Children’s TV is visual cough syrup. At first it starts out practical, just something to ease the congestion of child minding. Then you find yourself late one Wednesday afternoon sprawled out on the couch, looking down the bottle of addiction. It sucks you in. The bright colours, the syrupy story lines You become quickly addicted to the 10min episodic bursts of entertainment. When did a 30 year old man care what a bunch of talking trains get up to each day? When he became a Dad- that’s when! My child is addicted to Fireman Sam. All other children’s TV is judged by this benchmark. A show is either BS or AS (before Sam or After Sam). Many, many shows are BS. Take for example the multitude of poorly animated shows featuring either talking Pigs or Sheep. Aren't any other animals suitable for anthropomorphizing and adventures? What about Gibbons, Salamanders and the humble Yak?
‘Yerty Yak all Dressed in Black’ would be an ace show. It would follow the goings-on of a young, misunderstood Goth Yak trying to fit his square frame into a rounded Yak world. However I would never get to watch that show, as it doesn't have fire or a man named Sam.
Archer is obsessed. Any free minute he has, he will try to watch this show. We have a cache of them recorded to the hard drive of the PVR, but he also has mastered the iPad and catch-up TV solely for the purpose of getting his ‘Reoar Reoar’ (his sound for sirens and also shorthand for the show) hit. Now before you tune out (like many viewers did for the shortly run Russian animation of Grigori Gibbon) expecting a person with kids brag blog, I have some theories and concerns with this show that I can no longer remain quiet about.
‘Fireman Sam’ is set in Pontypandy, Wales. This is a small village with the most varying topography in the world. Imagine a place with snow-capped mountains that meet a deep harbour. It is like New Zealand of the northern hemisphere, without the Hobbits and grating accents. But below this idyllic surface lurks some darker monsters. Take for example the town itself. It is small. A population of no more than 40 people, 4 of which work for the Fire brigade. When 10% of the town is employed by the fire service, sinister needs creeps in.
This level of employment needs to be justified; fires need to be put out. There must be a constant source of fires. Where there are fires, there is smoke. Where there is smoke, there is most likely a closet pyromaniac. Now I am not sure which of the four main fire fighting characters is the Pontypandy Pyro, but if I had to guess I would say Station Officer Steele. He’s the stiff upper-lipped, silver haired leader fox of the team. Don’t tell me though the thought of early retirement doesn’t occasionally reduce him to some secret, pantsless, burny-burny just to keep things rolling.
Sam himself is an enigma. A workaholic, the man seems to never go home (does he even have one?) and is quite the eligible bachelor. Single by choice or just married to the job, he tends to make the local ladies swoon. Especially sister-in-law Bronwyn. Bronwyn is married to Sam’s less capable brother and local fisherman Charlie. The fact the creators look down on the dippy Fisherman, is a clear indication that this show is homage to the English class structure. Bronwyn is always coming onto to Sam with puns and double entendres’ about trucks and hoses that would make the most open minded stay-at-home Mum blush. Sam is oblivious. This makes me wonder if his internal fires burn only for other Firemen.
Another of this progressive show’s characters is Dilys Price and her son Norman. A single Mum and mischievous son. Norman is a natural disaster of a child and would be second only to Charlie Sheen at the peak of Two and a Half Men’s popularity, in regards to importance of a character in a series. He is the central cause of 90% of the fire or emergency situations in the show. The 10% he is not involved in, the audience is still led to believe he is to blame. The show could easily be called Fireman Sam and the Redhead Menace Child. The real question that the writers leave floating in the corner of the room is- who is Norman’s father? I like to think that the fact that both he and Fireman Sam are redheads has little to do with their strong Welsh roots, but speaks more loudly of their shared DNA.
Fireman Sam as Norman’s father would make complete sense from a narrative perspective. It talks to the tradition of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, but the opposite dynamic. It is probably this complex subtext of what appears to be a simple children’s show that saw it nominated for a BAFTA.
Norman’s mother Dilys is quite active on the dating scene. Her long time suitor on the show is the town’s bumbling bus driver Trevor, ambiguously dark skinned for bonus broadcast-diversity points. That doesn’t stop her fluttering her eyes at other men that punctuate the show. She is a sucker for a man in uniform. Take the token international characters that speak strongly of the markets this show has high appeal in. Canadian mountaineer Moose Roberts and Australian rescue helicopter pilot Tom Thomas. Tom is often called into action when the fire-fighters have to do anything that doesn’t involve a ladder or a hose. He is adapt at looking hunky in a 1980’s Queensland way and is also handy on the BBQ- what did I say before about BAFTA’s? Moose Roberts basically hangs out on Mountains and talks in a difficult accent about the weather. He has a permanent five o’clock shadow, but I couldn’t say the same thing about his role on the show.
Fireman Sam has proved itself as a viable entertainment option since 1986. This is one heck of a long running show as far as Children’s TV goes. It is the unanswered questions between the lines of the shows scripts that will continue to hook easily engaged parents far into the future. If you want to be up with what the cool kids (literally) are into, this is it.