Film and TV

TV Club: Beakman's World: "Vaccinations, Beakmania & Friction"

We hope you weren't looking for any sort of legitimate critical analysis during this week's TV Club because that just ain't happening. This week we have gone rogue on even ourselves and haven chosen to comment on the 15th episode of the first season of the 1990s educational children's program, Beakman's World. I don't like pointing fingers so I won't say which of the three of us chose this gem, but I will say that it was neither Pete nor myself.

If you are unfamiliar with the series, it is about a zany scientist who breaks down scientific phenomenons in response to seemingly real children's inquisitive missives. In addition to tackling tough scientific questions about gravity and electricity, Beakman also performs simple experiments based on complex principles and shows the kiddos how to do them at home. The episode we watched in particular, "Vaccinations, Beakmania & Friction" was about vaccinations and friction, surprisingly enough as based on the title.

ABBY: Beakman's World premiered in 1992 on The Learning Channel; this was way before Extreme Couponing was considered a learned pursuit. It quickly moved to CBS's Saturday morning kid's lineup. If I was to take a gander, I would assume that in 1992 none of us were the target demographic for this show. Did either of you watch it during its original run?

JEF: I was 11 in 1992, and hell's yeah I watched this show! It filled the Mr. Wizard-shaped hole in my heart, and was infinitely better because I always got the impression that Mr. Wizard was not terribly fond of the kids that came over. Also, I blame Senta Moses (and to a lesser extent Soleil Moon Frye) for my passionate love of quirky pixie women that has ruled all my days.

PETE: You're kidding, right? In 1992 I was bartending and sleeping until 1 p.m. every day. The only TV we watched were marathon sessions of Madden '92 on my roommate's Sega Genesis. That was the first Madden to feature the ambulance that drove onto the field to collect an injured player. There, I feel a little like Beakman myself, dropping knowledge on y'all.

ABBY: All snark aside, I actually learned something from this episode, which was primarily about vaccinations in regards to smallpox. I had no idea girls who milked cows assisted in understanding how to eliminate smallpox. So this show worked!

JEF: I didn't know that either... but did anyone else get just a little creeped out with the baldness of the explanation? I gave a kid a disease, then another disease, JUST TO SEE WHAT HAPPENED! I mean, I know that it worked and thank God, but science wasn't messing around back in the day, was it?

PETE: Smallpox killed 400,000 people a year in Edward Jenner's era. Desperate times and all that.

ABBY: Beakman was played by a guy named Paul Zaloom. I had to look him up. Here's what I found out: he's a puppeteer and actor (obvs), but he is very politically outspoken, especially on foreign policy; he allegedly led a march against the Cold War. Anything else about the guy that we should all know, aside from the fact that he's openly gay?

JEF: He did a great mockumentary about a fictional war between Los Angeles and San Francisco... it's better than it sounds.

PETE: There's no way that was his real hair.

ABBY: So, I'm going to go out on a crazy blow your mind limb here: The episode we watched was about vaccines, which are getting a lot of press in North Texas specifically due to a measles outbreak potentially based on the fact that the Eagle Mountain Megachurch has been shunning vaccines because they are evil or something. Vaccines are also hot topics because they have been falsely blamed for autism, which it has been proven there is no connection. Was it a coincidence that we watched this episode, Jef? Or are you a genius?

JEF: I prefer "evil genius," actually, and yeah, the whole thing sort of has my back up. If one more person tries to convince me that the polio vaccine was a government plot to create HIV I swear to all things Hee Haw that I will strap syringes to my hands and go all Weapon X... nah, WOLVERINE!

So yes, I picked a program to explain vaccines at the level an 11-year-old can understand in an effort to get one less person sharing links from Natural News. Yes, an Italian court said the MMR causes autism. They also indicted six scientists for not predicting an earthquake. Beakman, take the wheel.

PETE: The megachurch thing is more sinister than the Andrew Wakefield fraud, because you can actually show people evidence that Wakefield straight up invented his data, as well as studies by the CDC, AAP, and the National Academy of Sciences (and others) showing no link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Reasonable people might reconsider their position.

Contrast that with the folks at Eagle Mountain, who say "there's no place for fear," because "Jesus is a healer, so I know he's covered us with the blood." The word "reason" doesn't inhabit the same area code as these people.

ABBY: And many countries considered smallpox as a suitable biological weapon. Just adding that.

JEF: I'm still hoping one day will uncover a diary entry stating that army soldiers truly believed smallpox was a fabric softener. It would make history much less depressing.

PETE: That's actually one of the "lost episodes" of F Troop. Oh Ken Berry, you're a caution!

ABBY: OK, so in addition to vaccines, this episode also touched on friction and there were a lot of really solid friction jokes. I may almost say this show was funnier than Black Books. Do you think a lot of the humor is adult targeted? There was a Captain and Tennille reference if you caught it.

JEF: With as much children's television as I watch, I can safely say that 90 percent of humor is written for adults no matter what the intent might be. The new Scooby Doo is throwing out Hellraiser gags and whole episodes parodying Andy Warhol. It's just the nature of writing.

PETE: I've had it up to here with you Black Books bashing, missy. That said, while the writing was clever in spots, the EXTREME '90s visuals were really jarring. It reminded me of what happened when Michael butchered Lelaina's video footage on Reality Bites

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Abby Koenig
Contact: Abby Koenig