Monday, January 4, 2010

The Problem of Uniqua

The Backyardigans is a very popular TV show for preschoolers on Nick Jr.  Its popularity is well-deserved; I could easily list fifty fantastic things about it.

But there's one interesting little problem.  Every episode involves the same five charming characters: Tasha the yellow hippo; Austin the purple kangaroo; Pablo the blue penguin; Tyrone the orange moose; and Uniqua the pink... lady bug?  slug?  alien?  They never say. 

Here we have a show in which every item, setting, and situation is imaginatively rendered but essentially recognizable.  Four out of five regular characters are known, reality-based types.  And then for no reason that is ever explained, the fifth is something completely different.  After online debates as to her species raged to the point of ugliness, Nick Jr. finally stated on their website that Uniqua is both her name and her species and she is the only representative. 

Uniqua entirely defies labels.  This fact is wonderful, healthy, and in a way, it's possibly the most realistic thing on television.  But it drives people crazy.  It's the elephant in the room.  It makes no difference to the stories, certainly no difference to the other characters, and probably no difference to the target audience of tiny children.  But to adults, whose brains are wired to quickly categorize, compress, and dispose of information, anything that defies our personal taxonomic systems gums up the works.  It's like that thing someone gave you but can't figure out where to put it, so it sits in the front hallway tripping you up every time you pass.   Eventually you'll see it as part of the decor.  But for a long while, it's hard to ignore.  And that makes it ingenius.


  1. I don't see children's tv these days. (At 23 and 25 my sons are no longer impressed by it.) So this was fascinating for me. I find it niggles that Uniqua is unique and none of the others are and it's interesting to see that in myself.

  2. I feel the same way. I've never felt the need to label myself and I've always been comfortable with people who have, let's say, ambiguous identities. So it was a little bit of a wake-up to realize that on a basic level, I do sort people after all.