Tuesday, March 24, 2009

TV LOVES YOU BACK MARCH: "Handy Manny" wants a future that may not ever arrive


Becoming a parent means learning a new and unique skill set. You learn to change diapers. You learn to navigate volatile mood swings. You master the fine art of child psychology - or you try to, anyway. And you learn to appreciate the oft-progressive subtlties of children's television programming.

Of the many cartoons Nodin likes to watch, Handy Manny might be my favorite of them all. On its face, the show is your usual melange of bright colors, friendly neighbors, and familiar improbabilities that everyone therein accepts as givens: we've got a handyman whose tools are sentient beings who can talk and hop, an incompetent candy-shop owner next door with a cat and a bad comb-over, a comely lass who runs a hardware store whose mutual crush with Manny is never explored, a mayor with a lightning-bolt streak of gray in her hair, and so on. The titular repairman - who can fix anything, it seems, and who never demands payment for services rendered from any of the zillions of Sheetrock Hills residents who call him and need his help, like, right away - is as endlessly calm and patient as most parents would like to think they are; he has to be, because his tools are responsible for most of the mishaps that create the challenges that have to be overcome on this show, thereby teaching impressionable tots everywhere that no obstacle is insurmountable.

So far, so predictable, right? But here's the twist: Sheetrock Hills is a fantasyland utopia in which a good 50 percent of the residents - including Manny - are of Hispanic heritage. Everyone's respectable, everyone speaks clear (if mildly accented) English, just about everyone peppers their speech with bits of Spanish that they then translate into English; everyone gets along. Nobody flips the fuck out about foreigners taking jobs or not being able to speak the native tongue. Nobody threatens to deport the tools - some of whom bear Hispanic first names - for screwing stuff up. Good times, but good luck to us all in forging an America where we're all living in harmony - let alone "tolerance" or "acceptance," buzzwords in the immigration/assimilation debate that fall far short, in my mind anyway - is a reality, and not the central tenent of a well-meaning kids' cartoon show whose lead used to play Fez on That 70's Show.

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