As a child, I loved nothing more than setting myself up on the nubby, seafoam-green living room carpet with a big bowl of Cheerios on a Saturday morning. I was not allowed to have sugar cereal (hippie parents). Instead, my drug of choice was Sid and Marty Krofft. I was so into it that when Nick at Nite aired a Sid and Marty Krofft marathon deemed “Puffapalooza” in 1995, I stayed up all night with my VCR remote, carefully pausing and re-recording to dub out the commercials. I even bought the T-shirt for $19.99 plus shipping and handling. Children’s television in the seventies was a distinct breed and it bred me in a distinct way.
Lidsville lasted for only one year, but its bizarreness amongst the other bizarre Krofft creations remains imprinted on my long-term memory, most likely taking up space that I wish was tied to something else... say, a map of Europe. That would be nice. I watched the other shows too - Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, The Bugaloos, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters - but their memory has faded. I only remember two shows: Land of the Lost because it had dinosaurs and a girl my age as one of the main characters, and Lidsville because it was, and still is, one of the single weirdest shows I have ever seen.
Our hero, a teenage boy (played by Butch Patrick, of The Munsters fame, who was at this point trying to achieve “teen heartthrob” status), finds himself watching a magic show at an amusement park (♫ “there began a great adventure for a boy whose name was Mark”). Mark is so amazed by the magician’s tricks that he stays after the show to learn some trade secrets. But wait! The magician is nowhere to be found! Mark haphazardly touches the magician’s abandoned hat, which begins to grow and grow (♫ “and grow and grow and grow and grow”). Mark climbs up on the brim of the now-enormous hat and subsequently falls into the hat and straight into an alternate universe (alternate universes were all the rage in the 1970s). The hat itself is no MacGuffin, though ---- this alternate universe is primarily inhabited by individuals who are walking, talking hats. Citizens of Lidsville (and their lids) include: Nursy (nurse’s cap), Rah Rah (football helmet), Tonsolini (an opera hat), Scorchy (fireman’s hat), Twirly (beanie), Mr. Chow (Chinese chef’s hat) and so on and so forth.
The over-arching plot line of the series is, of course, Mark’s quest to find a way home (as is typically the case when one finds oneself in an alternate universe). But what to do with seventeen 30-minute episodes? Enter, the “big bad.” Inside the world contained in a hat (or perhaps accessed by a hat-portal) is an evil magician named HooDoo. Who, wait for it… lives in a hat. A hat within the hat. Amongst this town of hat people. And what does the evil magician do? Well, this is slightly unclear. It seems that HooDoo mainly floats around in his Hatamarand “zapping” the unsuspecting citizens of Lidsville at random intervals. He is aided and abetted by a number of anthropomorphized magical accoutrements such as some playing cards, a sawed-in-half lady and a rather idiotic bunny (Raunchy the Rabbit). There are also “bad hats” on the scene: an executioner’s helmet, a vampire’s cowl, a mobster’s fedora smoking a cigar, etc. And, for some reason that I can’t currently recall, there is a genie (named Weenie) who serves Mark because he has a magic ring (which HooDoo desperately wants back). In other words, it's totally batshit crazy.
Trying to figure out why I watched this show so much, I consulted my childhood diary. Here's what I've gathered (I have edited out the hearts over my “i”s, etc):
1. There were numerous jokes and word plays regarding hats in each episode. I found this immensely enjoyable. I felt wise and witty every time they said something that had to do with hats IN A LAND OF HATS. Nota bene: “This calls for something special, now keep this under your hat.”
2. Mark was good looking and someday I wanted a boyfriend just like him.
3. The colors were very bright.
4. Each of the hats spoke in a manner generally befitting my idea of someone who would wear that hat. It was as if Sid and Marty Krofft understood how I saw the world of adults (expanding to fill their roles: mother, doctor, teacher, etc.). In Lidsville, there was none of this modern concept: “I wear many hats.” You wore, and were, one kind of hat. And that defined you. No multitasking required. I suppose the concept could have worked equally well in Shoesville, with everyone properly “filling their shoes.” But the intro might have been a bit more difficult to construct: who is going to investigate an abandoned pair of shoes and accidentally fall in? Unless he’s looking for its sole.
So fine. Here's what I noted re-watching a few episodes as a grown-up:
1. There is an obtrusive laugh track which highlights all of the puns.
2. Individuals with hats for heads and features arranged on said hats are rather frightening. In fact, the whole concept of being trapped in a world of talking hats and harassed by a green-faced evil magician who watches you from his house using his secret “evil eye” camera/televison… that's a bit unsettling. Mark’s shag mullet… even more unsettling.
3. The colors were very bright.
4. HooDoo is MEAN. Even to his cohorts. I know he’s supposed to be evil, but I can’t believe there was children’s show where so many characters were called “stupid,” “worthless,” and “dummy” on a weekly basis. In one episode he threatens, “I’ll turn you into a tsetse fly with only one tsetse!” I don’t think that would fly in today’s, “Johnny, everything you do is unique and wonderful even if not completely on the mark” society. And everyone is always telling everyone else to “shut up,” which was absolutely verboten in my house. Then again, I don’t think Lidsville could appear in today’s Saturday TV lineup anyway. Each hat had a manner of speaking completely guided by stereotype (ethnic or otherwise). Nursy whined. Rah Rah spoke like he’d been hit one too many times on the head. Beanie spoke like a child with a stuffy nose. The English pith helmet, Native American headdress and Mr. Chow… I think you can imagine.
Like most of the Krofft shows however, Lidsville was certainly imaginative. Even though my sister and I had created equally eccentric (and terrifying) worlds in our own backyard, it was nice to have a full-production TV show display such an... abstract idea for us every Saturday morning. I don’t remember if Mark ever made it back to his own world, but I can visualize the Lidsville town green as well as my neighborhood playground. For whatever reason, Lidsville sticks with you. Like it or not. So go online and watch an episode or two. If by that point you’re not already brimming with excitement, hold on to your hat: Dreamworks is making a full-length Lidsville movie in 3-D. “How’s that for a topper?” Queue the laugh track.
Kristen Vagliardo is a Central Square girl who works at a museum and used to write lots of incredibly boring papers on obscure topics. She enjoys the Egyptian Revival, refusing to buy music from itunes (thus filling her apartment with needless CD detritus) and quoting from eighties movies that no one else recognizes. You can find her on Twitter at vagliard.