I know it’s more fun to talk about the shows we HATED when the kids were little. Barney is a given, Dora the Explorer is a close second (why is she screaming all the time?), and I think the whole world went anti-Caillou a long time ago. Bob the Builder always bored me silly, with its lack of conflict and simple, steady-as-she-goes resolutions. Yes, I’m aware it’s for toddlers, but I still had to sit there with them!

When the kids get older, the shows temporarily get worse, especially if they’re into terrible sitcoms where every actor speaks to the camera in a Dora-like fashion, yelling at it and emphasizing every word, then pausing for the laugh track. We were relieved when they became teenagers and started watching normal TV, like The Office and Parks and Recreation. (And now, Riverdale and Master of None.)

The nostalgia

But years later, we still use those kids’ shows as reference points. The four of us always get it, and occasionally we get a nod from someone else who knows exactly what we’re talking about.

 So far, it hasn’t worked that well in meetings at work, but that’s okay; at this age, a lot of my pop culture references don’t mean much to my colleagues. I remember even back in the late ‘90s I was heading to a location with some co-workers and as we popped out of the subway at 72nd and Broadway in Manhattan, I said gleefully, “Hey guys, this is where Rhoda ran into the subway station in her wedding dress!” Blank stares. A beat. Finally, someone asked, “Who’s Rhoda?” I almost wept.

The good ones

But that’s a grown-up show. Here are the kids’ shows I miss the most; only “confusion and delay” gets the occasional glint of recognition in workplace conversations.

Thomas the Tank Engine

To this day, when plans go awry, my husband and I say, “We have caused confusion and delay.” I miss this adorable show about trains who want nothing more than to be helpful to the people who ride them, their conductors, and their fellow engines. 

We enjoyed all the different narrators but remain haunted by George Carlin’s narration when Henry refuses to leave the train tunnel and the solution is to brick him in so he CAN’T leave. They don’t even resolve it by the end of the episode. Talk about a cliffhanger!

Sesame Street

There’s something delightful about having your toddlers watch the same show you did when you were a kid and finding that it’s no less wonderful. 

All those rhymes and songs that taught us numbers, words, and colors still hold up, as do Oscar the Grouch, Cookie Monster, and celebrity cameos that mean ten times as much to me now as they did then. I sometimes get nostalgic and pull up old clips on YouTube. “It’s for something I’m writing,” I lie when people see.

Curious George

There are classics from the first two seasons that we still talk about! I think our favorite episode is the one where the woman who runs the candy counter at a department store asks George to fill in for her while she steps away, because who wouldn’t ask a monkey they just met to help sell food? (Yes, he touches ALL of it.) 

The one with the plumber is also a gem, and we’ll never forget the fully automatic monkey fun hat that has its moment in the sun when The Man with the Yellow Hat presents his research while it shoots out bubbles and raisins. 

The reason parents love this show so much is because Curious George is the ultimate toddler—adorable, exhausting, full of unintentional mischief, and in the end, lovable despite the chaos.  Both of the kids, now teenagers, have admitted to rewatching episodes here and there.

Fireman Sam

This is the only kids’ show I know of that takes place in Wales, and while our kids loved Fireman Sam’s rescues, we were endlessly amused by his really annoying niece and nephew who were constantly causing the problems that made that fire engine alarm bell go off. If it weren’t for those meddling kids… we wouldn’t have had such a fun show to watch on those early mornings. 

Phineas and Ferb

Saved this one for last because it gets even more references in our regular lives than Thomas. The brilliant, catchy songs will always have a place in our hearts, but the one that means the most to me is in the episode where Candace accidentally throws a huge party while Linda & Lawrence (the kids’ parents) are away. She’s planning for an “intimate get-together,” but the gathering gets out of hand and soon the house is filled with partying kids not using coasters, putting their feet on chairs, and juggling tchotchkes. There’s a whole song about it, the highlight of which is this frequent exchange:

Partygoers: Candace party, Candace party!

Candace: It’s not a party, it’s an intimate get-together.

Partygoers: Candace party, Candace party!

When my mom died, we didn’t have a traditional funeral. None of us felt connected to the idea, and she wouldn’t have either, so instead, we had a gathering of people who loved her at my uncle’s house. There were guests from across her entire life, from people we knew when we were little kids to more recent colleagues and friends. And because it wasn’t a funeral or a service to mourn her death but instead a celebration of her life, my husband and I and our kids just kept calling it “the Candace party,” especially as the number of attendees kept increasing. When I die, that’s what I want too. Screw funerals, I’ll take the Candace party.

And I’ll keep watching Phineas and Ferb, even when there’s no kid around to watch with me. 

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About Laurie Ulster

A transplanted Canadian living in New York, Laurie Ulster is a freelance writer and a TV producer who somehow survived her very confusing adolescence as the lone female Star Trek fan in middle school. She writes about pop culture, lifestyle topics, feminism, food, and other topics for print, digital, podcasts, and TV.

View all posts by Laurie Ulster