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PBS Kids

This Is the Real Reason ‘Caillou’ Sucked So Bad

One of the most frustrating (and popular) kids' shows is finally over.

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That little jerk Caillou met his demise to the delight of many parents everywhere this week. This wretched hellspawn has been spewing his chaos into our universe for twenty years before finally getting the ax, PBS announced via Twitter. But what is so bad about the little bald boy, you might ask? Some kids have big feelings. Other kids are assholes. Caillou is the latter. I watched one episode, mouth agape, hoping against hope my innocent daughter was not learning from what we saw —a shrieking, bratty monster with parents who made dubious choices. I vowed then and there that we were a Caillou-free home, and we’ve remained that way ever since.

I was a young parent once, years ago, and I cared about what my kids watched. I turned on PBS Kids and delighted over all the wonderful information, art, and science my little sponge was soaking up. We knew each episode of Sesame Street by heart, mused about the Dinosaur Train family dynamics, and laughed when our little girl said she was “cross” about something, quoting Thomas and Friends. Time wore me down though and I’ve gotten laxer. I’ve only put my foot down twice: a weird as all fuck movie called “Scales” about a girl who becomes a mermaid against her will, and Caillou. I remember my encounter with Caillou like I’d met the devil himself.

Caillou is possessed by a demonic force and strives toward only evil. He pinches his baby sister just to see her cry. Caillou was created as a baby in the books upon which the show was based, so as he aged he bizarrely wasn’t given hair because the creators wanted him to still remain babylike in appearance. The result is a creepy Benjamin Button baby child with a horrific temper.

The publisher for the original Caillou books has a helpful website that answers common questions parents might have like, “Why is Caillou grumpy so often?” which goes on to explain that “Caillou’s experiences are an attempt to translate the inner life of a child and his varied and sometimes contradictory feelings.” I would like to counter that explanation with this argument: Caillou’s feelings are never varied or grumpy; they are the confused and sadistic actions of a child whose parents never teach him how to live in the world without freaking the fuck out at everything. In the episode, “Caillou’s Getting Older” Caillou finds a motionless bird and asks his father if it’s dead.

“Yes,” says the father. “I think we should bury it, don’t you?”

I GUESS SO?? This is your child’s first encounter with death and the dumbfuck does not offer even one shred of information about what happened, let alone just why one might bury something that is dead. Caillou asks how it died and the dad tells him it got old. Well, Caillou, being four, doesn’t really get the distinction between dying of old age and natural causes and the general growing-oldness of life. Surprise, surprise, Caillou has a meltdown about death later in the episode. Caillou watched his father silently bury a bird with his bare fucking hands, what did they think was going to happen? Also, how is this plot significantly different than the set-up to any number of Stephen King novels.

In silken, red pajamas, Caillou slinks down into a disdainful contrapposto on the sofa and lashes at his father, “I don’t want to get older!” he shrieks. His parents’ near-constant chatter about how everything is getting old (the dad, Baby Rosie, rollerblader at the park) has pushed him way too far. Caillou’s loser dad tells his son “getting old” doesn’t mean like, dying old. Like the bird was old. It’s complicated basically, but you’re still a little boy so that’s nothing to worry about. 

I get the idea behind Caillou: tell the story from the kid’s point of view to help them understand Big Feelings. But it fails in the ways that better kid’s television, like Mister Rogers, did and Daniel Tiger does now, at allowing children to understand the “why” behind discomfort rather than just mirroring the outcome of frustration to them. Yes, Caillou has the right to his anger at times, but acting out on them is never addressed in an appropriate way. If we as the audience identify Caillou as our protagonist and our way into his world, what are we to do when we learn our narrator isn’t trustworthy? 

Caillou is the product of his idiotic parents who wear ugly sweaters. The name of their game is “Medium chill” I guess, which might seem like one way to manage a difficult child. But they give in to everything and don’t teach their son how to deal with anything. They are morons who have allowed Caillou to run amok and apparently haven’t picked up any books on the dangers of helicopter parenting. I can only assume the show was canceled because the next logical steps in this family would be Caillou trying to fucking murder his baby sister like Macaulay Culkin in The Good Son and the family getting counseling to navigate life with a psychopath. 

In the days of my young parenthood, I went off on the show to someone I didn’t know well, someone with a laid back parenting style that I immediately understood as similar to Caillou’s parents. This parent told me that they loved the show and thought it was actually pretty sweet. I wondered what I had been missing that one time I watched it. Later, I saw her kid shove a baby down a small hill at the park. “Just like Caillou,” I whispered to no one. I had been right all along.