If your response to above question is, “Yes we can!”, then you may be the parent of a toddler or preschool age child.  ”Can we fix it? Yes we can!” is the infectiously upbeat tag line to the popular children’s television show “Bob the Builder“.  

Since Adam & Tabitha were mysteriously hooked on the narcotic that is Bob the Builder, not a morning goes by without desperate pleas of, “Please,  please can we watch Bob da Builder?” followed by shrieks of disappointment, tears and whining when we deny them their fix.  Usually, by days end, Dick and I will relent and allow them to watch a few action-packed episodes in the mini-van (don’t judge me) on the way home from daycare.   This routine has resulted in a new predicament.  When Dick picks them up in his car, which features no DVD, children throw angry fits demanding that they be chauffeured home exclusively in the van so that their Bob addiction can be fed.  Threats of lost privileges ensue usually leaving any plans for a peaceful family dinner circling the bowl.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Bob the Builder is an animated show aimed at the toddler & preschool set, airing on PBS Kids’ and PBS Sprout here in the U.S.  Bob is a 30-something  successful bachelor contractor. His office manager, and a successful builder in her own right, Wendy, is a comely blond 30-something remarkable for her exquisite elocution.  Scoop, Muck, Dizzy, Rolly, Scrambler, and Lofty are the anthropomorphized, plucky construction equipment that live in Bob’s yard and assist him with all his building projects.  The cast is rounded out by an annoying, troublemaking scarecrow named Spud and a character provocatively named Farmer Pickles, along with a few other minor players.  Typical episodes focus on the concepts of teamwork, problem-solving, and sharing.

Because Dick and I are usually driving while Bob and the gang are on means we’ve never actually seen an episode.   And where there’s a void, the imagination will oblige.  I suspect that the direction our minds take us sheds more light on ourselves than we’d care to admit. 

For instance, if his assessment of Bob the Builder is any indicator, Dick is a die hard conspiracy theorist.  With Bob’s consistent message of “hard work is its own reward”, the capitalist themes of working for the sake of maintaining the status quo lie at the core of each episode.  Dick theorizes that this show may have been designed by the powerful elite specifically for creating a whole new worker class.  He reads a lot into the fact that Bob is never seen collecting money for his hard work. He believes that this leaves impressionable young minds with the idea that one needn’t focus on working as a means of achieving material benefit and keeps the focus squarely on being a happy, productive worker.  To further support his assertions, he points out how Bob is never seen turning down work to vacation or socialize.  In fact, Bob seems to lack any ability to prioritize his work, simply jumping from project to project at the behest of the Sunflower Valley social elite. 

But if my observations on Bob the Builder serve to mirror my inner soul, apparently, I am preoccupied with sex and business management.  Anyone who’s listened (or better yet watched) Bob and Wendy together knows there’s some serious sexual tension there.  It’s like Dave & Maddie on “Moonlighting - part of me just wants to see them get on with it, and the other part of me knows that the success of the show relies on maintaining the crazy electricity between these two.  Even innocent phrases like, “Wendy, I don’t know what I’d do without you” are filled with possibility in my perverse mind.  My suspicisions are enhanced by all of the more overt displays of affection.  Bob gifts Wendy with things like a new home (he built her a vacation home), a pergola for her garden, and vacations for her and her sister, Jenny.  One can only assume that Wendy is Bob’s employee so his extreme generosity leaves one wondering if there’s, at least, a little quid pro quo implied in all of the gifts and innuendo. 

When I’m not focusing on the sexual friction between Bob & Wendy, I find myself doubting the competency of these characters as role models.  They can’t seem to manage even the most basic business functions.  For instance, resource management.  How many times are Bob & Wendy going to let that annoying idiot scarecrow, Spud, f-up everything he touches?  Seriously, why, in one episode did Wendy and Bob allow him to put on stilts?  Does that not have DANGER! written all over it?  In another episode, Wendy foolishly allows Spud to be in charge of painting a client’s house.  Spud decides to change color schemes without checking with anyone, completely ruining everything and causing everyone else to have to do twice the work to fix it.  Annoyingly, whenever Spud is called out for his behavior, he simply apologizes and all is made well – effectively teaching small children that an apology is like a magic wand, inflicting selective amnesia on their victims and freeing them from any responsibility should they choose to repeat their mistakes. 

Now, I’m no dope.  I can see that Spud is supposed to represent the idiot-screw-ups we’re all forced to deal with in the workplace.  But it seems to me, most of us learn pretty quickly that you don’t invite the idiot to perform crucial tasks they’ve repeatedly proven themselves incapable of completing successfully.  For the most part, in the real world, Spud would’ve been relegated to a low-profile administrative role, or would’ve been managed out of the organization altogether.  But in Sunflower Valley, Spud can roam freely, serving as the go-to-guy for conflict in any episode. 

Enough is enough.  I think it’s about time the Bob the Builder writers help out us parents who are forced to endure hours of endlessly repetitive G-rated melodrama.  Here are a few suggestions to keep the show fresh, and teach children about coping with more real life challenges:

  1. Stake the freakin’ scarecrow before he f’s-up another critical building project!
  2. Bob, for god’s sake, just ask her out!  Clearly she doesn’t get that you like her by the gift of the vacation home.  You’re going to have to stop being so coy and take the direct angle. Besides, even though you’re her boss, as long as the relationship is consensual, you have very little to worry about from a workplace harassment standpoint. And, since she’s the only other female character in your age bracket in Sunflower Valley, I think odds are pretty good she’s into you.  Unless Jenny isn’t just her ’sister’ in the familiar sense… 
  3. Let’s stop sugar-coating life in the workplace.  When any character screws up on the job there should be some sort of formal warning process.  We all know that when people screw up in the grown-up world there are consequences, both short and long-term.  At least show characters being given the standard verbal followed by a maximum of 3 sternly worded written warnings.
  4. Let’s do an episode on money management.  Maybe children can watch Bob go to the building supply yard and get his credit card denied or something?  Or, how about an episode on identity theft?  That’s quite relevant these days and I’m sure Bob and the gang would do a better job of explaining it than I ever could.

Last night we were all driving home from running errands listening, naturally, to an episode of “Bob the Builder”.  Adam routinely cracks up at the same point in this episode when Bob is seen using a jackhammer to break up some concrete on the job site.  With laughter in his voice, Adam says to us, “Mommy & Daddy.  Bob is being silly again!” 

“What’s he doing?” we ask knowingly, smugly.

“He’s using a pneumatic drill,” Adam replies with a note of disgust in his voice at the obviousiousness of the answer.

“A what?  I thought he was using a jackhammer?” I say.

“They are the same thing, mommy,” he says, clearly brushing me off as a complete idiot.

Dick and I look at each other, knowing that the end is near.  One day it’s the distinction between various types of construction equipment and the next thing you know, they’re not talking to you at all and you’re dropping them off two blocks from their destination so they don’t have to be seen with you. 

On second thought, Bob the Builder writers, you can scratch those suggestions I made for adding more reality to the show and just keep sugar-coating life’s truths a bit longer.  They’re growing up too fast as it is.

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