I am so unreasonably, selfishly angry with Nickelodeon’s preschool channel, Nick Jr, about this. I have spent the last two months carefully, in my silly adult way, getting four year-old Daniel ready for this episode. Over the past few Saturdays, we rewatched all of H.R. Pufnstuf, and I’ve been punctuating his regular viewings of Mutt & Stuff with questions like “Doesn’t Stuff remind you a little of Pufnstuf? He sort of looks like him, doesn’t he?” Daniel will inevitably remind me “No, Dad, Stuff is a dog, and Pufnstuf is a dragon!”
(Seventeen year-old big sister Ivy, upon hearing this last night, went apoplectic. “He’s a dragon?! All these years I thought he was a dinosaur!!”)
Anyway, I was all set to sit down with him this morning for the big surprise. Even his pre-K and day care cooperated by closing for President’s Day, so we’d be home to watch it together. Then we let him watch PAW Patrol on Nick Jr on Saturday morning and they ran a commercial for it. Blast!
Mutt & Stuff, for those of you without under-sixes in the house, is Sid and Marty Krofft’s latest production, a gentle and silly show about a doggie day care with some puppets, Rube Goldberg contraptions, and a big yellow dog. You kind of have to be about the age where you think a dog slowly rolling past the camera on a skateboard is roaringly funny to appreciate it, but I can get behind any program that teaches respect for pets, regardless of who produced it or how tame the comedy is.
The episode is therefore unsurprisingly tame and gentle. The conflict, inasmuch as there is any, comes from Stuff feeling very self-conscious that he’s not as important as his uncle and needing to be reassured that he’s important, too. Pufnstuf, voiced by an actor named Randy Credico, brings along two seeds that grow into Living Island trees. These don’t walk around like the ones on Living Island, but they are named Sid and Marty (har), and Stuff saves them from a runaway great big frisbee, proving that he’s important to the school. There are no explosions or zaps and nobody gets hit in the head with anything, because children’s television’s just not quite like that anymore.
There is, it must be noted, a short bit where the two cats who hang out in a tree, Zoe and Davenport, wonder what the H.R. in Puf’s name stands for. This sailed over my teen daughter’s head and so during the ad break, I let her in on the little meta-secret that college kids in the seventies, looking for drug references, supposed that it might be short for “hand rolled.” She laughed like a hyena, her brother wondered what was so funny, and the wheel of things turned slowly on, man.