“I just assumed he was dead.” That was my initial reaction when I found out that Daniel Tiger was not only very much alive, he was now in glorious high definition, the whole gang was with him, and he was 6 inches from my toddler’s face.
Like most children of the 70’s and 80’s who now exchange iPad time with toddlers for 5 minutes to take a dump or make a sandwich, you’re probably reading this because you’ve heard that siren song from across the room, looked over your child’s shoulder, and found yourself back inside the Neighborhood of Make Believe with Daniel Tiger. Like a high school reunion without the booze, you caught a cathartic ride on that magical trolley and filled in all of the missing chapters Fred Rogers made believe from beyond the grave.
You drew inspiration from the success story of a soft-spoken, orphan tiger, living all alone in a broken clock, with nothing but an oversized watch and a few stripes to his name, who found love, moved into a surprisingly spacious tiki hut, created the most profitable clock factory in the entire neighborhood, and a kid who inherited his watch and cardigan fetish.
There was the feisty neighborhood schemer, Lady Elaine Fairchild, who miraculously overcame debilitating rosacea and proved that there truly IS someone out there for everyone (I mean when I found out she had a daughter, I just assumed she adopted or borrowed money from King Friday for artificial insemination…but no…Music Man Stan really stepped up to the plate and took responsibility for what I can only assume was some cloudy judgement and dizziness during a late night in the museum-go-round). And the royal family that knew better than to name a kid, Prince Hump Day. And there was even Henrietta Pussycat who somehow passed on her meow meow cat turrets to her daughter. Then, as it goes with 99% of toddler TV, the novelty wore off about halfway through a 50 episode binge but the songs remained tucked just behind your unconscious.
If you haven’t see Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, I have no idea why you’re still reading this. However, just so we’re all on the same page, each episode consists of 2 mini-episodes centering around the same socio-emotional theme like “dealing with frustration,” “trying new foods,” “thinking about others,” and so on. The theme is then reinforced with a catchy little “strategy song” sung by the characters throughout the show, by desperate parents trying to correct or encourage a behavior, but ironically, rarely the actual kids watching the show.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is remarkable in that is can lock a toddler in the preferred, “zombie zone” long enough for parents to get shit done, that it provides a comforting sense of nostalgia, and that it doesn’t make anybody think too hard. However, I feel the writers have barely scratched the surface on lessons that can actually benefit parents.
The following are future episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood that I would appreciate:
“Stop Punching Mom in the Face”
- Daniel loves Mom Tiger, but lately, he has been flailing his arms and legs wildly, often punching her in the face, when she tries to put him in time out. Daniel Tiger has a talk with Daniel Striped Tiger (his dad…does this seem unnecessarily confusing to anyone else?) who teaches him how to stop being a dick.
- Strategy Song: “If You’ve Done Something Bad, Don’t Make it Worse and Piss Off Dad.”
“Don’t Make Me Laugh When I Yell At You”
- King Friday is a light-hearted guy and he has a hard time being serious when he needs to discipline Prince Wednesday. Recently Prince Wednesday has started making an angry face, crossing his arms, pointing sternly and saying things like, “That’s a bad choice, Daddy!” and, “Go sit in time out and THINK ABOUT IT!” whenever King Friday is correcting a behavior. This of course makes King Friday laugh…which takes most of the tension out of the room…but creates a viscous cycle of disrespect.
- Strategy Song: “If You Ever Get In Trouble, Think of a Joke on the Double”
“Stop Deleting Mom’s Apps”
- It’s difficult being a single mom, especially when, for some reason, you have a different last name than your daughter. Often, Henrietta Pussycat will give Katerina Kittycat her iPhone so she can have one second of sanity. However, Katerina has no idea how iPhones work and because she has no patience, she just keeps hitting buttons even though Henrietta has explained countless times that they’re stealing WIFI from X the Owl and he’s too cheap to spring for the “Boost Package” from Xfinity, so she often finds herself on the home screen and then presses too long and then just keeps hitting the little x’s, which never take her back to the YouTube Kids app. Then, when Henrietta Pussycat is trying to find the score of the Pirates game, she has to re-download the MLB app from the stupid cloud.
- Strategy Song: “Stop, Wait, and Try Restarting”
“Quit Staring at the People in the Booth Behind Us”
- Going out to dinner with 2 kids is tough, but Daniel Striped Tiger and Mom Tiger keep trying because they’re often too busy or lazy to cook and have poor short term memories. Daniel Tiger usually sits quietly with his iPad, but Margaret has started to stand on the booth and awkwardly stare at the couples in the booth behind them…The other couples play along the first few times, but then it becomes clear that they just want to eat in peace instead of saying “hi” over and over to a toddler. Daniel Striped Tiger and Mom Tiger smile back apologetically and say, “sorry,” but since the alternative is the possibility of a screaming kid, they do nothing. Prince Tuesday realizes he’s going to be tipped poorly if the other couple has a bad experience, so he goes and gets Margaret the crayons he should have brought her 15 minutes ago when he took the Tiger Family’s drink orders.
- Strategy Song: “We eat out just to feel normal. Sit back down and give mom and dad a win.”
“Stop Awkardly Playing With Your Privates”
- Recently, Daniel Tiger can’t seem to keep his hands out of his pants. Usually, Daniel Striped Tiger (I’m just going to call him Dad Tiger from now on) is able to correct him pretty quickly, but if Mom Tiger is around, she says something weird about Daniel being scarred for life. It’s gotten pretty weird in the tub too and Dad Tiger has no idea how to get him to stop other than telling him to stop. Is he just supposed to let him stick his fingers in there or stretch that out so far? It looks like it really hurts.
- Strategy Song: “If It’s Covered by My Diaper they’re my privates, and we only touch our privates in private.”
“Music Man Stan Hits the Sauce”
- When Music Man Stan gets home from a long day at the Music Store, he’s excited to see Lady Elaine Fairchild and Miss Elaina, to hear about their days, to have dinner with them, etc. But lately, as soon as he walks in the door, Miss Elaina isn’t exactly crying and she isn’t exactly happy, she’s just making loud annoying whining noises and acting like everything is the end of the damn world. He asks her to stop, asks her what she wants, offers to play with her, but she just keeps whining and going limp when he tries to pick her up. So he has a few drinks….and then a few more… One day, as Mr. McFeely delivers 2 cases of Make Believe Moonshine he asks Miss Elaina what’s going on. After hearing the sad story, he offers to counsel the family in the evenings and eventually saves their marriage.
- Strategy Song: “When Dad Gets Home, Leave Him Alone” (Don’t Raise a Stink Until Dad’s Had His First Drink.”
Do you have suggestions for other Daniel Tiger episodes? Let me know, leave a comment.