‘I rate The A-Team four out of 10!’ The great childhood TV swap

Stuart Heritage and his son Herbie
‘To get a cartoon made, you just have to pick an old show and fill it with absurd pop culture references’ ... He-Man enthusiast Stuart Heritage and his son Herbie, a fan of The Powerpuff Girls. Composite: Alamy/Rex
‘To get a cartoon made, you just have to pick an old show and fill it with absurd pop culture references’ ... He-Man enthusiast Stuart Heritage and his son Herbie, a fan of The Powerpuff Girls. Composite: Alamy/Rex

What happens when kids and parents sit each other down to watch their favourite childhood shows – from Sesame Street to The Powerpuff Girls? Six families find out

, , Herbie Heritage, , , , Agatha Wiegand, Graham Everitt and Katie Leary

Last modified on Thu 4 Mar 2021 16.10 EST

Maya Wolfe-Robinson and Ezra, five

Maya Wolfe-Robinson and Ezra
‘I remember Scar as a terrifying figure, but Ezra reassures me that the baddies never win’ ... Maya and Ezra watching The Lion Guard. Photograph: Ben Ferguson

Maya watches The Lion Guard
When I asked Ezra what his favourite TV show was, he took some time to consider. It seems to change every week depending on what the streaming algorithms have presented him with. Like dinosaurs? Like trucks? Watch Dinotrux, a show about dinosaurs made out of trucks!

Eventually, he plumps for The Lion Guard on Disney+. It is a spin-off of The Lion King, starring Simba and Nala’s son, Kion, who leads a band of friends tasked with protecting the pridelands from the familiar cast of lion and hyena “baddies”. Confusingly, they are led by Simba’s uncle, Scar (voiced by David Oyelowo), who seems to have been reincarnated in fire. I remember Scar as a terrifying figure, but Ezra reassures me that the baddies “never win”, so it is not scary.

The first episode we watch launches into song within minutes. As a fan of musicals, I approve, although I am not sure it is a classic. While the show appears to be set in a Hollywood version of a generic “Africa”, the series’ creators have responded to some of the criticisms of the 1994 film – the racist hyenas have had a makeover and a Swahili consultant has lent authenticity to the characters’ names and catchphrases.

The characters go on a mildly treacherous journey, with some educational bits (explanations of echoes and optical illusions), leading them to conclude that to defeat “evil” they need to work together and embrace their worthiest characteristics. It is not a perfect show, but it seems age-appropriate and there is a storyline, which, at this point, I will take.

Cookie Monster, Prairie Dawn, Big Bird, Ernie, Elmo, Bert, Oscar the Grouch and Grover in Sesame Street
‘Ezra says Elmo buying a birthday cake for a desk fan is hilaaaarious’ ... Cookie Monster, Prairie Dawn, Big Bird, Ernie, Elmo, Bert, Oscar the Grouch and Grover in Sesame Street. Photograph: Everett Collection/Rex Features

Ezra watches Sesame Street
Maya writes: When I was Ezra’s age, we lived in the Caribbean, so we got only American TV shows. When it is our turn to swap, I find some Sesame Street episodes from the early 90s on YouTube. I worry that he might find the charming scenes of puppets going to daycare for the first time tame after the action-charged scenes he is used to, but he says that Elmo buying a birthday cake for a desk fan is “hilaaaarious”.

While I marvel at the way the show casually embraces racial diversity and disability, he says he likes it because it reminds him of his first day at nursery. “And that going to school isn’t scary,” which is a relief. After a few segments, he asks for the ABC song. My heart leaps when I realise it is the Patti Labelle gospel version on Sesame Street that we used to play him when he was younger. Something has gone in! And then he asks if we can switch back to The Lion Guard. Ah well.

Stuart Heritage and Herbie, five

Stuart watches The Powerpuff Girls
Until a week before I wrote this, my son’s favourite TV show was Teen Titans Go!. I was OK with this, because Teen Titans Go! is a work of art. It is fast, funny, rude, formally inventive and it has several songs about poo in it. However, at the last minute, my five-year-old changed his mind and informed me that, actually, his favourite was now The Powerpuff Girls.

Stuart and Herbie Heritage
‘I wish it was a video game and not a TV show’ ... Herbie on He-Man. Photograph: Courtesy of Stuart Heritage

Like Teen Titans Go!, The Powerpuff Girls is a revival of an old show. The original series ran from 1998 to 2005; this reboot has been on the air for five years. It is arch and self-aware and speeds by in a blur of mild violence and juvenile gross-out gags. My son’s favourite episode is the one where a character takes steroids and the cutaway shots make her muscles look like shiny orange turds. In short, it mimicks the Teen Titans Go! formula.

This is slightly disappointing. It seems that, to get a cartoon made these days, you just have to pick an old show and fill it with absurd, ironic pop culture references. Every show is like this – there is a similar Thundercats reboot – and it is starting to get old. That said, if Cartoon Network wants someone to make a snarky, ironic, toilet-obsessed reboot of, say, M.A.S.K., I am right here.

Herbie watches He-Man
I’ve already seen He-Man on Mummy’s phone. My favourite character is the magician, Orko, but I wish it was a video game and not a TV show. I’d play as He-Man and I’d do everything that He-Man does. When he uses his sword, I’d shake the controller to make him put it up in the air. When I’m a grownup, I’m going to make a He-Man game, just like this episode. And every level will be like every episode. This show is kind of good, but kind of boring. They’re just talking. This is a boring part. Why are they talking so much?

Do you know what? When I’m a grownup, I’m going to make a remote-controlled Miles Morales [one of the characters known as Spider-Man]. So, the stick will make him walk and you can press square to punch and triangle to jump and web. I’m tired of watching He-Man. My favourite thing is Spider-Verse [the 2018 film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse].

Chitra Ramaswamy and daughter, three

Chitra watches Sarah & Duck
The dream child is one who loves this gentle and absurd series, with its delight in the mundane and a mallard with the comic timing of Victoria Wood. Sarah & Duck has characters that don’t make you want to batter yourself about the head with a six-pack of Petits Filous. A female lead. A truly great theme tune. A talking moon. In short, it is the Synecdoche, New York of CBeebies. I may love it more than my three-year-old does.

My daughter, C, picks an episode in which Sarah & Duck decorate Donkey’s barn with spring wildflowers. As I watch them blow dandelion clocks and drape daisy chains around a window, my heart ascends towards the charismatic moon. Next, Scarf Lady shows up and calls Donkey “a rather hungry dolphin”. My daughter and I laugh our heads off. Everyone is sleepy by the end, so they do a funny little wake-up dance. God, life is sweet when it is sweet. We devour another six episodes to celebrate.

The Family-Ness
‘Brigadoon will look like Ken Loach after this’ ... The Family-Ness.

C watches The Family-Ness
Chitra writes: “Just wait until you hear the song – it’s amazing,” I tell my daughter. This is a terrible mistake, because now she expects an 80s cartoon containing an entire bloodline’s worth of Scottish stereotypes to be good. We scroll through YouTube while I fall down an existential rabbit hole, wondering whether it was The Family-Ness that led me to move to Scotland for good 15 years after watching it.

“I like it,” says my daughter with a face like concrete. In a silence that weighs more than all the water in Loch Ness, we watch Mr MacTout, dad to Angus and Elspeth, lugging his sporran, ginger beard and bagpipes about and saying: “Ayyyyeeee”. I am suddenly pleased that my daughter’s other mother, who is Scottish, is out walking the dog. Brigadoon will look like Ken Loach after this.

Thankfully, we have arrived at the song, You’ll Never Find a Nessie in the Zoo, which really is amazing. As the family of Nessies pop out of the loch one by one, my daughter points to the monster with long, flowing blond hair and red lipstick and announces: “I like that one.” Confirmation, as if we needed it, that gender stereotypes were as alive and well in the 80s as they are today, even at the bottom of Scotland’s second-deepest loch.

Keza MacDonald and Kirk, four

Keza MacDonald with Kirk and his baby brother
‘Anyone who has juggled two small children will feel extremely seen by Bluey’ ... Keza with Kirk and his younger brother. Photograph: Courtesy of Keza MacDonald

Keza watches Bluey
We subscribed to Disney+ about three days into the first lockdown and discovered Bluey, an Australian show about a cartoon dog and her family having everyday adventures. It is laugh-out-loud funny, heartwarming, aesthetically pleasing and it has made me cry twice.

Bluey has a little sister, Bingo, and parents who are clearly exhausted by their antics, but always still up for playing nonsensical imaginary games with them, which is very #parentinggoals. The episodes are only seven minutes long; one takes place in real time while the girls and their longsuffering dad wait on a Chinese takeaway, during which Bluey and her sister manage to flood the pavement, wee in a bush, steal a sheaf of menus and ruin the meal.

Anyone who has ever juggled two small children will feel extremely seen by this show. The only unrealistic thing about it is the fact that the parents almost always react to the chaos with resigned amusement, as opposed to yelling and wine.

Kirk watches Pingu
Keza writes: “Mama, I don’t want this,” declares my four year old, before I can even finish typing the word “Pingu” into YouTube’s search bar. “I’m going to have Dear Prudence.” (My son is a delightful little weirdo who likes to watch Beatles music videos and sing along to them, tunelessly and at high volume, at 6.07am.) “But you don’t even know what it is,” I say.

‘Mama, I don’t want this’ ... Kirk’s initial take on Pingu. Photograph: Hit Entertainment

I explain that we are going to watch five minutes of a TV show about a funny claymation penguin that I loved when I was tiny. I pick an episode in which Pingu, tasked with babysitting a neighbour’s egg, stops paying attention and ends up accidentally cradle-swapping a couple of baby penguins. “Mama I don’t like it,” he says, 10 seconds in, as my one-year-old giggles adorably at the penguin babble. “Oh what is this,” he sighs, as we reach the dramatic peak of the episode, where the wrong baby penguin emerges from the egg. “Baby!” says the little one. Was there anything you liked about Pingu? “No. Mama, let’s have Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da!”

Three days later, Kirk asks for the penguin programme. “Pingu?!” I say, disbelieving. “Yes, Pingu! I love it.”

Chris Wiegand and Agatha, 10

Agatha and Chris Wiegand
‘The A-Team is basically about a group of men who blow up cars’ ... Agatha and Chris. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Hlcarpenter.com

Chris watches So Awkward
The kids in So Awkward have been growing up in the corner of our living room for years. At Aggie’s age, my favourite shows starred smug, middle-aged men chewing cigars or scenery. What happened in The A-Team and Magnum PI had as little to do with my Yorkshire suburb as their American vistas. But So Awkward hums with the familiar energy of secondary school life: all-too-relatable crushes, arguments and parent-induced embarrassments.

In the first episode, upbeat Jas helps Martha overcome her inability to misbehave. The comedy is heavy on pratfalls and smoke bombs, but the deeper point is that Martha is desperate for attention from her mum. It is daft, off-the-wall and tender. We also watch an episode from the sixth series, when the mates are latte-drinking sixth-formers, with a fantasy sequence lampooning Friends. Science geek Ollie has shot up in height, but is still calculating the equation to become a cool teenager. He is played with comic aplomb by Archie Lyndhurst, whose death last year, aged 19, was keenly felt by the show’s fans.

Even after a couple of episodes, you feel you know these kids: who is boasting and needs a reality check; who is struggling and needs a laugh. Neither they nor the grownups take themselves as seriously as George Peppard’s Hannibal. A catchy theme tune is about all our shows have in common. All together now: “So! Awk! Ward!”

Martha Fitzgerald (Sophia Dall’aglio), Lily Hampton (Cleo Demetriou) and Jas Salford (Ameerah Falzon-Ojo) in So Awkward.
‘It hums with the familiar energy of secondary school life’ ... Martha Fitzgerald (Sophia Dall’aglio), Lily Hampton (Cleo Demetriou) and Jas Salford (Ameerah Falzon-Ojo) in So Awkward. Photograph: BBC/Channel X North

Agatha watches The A-Team
From the way my dad described it, I was expecting The A-Team to be something like Scooby-Doo. We watched the first episode, which had a very complicated story, but was basically about a group of men who blow up cars and steal planes and that kind of thing. The only woman in it is a journalist called Amy. She is trying to find her friend, who went missing while investigating criminals in Mexico. The only children are friends with a member of The A-Team called BA (which means “Bad Attitude”, but might as well stand for boring adult). Hannibal is the leader of the gang. He spends the first half of the episode in a dinosaur costume.

The theme tune is the best bit, then the car doing a backflip into the water. But I thought it seemed quite easy to steal the plane – they just climbed in and flew away. There are 97 more episodes of The A-Team, but I don’t think I will watch them. I rate it 4/10 for effort.

Graham Everitt and Katie Leary, 16

Graham Everitt’s daughter, Katie Leary
‘There didn’t seem to be much of a plot to The Young Ones: it was just chaos’ ... Graham’s daughter, Katie. Photograph: Courtesy of Katie Leary

Graham watches Grey’s Anatomy
I knew vaguely about the show and was surprised when Katie started watching it, as it has been around for ages. The medical side is just a backdrop: it is really about relationships. And there is lots and lots of blood. I don’t know why the doctors and nurses bother getting changed, because you know they are going to be covered in blood again in the next episode.

I watched two episodes that Katie recommended: one about a gunman loose in the hospital, the other about a plane crash on a mountain. If you blink, you miss something – . But I began to wonder if it was meant to be taken seriously. One scene involved a doctor whose husband has been shot and is dying in a hospital corridor; meanwhile, she has just found out she is pregnant and, while attending to another victim, has a miscarriage. A scene in the plane crash episode made me laugh – a badly injured pilot is trapped in his seat and says he can’t feel his legs. A nurse takes a screwdriver and jams it into his legs. “Did you feel that? No? Then you’re paralysed,” she says.

I hadn’t realised how high Katie’s tolerance is for corny plot lines – or for gore. Would I watch it again? Yes, to keep Katie company. I like things to have a bit more of an edge, a bit more British grit.

Grey’s Anatomy
‘I began to wonder if it was meant to be taken seriously’... Graham on Grey’s Anatomy. Photograph: Scott Garfield/Walt Disney Television/Getty Images

Katie watches The Young Ones
My dad sent me two episodes, Cash and Summer Holiday. In the first few minutes, I was like: “Oh no, what is this?” Really cringey. I am glad I stuck with it, because once you get into it, it is actually quite funny.

It is just 30 minutes of absolute nonsense, isn’t it? They are some young adults living together in a house and everything goes wrong. They seem to think that the more violently they behave, the better things are going to become. There didn’t seem to be much of a plot: it was just chaos.

In Summer Holiday, they are bored and they have to decide what to do with their summer. It ends up with them on a bus being chased by the police. In Cash, they can’t pay their rent and they are burning all their furniture to keep warm. They force Neil to get a job with the police, which he is terrible at.

I think each character represented a different social group from that time. Neil is one who is outside the group and always depressed. My dad told me he is a hippy, but I thought he was bullied by the others just because he was rubbish at everything. I had heard of punks, but I hadn’t realised that was what Vyvyan is supposed to be. Rick was very aggressive. He represented people who weren’t happy with the politics at the time. Some of the satire surprised me – I don’t watch anything that has stuff like that today.

I would guess it was made in the 60s. How it was filmed and how disjointed and random it is reminded me of the old TV programmes that they show us in history at school. I can see why my dad loved it when he was my age, as it is quite out there and it is so crazy. I would happily watch some more. Graham and Katie were talking to Imogen Tilden

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