Barney's just a big, purple has-been

make way for the Bear

September 16, 2001|By Dave Barry | Dave Barry,Knight Ridder / Tribune

You will die of jealousy when I tell you who I recently saw live in concert: The Bear in the Big Blue House.

For those of you who do not have small children, let me explain that The Bear in the Big Blue House is a major morning-TV star. I'd go so far as to say that, with his talent, some day he could be as big as Elmo. We watch his show every morning while we're feeding our 17-month-old daughter, Sophie, her breakfast, by which I mean picking her food off the floor and checking to see if it's still clean enough to eat.

I like the Bear's show because it meets the single most important artistic criterion for children's TV: It is not Barney. I hate Barney, because he is a large annoying purple wad of cuteness, and his songs are lame, and some of the "children" on the show appear to be in their mid-20s. They are definitely too old to skip, and yet they skip everywhere. They must have a mandatory skipping clause in their contracts, because it is their only mode of transport. I suspect that when they finish taping the Barney show, they skip behind the studio and drink gin.

On "The Bear in the Big Blue House," there are no children, only animals, the main one being the bear, which I assume is a guy wearing a bear suit, although it moves in a realistic manner, so it could be an actual bear wearing a bear suit. The bear has various animal friends, which are played by people's hands inside puppets. (Discussion question: Do the hands wear the puppets when they rehearse? Or is the rehearsal just a bunch of naked hands talking to each other?)

Anyway, one morning we were reading the newspaper and picking Sophie's food off the floor, and suddenly my wife said: "The Bear is going to give a live concert in Miami!"

"The Bear in the Big Blue House?" I said.

"Yes!" she said, and we both became more excited than when the Berlin Wall fell. This gives you an idea how pathetic it is to be the parent of a small child.

Of course we got tickets to the show, which was also attended by, at a conservative estimate, every small child in the western hemisphere. There has probably never been an event where more audience members were wearing diapers, other than a Tom Jones concert.

The bear's show was excellent by any artistic standard, except the standard of being able to actually hear it. That was because at any given moment, at least a third of the audience was crying. Fortunately, Sophie was in a good mood: She stood on our laps for the whole show, clapping and shouting "Yayyyy!" in response to everything that happened, including the announcement that flash photographs were prohibited.

Despite the audience noise level, it was possible, if you listened hard, to follow the program. It opened with one of the bear's hit songs: "What's That Smell?"

"Hey!" I shouted to my wife. He's singing 'What's That Smell?'!" We sang along, as did many other parents. Meanwhile, all over the theater, youngsters responded to the song by shouting, shrieking, falling down, running away, crying, babbling, rolling on the floor, sleeping, gurgling, burping and going to the bathroom. At the end of the song, Sophie clapped her hands and went "Yayyyy!" This was the basic procedure for all the rest of the songs.

During the intermission, vendors came into the theater to sell -- I swear -- helium balloons. Many children got them, which meant that the audience, in addition to not being able to hear, could not see. Nevertheless, we parents continued to sing along to such hit songs as "Magic in the Kitchen," "The Bear Cha Cha Cha" and my personal favorite, "Otter Love Rap," a hip-hop style of song that explores the too-often-ignored topic of otters who love, and the otters who love them. I don't mind saying that I was "getting down" to that particular song, and so was Sophie, to judge from her comment when it ended ("Yayyyy!").

It was a fine father-daughter moment, made only slightly bittersweet by the knowledge that, soon enough, Sophie will want to go to concerts by some synthetic prefabricated soul-free "boy band." She'll want me to drop her off out front of the concert and then disappear, lest I embarrass her in front of her friends by the mere fact of my existence. But for now, for a little while, I'm as cool as anybody she knows. Yayyyy.

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