments of awe and reflection that get drowned out by real life, the flood of hard news, true crime, grown-up drama, and heavy dramedies.
Here’s the ask: just give us 30 minutes, every week, where Steve and a dopey blue cartoon dog solve adult-relevant puzzles that double as calm, colorful, and easy-to-digest explainers on NFTs and debt consolidation… I don’t care. Just have Steve, with his soothing voice, tell us how amazing it is that we drive cars, have checking accounts, and that we’re less fat than we think we are. Remind us that 12-year-old us would probably be pretty jazzed by some of the things we get to do. Ease our pain through affirmation that feels like counter-programming by telling us that all the trying and stress is seen and that we’re doing okay, even if it’s scripted and general. Even when we aren’t. Call it an experiment and watch as we see an uptick in our self-esteem while cutting 30 minutes off our doom-scroll time. Call it a public service if nothing else.