Sometimes, a kid’s TV show will also attract a devoted adult fan base. For example:
• Adventure Time (2010-present). Jake the Dog and Finn the Human live in a magical land and have adventures. That’s pretty much all you need to know about this terrific animated series in order to jump right in and start having fun with one of the most inventively surreal programs on television. There’s a steady supply of princesses who frequently need to be rescued from snarling villains, and magic stuff happens whenever the plot requires it. Don’t ask why; just go with the flow! In the seven-minute pilot, Finn (then named Pen) gets frozen in ice, which causes his mind to go back in time, and also to Mars, where he receives a pep talk from Abraham Lincoln. Stuff like this happens constantly, so get used to it. In the episode “His Hero,” the duo meet a legendary Conan-like warrior. Only the adults will question why this warrior is named “Billy” or wonder why his battle cry is “No tongues!” or take note that he’s voiced by Lou Ferrigno.
Adults have embraced Adventure Time in a big way. Fans of the show tend to also be fans of Regular Show (2010-present), which is similarly surreal and inventive, but with its 23-year-old slacker heroes, it’s more clearly a show that’s aimed at adults yet accessible to kids, rather than the other way around.
• The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (1959-1964). Fans who kinda-sorta liked this show as children returned to it as adults and were astonished to find that they now loved it. Crammed full of ridiculous gags, groaner puns and laughably corny narration, the show really benefits from repeat viewings as a grown-up. Skewering everything from Cold War espionage (Boris and Natasha), to lame, overdone children’s stories (Fractured Fairy Tales, Aesop & Son), the show even takes aim at silent-era melodrama (Dudley Do-Right). This was the show that took one of the most ghastly crimes imaginable (tying a woman to the train tracks) and turned it into a chucklesome comic routine! Then there was the sardonic time-traveller (Peabody’s Improbably History) — no telling where that bit of craziness came from. The title of the new Complete Series DVD box set (“100% Pure Bull!”) hints that it’s openly courting an older audience.
• The Powerpuff Girls (1998-2005). Starting life as the short film Whoopass Stew from Spike and Mike’s Festival of Sick and Twisted Animation, the girls were intended for an adult audience from the start. Adorable kindergarten-age superheroes made from “Sugar, Spice, Everything Nice… and a can of Whoopass!”, the Cartoon Network replaced the last ingredient with the more kid-friendly “Chemical X” and restarted the team as “The Powerpuff Girls.” The result was a big success with kids, both as a TV program and as a tidal wave of collectible merchandise. Meanwhile, the adult audience never went away, and chuckled at all the hidden references to things like The Beatles and The Big Lebowski.
• The Muppet Show (1976-1981). Jim Henson’s Muppets, already familiar to viewers because of Sesame Street, really came into their own with this beloved series, which added considerable appeal to older viewers. Kids who grew up with it are in no way tired of the characters, as evidenced by the recent big-screen reunion The Muppets (2011). Mahna mahna!
• Pee-Wee’s Playhouse (1986-1990). It was the most intensely vibrant thing to hit children’s programming in years. Kids were entranced — adults were gobsmacked. A talking chair, a genie in a cabinet, Laurence Fishburne as Cowboy Curtis, the directive to “scream real loud” whenever you heard the “secret word” of the day… the whole thing was so cheerful it was faintly sinister. There’s still nothing else quite like it.
• Do Not Adjust Your Set (1967-1969). Insane British sketch comedy from future Danger Mouse performer David Jason, and future Monty Python members Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones. Bizarre and surreal, the show laid some of the groundwork for Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which came five months later.
• My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (2010-present). Who would have thought that a redo of a cheesy 1980s cartoon originally intended to sell toys to little girls would catch on with a male, adult audience? And yet, the new show has done precisely that. Don’t believe it? Try Googling the word “bronies.”
Other pan-generational hits include: Phineas and Ferb (2007-present), Eek! The Cat (1992-1997), Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures (1987-1988), The Tick (1994-1996), Sailor Moon (1995-2000), Samurai Pizza Cats (1990), Danger Mouse (1981-1992) and Count Duckula (1988-1993). Watch ’em with your kids.