Big Brother Is Watching Word Party on Netflix

Why one of the best toddlers shows on Netflix is also the most terrifying.

by Rebecca Jane Stokes
Jim Henson Company / Netflix

I have great news for the toddlers you live with – Word Party is back! I have awful news for you adults who tend to those toddlers – Word Party is back. That’s right, Jim Henson’s most cursed content returned, slapping us all in the maw with its cuteness as it made its jubilant (far, far too jubilant) season 5 premiere on Netflix, March 2nd.

If you aren’t familiar with the program, let me break it down for you: human toddler-aged animals clad in diapers, sleep, eat, play, and bicker as dictated by one Clickety Clack, a clock with a face who is their god. Once every ten minutes, they learn a new word, a confetti cannon goes off, and there is much merrymaking. A word party, if you will.

If you’re over the age of 5, the show holds little appeal. But if you’ve got a toddler who is really leaning into their sociopathy and you need 10 minutes to get sit and be, you can plop them down in front of it confident they will be delighted. Compared to a lot of the treacle smeared YouTube-inspired rot pushed on kids today, Word Party is simple, sweet, straightforward, and will in no way overstimulate your tike. It’s actually kind of good, in that way that means, it probably won’t do anyone any harm, but that doesn’t mean it’s like good-good.

The show is interactive, but not in a creepy Mickey Mouse Clubhouse kind of way (and you absolutely know what I mean). The diaper-wearing toddler animals look to the young viewers for help learning new words. So sure, it’s educational! But just because the interactive element isn’t creepy doesn’t mean the show itself won’t give you, a reasonable adult, the heebie-jeebies.

Word Party uses a digital puppetry technique, which while deeply cool, also kind of pushes the animated animal puppets into the uncanny valley. ‘That’s okay,’ you’ll think, shuddering for the eighth time in as many minutes as Kippy the wallaby holds eye contact with you for just a little too long. ‘It’s not for me anyway,” you’ll murmur staving off the feeling that he’s seen into your very soul.

There is one element of Word Party that I have found truly fascinating since the first day some well-intentioned parent suggested we show it to The Kid: Not only are there no adults to speak of (fine, I was reared on Muppet Babies and Nanny’s mostly absentee striped legs, I can hang) but their entire world is set in their eerie white void. A disembodied woman’s voice will occasionally speak to the babies, and while they seem entirely unphased by this, I can assure that they are just one two-minute hate away from a fully Orwellian experience.

It’s the white void that I find to be truly the most haunting element of the show. My toddler doesn’t seem bothered when a bodiless voice tells the babies a new baby, a turtle named Tillie who only speaks Mandarin, is joining them, and neither do the animal babies seem bothered – but shouldn’t they be?

‘Word Party’ is a great way to introduce your kid to screen time, but frankly, there are no guarantees that the entire show isn’t some Big Brother-esque experiment that will end with the animals turning on each other for the sake of survival. We can only help Clickety Clack is as powerful a force to be reckoned with as the babies seem to believe he is.

Word Party is streaming on Netflix.