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LOSS OF INNOCENCE WAS NEVER FUNNIER.

Byline: David Kronke TV Critic

WHEN IT COMES to media content, it's all about the kids in America, so much so that entertainment specifically tailored for adult audiences is frequently considered suspect and can usually find a politician to suggest its censorship. Which tends to result in material that reduces sentient adults to gibbering, unreflective idiots after prolonged exposure.

Then there are the willful provocations, such as the unexpectedly hilarious ``Wonder Showzen,'' which has spread, slowly and virally. No screeners or press information were disseminated before its March premiere, and it's been sneaked onto MTV2 in a Friday time slot where its target audience is unlikely to find it (with repeats largely consigned to early-morning hours).

Fueling ``Wonder Showzen'' is a righteous anger at children's programming in general and mollifying propaganda in particular. Why, co- creators John Lee and Vernon Chatman seem to ask, should TV lie to children and tell them all is and always will be wonderful? Toughen the little rugrats up a little; get 'em ready for life in a post-9/11 world.

This makes Comedy Central's raucous ``TV Funhouse'' seem sweet and sentimental by comparison.

Or, as the opening title card puts it: ``Warning: 'Wonder Showzen' contains offensive, despicable content that is too controversial and too awesome for actual children. The stark, ugly, profound truths 'Wonder Showzen' exposes may be soul crushing to the weak of spirit. If you allow a child to watch this show, you are a bad parent or guardian.''

It borrows much from ``Sesame Street,'' but the parody has teeth sharper than Cookie Monster's and a temper worse than Oscar the Grouch's. There are the requisite visits from letters of the alphabet, animals and puppets, except here the letters get drunk and pregnant, the animals (in archival footage) attack one another, die and decompose and the puppets badger passers-by about Jesus.

Where this most strongly deviates from previous parodies of children's shows is in its use of actual children in many of its sketches. When asked, ``Where do babies come from?'' the kids respond, ``Unanswered prayers,'' ``Carelessness,'' ``Desire for welfare.'' Children don trench coats in the manner of foreign correspondents and play journalist in a segment called ``Beat Kids'' (two fists compose the logo and darken the pun). One asks a butcher, ``Who's going to pay for all these steaks - I mean, spiritually?'' Another asks a Wall Street trader, ``When the revolution comes, where will you hide?''

And they provide running commentary for documentary field trips, such as one to a hot-dog factory. ``That man has a cold heart,'' a child's lilting voice says of a slaughterhouse employee; another adds, as an animal is sectioned, ``That's the dark nature of capitalism.'' The jokes get far darker and far more pointed about the awful elusiveness of the American Dream, but, coated with the saccharine of kid-TV cliches, they evince laughs rather than the bitter rumination that inspired them.

``Wonder Showzen'' derives much of its effectiveness from the viewer simply imagining a child raised on a diet of Barney and Teletubbies accidentally encountering this misanthropic spectacle. The joke, of course, is that the producers know that there are plenty of adults out there who couldn't handle this show, either.

David Kronke,(818) 713-3638

david.kronke(at)dailynews.com

WONDER SHOWZEN - Three stars

What: Puppets, cartoons, kids on field trips, decomposing animals, virulent anti-establishment screeds: not a children's show.

Where: MTV2.

When: 9:30 tonight, 2 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. Friday, 2:30 a.m. Saturday; midnight Sunday, 1 a.m. Monday, 10 p.m. Tuesday.

In a nutshell: Feverishly funny; ``Sesame Street'' reimagined by anarchists.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 21, 2005
Words:604
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