'Oobi' Through a Grown-Up's Eyes

Another in a series of posts where a father watches toddler a toddler TV show alone and for his own entertainment.

Let me say right up front that after picking apart Yo Gabba Gabba and grousing about The Fresh Beat Band, I think Oobi is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, toddler shows ever (sorry Great Space Coaster), and I did a little dance when I saw that it was airing again on Nick Jr., though not until midnight. If I still had a toddler I'd make her stay up until midnight to watch it. Yeah, we have a DVR, but this is art and it must be experienced in real time.

For those who sadly haven't seen it, it's all what's been called bare-hand puppets, just hands and a pair of eyes, and a sprinkling of accessories. Oobi, a boy of 4, lives with his 3-year-old sister Uma. Grampu -- who is more of a closed fist that gives him a toothless look, takes care of them. Kako, the fanciest of the lot since he wears a hat, is Oobi's bestie.


The main complaint: It's creepy. Now I am a connoisseur of creepy. I hated clowns before it was cool, I don't just think but know that every mannequin everywhere is staring at me right now as I type, and I'm still fairly sure that whenever I die it will be by drowning at the hands of a ventriloquist dummy.

And yet I don't find Oobi creepy. Yes, the arm hair on Grampu's arm -- which comes across as ear and neck hair -- is a little icky at first. But once Grampu tosses out his signature "lovely," this just melts away. Of course it could be that because puppets scare the crap out of me, I'm happy that someone is doing puppetry without the puppets. I'm surprised I didn't think of it myself.

They speak in a super-simple English "Uma, school, first day" that's a little bit toddler, a little bit English-learner, and a little bit Yoda.

That simplicity spills into everything. The whole thing looks like it was homemade for about 20 bucks. And that's the beauty of it. It has the loose, raw energy of the earliest Muppets.

A remarkable amount of expression comes from those bare hands. It helps that they can make hand gestures -- pointing, waving, high fives. Not to sound too stoner about it, but It's like they understand that they're hands, man, and they dig it. In the inspired episode I just watched, Oobi comes across a seemingly strange new person, Frida, who is played by a foot (if you thought the hands were creepy, Frida will haunt your dreams). They of course learn a lesson in tolerance.

It rarely feels like it's deliberately catering to adults, the way Sesame Street or any kid movie from the last 10 years has. No clever references to current events. There are a few subversive moments that feel like a wink to adults. When Oobi and Kako "wash their hands" by rubbing against each other in a dance of soapy ecstasy, it may be the most homoerotic moment in TV history, unless you count Ultimate Fighting.

But for the most part it's a damn relief that it's just happy to be simple and gleeful, and that actually makes it more appealing to sit and watch as a grown-up, at midnight. Which I've found myself doing repeatedly. Maybe they stuck it in that timeslot for dads like me. And now with Conan as the perfect lead-in, I've got a great little two-hour block to end the night. I may even wake my first-grader and make her join me.

Have you watched Oobi?

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