Words by Nicolas Zoumboulis Art by Nicholas Manton
Australian children’s television was the gateway to a whimsical world of excitement and adventure. Like any good Australian millennial, I loved the ABC (this piece is not for those boujee kids who had Foxtel), but its darker and stranger side haunted me.
Shows like Jeopardy introduced the ‘Australian Gothic’, genre to younger audiences, thrusting Scottish strangers into an even stranger Australian land, where the eerie landscape was the real villain. Then there were other shows that were more intangibly creepy, like something from a weird fever dream that was just plain terrifying.
Buried deep within my subconscious is a show called PLASMO, a sci-fi claymation that followed five distinct looking aliens around the universe. I say distinct because the character Coredor is notorious for essentially looking like a walking one-eyed vagina. The show is about a three-year-old alien called Plasmo, who is trying to find his parents in a vast, cold universe while avoiding villainous aliens who want to harvest his friend’s body which is made of gold. I remember more about the feelings this show caused than what it was actually about, it was terrifying and for a children’s show, surprisingly existential. I lost my mum at the supermarket once, and in the few minutes I was aimlessly walking through the aisles, it felt like the walls of my entire reality had come crashing down. Plasmo reminded me of that feeling.
Thinking back, I really can’t work out why I subjected myself to these daily horrors. Like a bad relationship I sat defiantly through the rough times, determined to try and salvage what was left, trying to instead remember the fun, wholesome memories we shared.
Confession: I am vaguely afraid of large birds. I blame the “Bird Boy” episode of Round the Twist for scarring me so deeply. Bronson is stalked by a giant bird/boy hybrid that at first tries to kill him and then becomes his pet. At one point the avian monster even kidnaps Bronson, flying him over the ocean and putting his life in danger. Instead of running in fear, everyone is in awe of this freak of nature. There is another episode called “Know All”, where the Twists find a trunk full of old circus costumes and dress a scarecrow in the outfit, causing it to come to life. What is more terrifying than a scarecrow that will literally jump through windows to hunt you down?
Perhaps, the sound of church organs. That sound signalled the dreaded start of Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids, and even though it scared the shit out of me, I sat through it every day. This show created possibly the most disturbing ways to teach ‘moral’ lessons to children. In the second season, Alexander refuses to go to bed when he is told, so naturally old man Mr. Peeler horrifically peels off Alexander’s eyelids. Just like Alexander, I never slept again.
Strange Days (at Blake Holsey High) was a sci-fi show set at a boarding school where the science club investigated mysterious phenomena being caused by a wormhole. I didn’t understand the science, or much else but the creepy janitor and principal (sporting a villainous goatee) were enough to unsettle me and hate questionable facial hair.
A lot of these shows toyed with the feeling of safety that kids naturally attach to parental or authority figures. Authority figures weren’t present in these fictional worlds without rules, or they were there but just didn’t seem to care. These eerie and downright horrific worlds that ‘90s to early ‘00s television imagined were sometimes batshit insane. But, reminiscing on them I still feel nostalgic, and it’s a deeply confusing but wonderful thing.
Here are some equally horrific shows that I ran out of space to mention, check them out: “Pig’s Breakfast”, “Soupe Opera”, “Freaky”, “Johnson and Friends” and “Powers”.