“I’ve got a great idea,” chirps an optimistic Tomie dePaola. “C’mon, let’s get started!” What follows is possibly the worst Henson-show theme song ever recorded, a Lifetime-commercial girl-group get-down whose chorus, I swear to you, goes like this: “Our story starts with a beat in the heart. Find your own voice, it’s what sets you apart.” Oh, this is just gonna get ugly.
“Hi! I’m Tomie dePaola,” says Tomie dePaola. Tomie dePaola is an old chubby guy with glasses and a hat. “Want to tell some stories? C’mon in!” He invites us into his house, and instantly starts acting like he’s using binoculars, even though he isn’t. “Be very quiet! I don’t want to wake up the invisible rhinoceros.” Okay, either Tomie is delusional, or this is Compulsory Whimsy of the highest order. He’s interrupted by his friend Gabe, the Muppet squirrel: “Oh! I get it! We’re playing make-believe!” Gabe is not the brightest squirrel in the tree. “Ha ha! This is FUN!” Well, it was before you two came along. Now I may never have fun again.
Tomie introduces us to a story about Strega Nona, an old Italian woman of uncertain gender, who tricks her so-called “friends” Bambolona and Big Anthony into helping her dig up some potatos. They don’t want to help with the potatos, and who can blame them? They’re potatos. Go to the store. But Strega Nona pretends that they’re actually searching for buried treasure! “I think you’ll find that playing pretend makes the work go faster!” Okay, then I’m pretending that I’m watching Bear in the Big Blue House. Strega Nona’s victims dig up potatos all day and don’t even get near buried treasure. So what’s the lesson here, that it’s a good idea to dupe people into doing manual labor for no wages? Now I’m pretending that Bambolona is a union organizer.
Then: A Zantac heartburn-relief ad. An Efferdent denture-cleaner ad. A Hooked on Phonics ad.
Now, back to our show. Tomie tells Gabe about the five W’s that help you make up stories: Who, What, When, Where and Why. Tomie grills Gabe with the 5 W’s, and Gabe comes up with some dull malarkey about a flying whale named Spout who lives a hundred years in the future and helps fish and otters by flying and by being a whale. “Looks like you’ve got a story, Gabe!” Um, not really. Looks like Gabe has a future in retail.
Today’s guest story-teller is Doug Chang, the design director for Star Wars: Episode 1. Doug stares unnervingly into the camera as he talks. He tells us all about his materials and where he gets his ideas, which is about as interesting as it always is when you hear someone ramble on about their job. Then we watch him draw a robotic dinosaur. Okay, now I’m pretending that the robotic dinosaur is real, and it bites Doug’s head off. No, I’m still not having fun. Doug gives us a closing pep talk: “The main thing is, just have FUN!” I haven’t had this many people tell me to “just have FUN” since summer camp.
Then there’s a Mylanta heartburn-relief ad. Apparently, people watching this show get a lot of heartburn.
Gabe goes outside to explain make-believe to his woodland friends. A bunny says, “I’m going to pretend there’s a joke here. Heh heh heh! Ha ha ha. Heh.” I don’t even know what to say about that. Is it okay for the script writer to do that, just to say: hey, here’s where a joke should be? Isn’t there a rule about that?
Is it almost over? No, there’s like five minutes left. And for those five minutes, the old man sits down in his armchair and tells us a story about himself as a child. Noooo! This is like everything that’s boring in the whole world packed into a half-hour. The story is about watching old home movies ?¢‚Ç¨‚Äú and then he shows us the home movies! Noooo! The home movies are all about “ice-diving,” some Forgotten Sport of the Past. I’m not really paying attention; I’m just sitting here making believe that David Boreanaz is coming over to take me to dinner.
“It was exciting!” Tomie says, and I guess we’re just gonna have to take his word for it. What’s that, David? Table for two? I’ll be right there.
by Danny Horn