Surfing the blogosphere, I happened upon this top ten list of the weirdest, creepiest, freakiest children’s television shows on the air today. Though I strongly disagree with the inclusion of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, author Matt Dinniman has put his finger on some of the most consciousness-bendingnightmare-inducing kids’ programming I’ve ever seen, especially his top 5 picks.

In the user comments that follow, there’s a discussion of which shows should be in the top ten of all-time, and there’s plenty of the usual suspects: The BugaloosH.R. PuffenstuffThe Banana SplitsBarney, etc. What’s not on the list? Something lesser known than any of these, but leagues more disturbing:Vegetable Soup.

Vegetablesouplogo2What’s Vegetable Soup? According toWikipedia, it was “an educational children’s television program produced by the New York State Education Department that originally ran for 78 episodes from 1976 to 1978.” Though produced for local PBS affiliate stations, it eventually found its way to stations like Nickelodeon and TBS. James Earl Jones and Bette Midler both lent their voices to it. So you might think this series had something going for it–and indeed it did. I’ll be the first to admit it was a smart show, a highly versatile show (mixing live action, animation and puppets), and one of the first shows to make a point of celebrating diversity. As was evident in the theme song:

Come on along and join us
Come on along
We’re gonna have some fun
Come on along and join us
In a little bowl of Vegetable Soup
It takes all kinds of vegetables
All kinds of vegetables
All kinds of vegetables
To make a Vegetable Soup

“All kinds of vegetables,” so no matter what your heritage, gender, or nationality might be, and no matter what disabilities you might have, you can dive into the fun just like everyone else. It doesn’t matter if you’re a carrot or a turnip, all are welcome in the soup.

Now, you might be saying, it’s a little odd inviting young children to be part of someone’s soup, as it bumps up against a primal, Hansel and Gretel-esque “the witch wants to eat me” fear, but it’s clearly well-intentioned, and the lyrics aren’t half bad. As long as they aren’t sung by anything too monstrous, I can’t see the problem. Right. Meet the band:


This is not warm and fuzzy kids’ animation. This is psychedelic, surrealist, Yellow Submarine-inspired, “hey kiddies, don’t the freaky people, like, totally trip you out?” animation. Now imagine that you’re six years old and watching these demonic squiggles kick out the jams while song lyrics are practically shrieked at you in some kind of weird, jazzy gospel blasphemy: “It taaaakes… AAALLLLL KIIIIINNNNDDDSS of VEGGGETTABBLLESSS!”

Deeply unnerving.

Now meet Woody the Spoon. Voiced by Bette Midler, Woody would shock you out of whatever terrified stupor the previous segments had plummeted you into by dancing around like a lunatic and demanding that you cook something. Make popsicles out of orange juice, your ice tray, and toothpicks! Get the celery out of your crisper! Go stick a banana in your oven! Two hundred fifty degrees! Don’t forget to ask your mama first! Screeching at you, this spoon.

Here he (she?) is, teaching you about plantains:


Note the deranged smiles on the bowl and the, uh, whatever that floating face is.

But most disturbing of all: the “Outerscope” segments. “Outerscope” was a serialized puppet show about a multicultural group of kids who turn their clubhouse (or maybe just a bunch of old junk) into a rocketship and explore the universe with it. They meet aliens, have all kinds of adventures, and along the way they learn lessons about tolerance, friendship, etc. Not a bad premise for a kids’ show. Just two problems with the idea.

First, the puppet children were incredible creepy. They had a certain “dead mannequin” quality, with weird, oversized hands. “Man hands” some might say.


Second problem: These segments are frightening just in their tone. Again, imagine you’re six years old. You watch these dead-eyed big-handed (but otherwise likeable) puppet kids fly off into outer space and get lost. They try to get home, but each episode they just get further and further away. Everything goes wrong, one puppet kid sadly looks at the other and says, “I guess we’re never going home.” End of episode. Sleep tight, kids.

Vegetable Soup scared me silly when I saw it, and yet I couldn’t turn away. Why did I keep watching it? And why do I remember it fondly today, nightmarishly weird though it was?

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