On any given day you can watch the National Geographic or Discovery channels and see “survival of the fittest” acted-out in digitally-enhanced, high-definition, surround-sound glory. David Attenborough – who earns my respect for maintaining his title as “national treasure” despite dedicating his entire TV career to commentating on animals shagging – will narrate over stunning footage of wildebeest run down by lions, calmly informing us that they are merely “thinning the herd” and ripping the guts out of those creatures who were probably too peaky to last the winter anyway.
This is all well and good: no-one likes to see a feeble wildebeest. Apparently the herd never thought all that much of Nigel, who always had a runny nose and a note from his mum every Serengeti sports day.
Now, in stark contrast, turn over to the children’s channel Cartoonito. Here you will see nature’s same defining characteristic flaunted shamelessly. Not content with merely flying in the face of “survival of the fittest”, it actively slaps it in the face with its surgical caliper before running off, laughing through its dental braces and wheezing its way towards the school nurse and asthma inhaler.
Those of you who are parents or grandparents of young children will know all about Fireman Sam. But for those who’ve missed it, here’s the DVD box-blurb as I would write it given half the chance:
The village of Pontypandy, situated in an unspecified area of darkest Wales, is populated entirely by idiots. Mental retards, every man-jack of ’em, who seem barely capable of dressing themselves without getting into mortal danger. Yet in a cruel twist of fate, The Almighty has seen fit to place them within easy walking distance of no-end of different hazardous environments so that they may kill themselves or each other for our viewing pleasure.
A mountain from which they can easily fall and shatter their spines? Yep, there’s one of those! Coastal areas filled with hazardous fishing vessels and poorly-maintained lighthouses? Check! A mineshaft or two that idiot children can fall down and snap their limbs? Well, it’s Wales, so it would be rude not to! Badly behaved, ADHD children cared-for by completely inept single parents? Why, hello Dilys!
And as statistics tell us, 80% of accidents happen in the home. So on those occasions when they’re not out and about, parking their bus on a thinly-frozen lake and then lighting a fire on it to keep warm, they’re demonstrating how they shouldn’t be trusted with any domestic household appliance … or indeed, anything sharp.
They leave piles of newspapers on the gas hob. They go out in thunderstorms to fix TV aerials, using metal ladders and wearing metal chains. They park their vans at the quayside and forget about the handbrake. They put clothing in the cooker.
Not content with making Pontypandy look just like Merthyr Tydfil but without all those marauding “cops-with-cameras” film crews, the writers have recently seen fit to embrace a more ethnically-diverse version of Wales’ most famous inbred village. As if a grossly over-the-top Italian in the last series (apparently if you’re an Italian in Wales, it is impossible to stop saying “Mamma Mia!” every 20 seconds and combing spaghetti into the curtains) were not enough, we can now enjoy such delightful racial stereotypes as an Ozzie who is so Australian he makes Rolf Harris wince. Though I’m not an expert on Australia (I don’t even watch Home and Away) I’m fairly certain that “Strewth Mandy, you’re as tuckered-out as a Dingo eating a Jumbuck in a Tuckerbag, me old Sheila” makes no sense to anyone. The visiting nationals are just as moronic as the natives, and this cannot be a coincidence. We can conclude that other nations have decided to send their village idiots over, too!
There is just one person in the whole village who does not appear to be a care-in-the-community case; of course that is Sam himself.
Sam is not just a fireman. Oh, no. Thanks to the village-wide window-licking incompetence, Sam must also moonlight as coastguard, mountain rescue, semi-professional sheep-herder, teacher of primary-school level home economics, finder of lost cats, and social worker. And we cannot help but wonder: if Sam were to get a new job – say, in a travelling circus as “The World’s Largest Walking Chin” – how long would the village last before Norman Price accidentally opens up an interdimensional portal to Hell, or the nuclear power station that Mike has built in his toolshed goes critical? Think in terms of minutes.
Do you ever wonder about the shape of Sam’s head? That’s not as nature intended, you know. Sam’s face is so flat, and his forehead so wide, because each night after work he goes home and facepalms himself until he loses consciousness. He may even headbutt the wall out of sheer frustration.
So how successful is this as a children’s television programme? Well, my five-year-old loves it; but then, she also loves farting in the bath. But like my opinions on The Gruffalo (for which I still receive occasional hate-mail, by the way) I would suggest that Fireman Sam is not the best example we should be setting our children. To broadcast a TV show suggesting there are no real consequences to being a raving imbecile does not prepare them for The Big Wide World. They need to see that idiocy has consequences!
So, let me propose the final episode:
Fireman Sam and Firefighter Penny succumb to their disgusting, uncontrollable lust, and go for a dirty weekend in the Welsh-Vegas of Port Talbot – home of a thousand pleasures and sins, a world where nothing is forbidden. Left without Sam to stop them, the inmates of Pontypandy are free to descend into apocalyptic-anarchy and are reduced to the level of primitives (like the beginning of “2001”). Within a seven minute episode, the whole village is reduced to ash and rubble and charred bodies thanks to simultaneous catastrophes: hot irons left sat on clothes, a burst gas main next to where Norman Price experiments with cigarettes, Dilys accidentally cuts off her own head whilst running with scissors, and Station Officer Steele’s enormous moustache evolves into a sentient entity, rips itself from his upper lip and then strangles him and everyone around him like a homicidal caterpillar.
It goes without saying that we get David Attenborough to narrate it all … and watch Natural Selection in action.