Today, Netflix Canada is taking down Yo Gabba Gabba, a pre-school educational variety show centred on DJ Lance Rock and his monstrous, living toys. This show came into my life on the advice of a friend who’d raised a pretty awesome kid. He listened to (and seemed to enjoy) adult and children’s music equally, asked poorly timed but on-point questions, and busted out the dance moves with zero provocation. Although YGG was not the sole factor in this kid’s development, I figured it probably didn’t hurt. When I first unleashed this candy-coloured beast into my home, I had no idea what I was in for. Immediately, I could see what it had in common with other kids’ shows (short segments around a common theme, consistent segment order, bright colours) but what set it apart was more significant: an absurdist sense of humour, an eclectic mix of visual styles, and an unexpected line-up of guest celebrities.
YGG is grotesque but so colourful and cheerful that it’s downright endearing. The aesthetic is best summed up in the characters. Clearly designed with a child psychologist in the room, these characters resemble a cross-section of toddlers and kids that you are likely to come across in a pre-school or remember from your own childhood:
Muno – a cheerful, well-intentioned, clumsy orange cactus monster. Muno is YGG’s big bird – a good guy who makes mistakes but is quick is to make amends, often through song.
Likes: Toys, “razzle dazzle”, music
Foofa – super pink and walking with a hyperbolic shimmy, Foofa is just a shade less than a caricature of pink-aisle girl stereotype. She looks like a Barbapapa, speaks quietly, and curtseys but she’s also the most outdoors-y of the group and frequently reassures and comforts the other characters when they’re scared. Unlike Muno, she is almost always shown to be competent and brave.
Likes: animals, arts & crafts
Toodee – the other girl character is as anti-Foofa as you can get. Blue in colour and kind of resembling an otter, Toodee is rambunctious, hyperactive, and prone to knee-jerk reactions that often cast her as a negative example, socially. She’s competitive and gets frustrated often but always gets over it with help from her friends.
Likes: sports, winning, cold temperatures
Brobee – Brobee is a green, gangly-armed Eyore and damned if he isn’t the most endearing character on the show. He’s borderline depressive in how he puts himself down and assumes defeat at the slightest opposition. He’s a chicken to boot. Unlike Milne’s timeless Donkey, Brobie gets cheered up by his friends. I feel like I know/was this kid. Damn it.
Likes: drumming, familiar foods, the woods
Plex – Plex is kind of an odd duck in the group. A McDonald’s style robot, he is something like that smart friend who was an insane teacher’s pet. He’s constantly instructing the others even as he joins in the games and whatnot. NERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRD (I like Plex a lot).
Likes: Obeying DJ Lance, electricity
These misfit toys would be terrifying to toddlers if they didn’t reflect familiar types and were any less upbeat. Even when characters are sad, they sing so cheerfully that it’s almost a parody – an attitude that carries through almost every other facet of the show and what I’ll miss so much about it when it’s gone. Played just a little to the left, and YGG becomes the Deadpool of toddler shows; a little to the right and it’s just another Sesame Street knockoff.
Visually, YGG’s variety is a lot of fun. It uses composite shots to show us the monsters at toy size with a giant DJ Lance above them, combines animated and live-action elements, and constantly changes gears from “main” segments (with the main cast, DJ Lance, and guests) to short cartoons in an impressive array of styles.
More than anything, YGG’s surprising slate of guest stars amazes me. Introduced without fanfare (often as “Elijah” or “Jack”), these guests are more-or-less Easter eggs for the grown ups…but having Frodo Baggins himself teach me his dance move (the puppet master. It’s amazing.) to a whole episode taken over by Jack Black really brings sleep-deprived parents into the fun. Biz Markie shows up as a series regular and his delivery of Biz’s Beat of the Day is so achingly sincere that I challenge you not to beatbox along with him (spoilers: you can’t resist. No one can).
The musical guests are also amazing, often drawing on pop-punk and indie bands that were just breaking at the time (or near the end of their relevance in some cases…). The Aquabats, Hot Hot Heat, and Jimmy Eat World stand out in my memory but Supernova’s Up and Down will always haunt me; it was my oldest’s first favorite song and we’d listen to it over and over. I remember teaching him to jump while dancing to it holding his tiny hands and his feet on mine.
As a parent of a toddler, you’re going to be subjected to some show or other on repeat until you can recite every word, song, and sound effect whether you like it or not. YGG’s knowing winks, good music, and Tim-Burton-on-LSD style made it a not unpleasant presence in the hurricane of madness that is life with a two-year-old. Bring it back, Netflix.