You know how sometimes you remember something from childhood – a picture from a book, a song you liked when you were three – but you can’t quite remember enough details to figure out what it was? This happens to me all the time. I insist that my mom must remember, for example, this book I loved as a kid about a birthday cake that expands so much in the oven it takes over an entire village, but no matter how many times I describe it to her, she never has any idea what I’m talking about. But I can still see one of the pictures perfectly in my head! It exists, I swear!
Of course, with the invention of the Internet, Google-stalking our own trippy childhood memories can become an obsession unto itself. I’ve successfully tracked down some weird and wacky movies of which I could recall only a single haunting image, not to mention that song I heard in a Parisian shoe store when I was thirteen. Often, researching one memory leads to the discovery of another show, book, or movie I had completely forgotten about.
Here are three of the television shows I loved deeply as a child, despite the fact that most normal human beings I encounter have never heard of them.
Okay, any of you Ghostwriter fans reading this are probably slapping your foreheads in frustration right now, thinking, “This girl’s an idiot. EVERYONE knows about Ghostwriter! Rally at Captain Obvious’s house!” But seriously guys, over the years I have met a shocking number of people who have never, ever heard of this show. And when I excitedly describe the premise down to the last detail, they kind of can’t believe it ever existed. They certainly don’t think it sounds good. Oh, but it was. For those of you uninitiated, Ghostwriter was a children’s television show that aired on PBS from 1992-1995. The story centers around a group of pre-teens in Brooklyn who use reading and writing skills (I mentioned this was PBS, right?) in order to solve crime with the help of an invisible ghost who can only communicate through reading and writing. PRETTY EXCITING STUFF!
Each mystery spanned four or five half-hour episodes, so if you were a super-fan you could also hop on over to the local video store and rent a VHS featuring just one of the mysteries in its entirety. I was very into Ghostwriter. Let’s just say that I may or may not have started a Ghostwriter fan club on the AOL message boards, of which I was a very strict and demanding president, eventually resulting in one of the club’s members informing me that “the world doesn’t revolve around Ghostwriter.” But let’s be real here, my world did.
Lenni, the fashion-forward bohemian of the bunch, was my favorite, and please know that she could give Blossom a run for her money when it comes to rocking floppy, denim hats. Ghostwriter is now available on DVD, proving once and for all that this show did, indeed, exist. I brought the first season to Thanksgiving with my family this year, and we watched a few episodes. The thing about a show whose sole purpose is to teach kids about reading and writing is that if you already know how to read and write, things are going to feel like they’re moving a little slooooooowly. But the fashion was as sharp as I remembered, and I was happy to find that I could still recite the opening credits voice-over. He’s a ghost, and he writes to us… (you know you know it).
Under the Umbrella Tree
While I acknowledge that Ghostwriter has a clear and occasionally vocal fan-base out and about in the world today, Under the Umbrella Tree most certainly does not. Other than my cousins, the only person I know who’s seen this show is my friend/coworker/hero Lena, who’s seen literally everything, so it kind of doesn’t count (it totally counts). This was an odd little program created in Canada and fed to me by the Disney channel in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The premise involved a human, Holly, as pictured above, living with three puppets named, from left to right, Iggy, Gloria, and Jacob.
The show got its name from the fact that inside their apartment lived an “umbrella tree”. I’ve never heard of an umbrella tree outside of this show, but according to Wikipedia it’s a real thing. Each episode focused on a theme or lesson to be learned, like “Exercise is good for you,” or “Singing is fun!” or “Handkerchiefs are for blowing your nose.” While we were told to believe this motley crew lived together equally as roommates, Holly was the clear mother-figure, cooking, cleaning, taking care of things around the house, and dispensing wisdom at every turn, often in song, with that cheery, Canadian accent of hers. I’m not completely aware of what I loved about this show, but I’m sure the inexplicable mingling of humans and cute puppets had something to do with it. Also, their free-wheeling lifestyle and cozy, kid-like quarters gave the whole thing a smoothed-out Pee Wee’s Playhouse kind of a vibe. Plus the theme song is legitimately addictive. Don’t listen unless you want to be humming it every day for the rest of your life.
I have the strangest memories of this pretty little cartoon, and to this day I haven’t met anybody who’s ever heard of it. If you’re out there, please let’s become friends. Noozles was created in Japan and re-dubbed to air on Nickelodeon in the mid to late 80s. Apparently its time slot was 1pm on weekdays, so I guess I was catching this only when I was home sick from nursery school, which might explain why any attempts I make to think about this show feel like trying to remember a fever dream. The main characters are a girl named Sandy and her two koala friends, Pinky and Blinky, who are from a magical extra-dimensional place called KoalaWalla Land. That’s where normal ends and holy mother of all things crazy begins, because this show is INSANE.
So, the koalas are actually stuffed animals when we’re in our normal, Earthly dimension, but any time Sandy gives them a “noozle” (an eskimo kiss), they become real. Eventually, they bring Sandy with them to their home-world, a parallel dimension where anthropomorphic koalas, kangaroos, and other exotic animals live freely, all under the domain of a wise old koala called the High Dingy Doo. Oh, and humans will be arrested just for being in KoalaWalla Land, so Sandy has to wear a koala mask when she’s there. And they get there via secret portals, which Pinky the koala creates using a magic lipstick. Over the course of the series, this trio uncovers some really messed up stuff, including but not limited to the spirit of Sandy’s grandfather trapped in a crystal orb, which leads them to the mysterious African “Wisemen Stones” which need to be used as joysticks to prevent Earth and KoalaWalla Land from destroying each other. I’m starting to think the existence of this show proves that there were some really hardcore psychedelic drugs circulating Japan in the mid-80s. Needless to say, I bought the first episode on VHS a few years back, convinced my koala-loving pal Susie to watch it with me, and those old sparks were definitely still there.
Given the evidence I’ve uncovered via Wikipedia and Youtube, it’s safe to say these shows did actually exist and that I’m probably not the only person in the world who watched them. But if anyone else has a memory of that children’s book about that yummy cake taking over a whole village of forest creatures, contact me immediately.