The other afternoon, I flipped on the television looking for something brain-numbing to watch while folding laundry (preferably ‘Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ or my new favorite, ‘Southern Charm’) when I was assaulted by the ‘Max & Ruby’ theme song. Even before it registered in my brain what I was listening to, I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. It was a visceral response to a song that brought back memories of postpartum madness brought on by lack of sleep, confinement to a small space with a toddler and a newborn and that specific kind of loneliness that results from having no meaningful adult conversation for days on end.
Once I got over that immediate gut reaction, I was able to sit back and thank my lucky stars that much has changed around here since those days. We’re no longer riding the emotional rollercoaster that comes hand-in-hand with raising very young children. But, this also got me wondering what had changed in the lives of those children’s TV characters who were my almost constant companions, for better or worse, many years ago. So, I took it upon myself to begin a comprehensive “where-are-they-now?” research assignment, the results of which I am now sharing with you in case you’ve found yourself wondering the very same thing.
As you know, many children who achieve stardom at an extremely young age go on to lead adult lives plagued by legal troubles, mental health issues, bankruptcy and drug abuse. Because of this, I was not surprised when my research turned up a number of children’s TV characters who went on to meet with similar fates. Thankfully, there were a couple Hollywood happy endings too though, so the news isn’t all bad.
‘Barney and Friends’
Baby Bop, BJ and Riff spent their formative years constantly seeking the attention and approval of their friend and idol, Barney the big, purple dinosaur. Barney attempted to maintain the illusion that, in real life, he was the same benevolent and ever-present father figure that he played on-screen, but the time constraints and pressures of stardom made that extremely difficult. As one psychiatrist noted in Baby Bop’s medical records (voluntarily revealed during the course of a later lawsuit in which Baby Bop was the plaintiff), “[Barney’s] shows do not assist children in learning to deal with negative feelings and emotions. Along with his steady diet of giggles and unconditional love, Barney offers children a one-dimensional world where everyone must be happy and every conflict must be resolved immediately.” This, in turn, led the secondary characters from Barney’s show to set impossible expectations for those close to them, much to the detriment of their personal relationships. As a result, it is difficult to count the number of teen pregnancies, failed marriages, stints in rehab and even prison sentences that occurred among the former characters of the show.
‘Max & Ruby’
After Max and Ruby’s Grandmother died from a rare parasite she ingested while eating a mud and gummy worm cake, Max went into a deep depression. Having lost his one ally, and seeing no other way out from his sister’s oppression and unrelenting emotional abuse, one evening, Max stuffed a much hated sailor suit in Ruby’s mouth and smothered her to death with a pillow. It was at that moment that Max, miraculously, gained the ability to speak. Neighbors at the time reported hearing Max’s first, gleeful words, “Die, Ruby, die!” echoing throughout the town that fateful night. In a lucky twist of fate for Max, the police in the small town were overly zealous in investigating the first murder in its long history and bungled the case terribly. After a long trial during which countless of Max and Ruby’s neighbors stepped up to testify as character witnesses on Max’s behalf, he was found not guilty by a jury of his furry peers. The townspeople, aware of the years of abuse Max suffered by the hand of his evil sister, welcomed him back with open arms. Max still lives there today with his loving wife and four children.
After reaching second grade with still with no hair, Caillou’s parents finally took him to a pediatrician who diagnosed him with alopecia. Through his high school years, Caillou continued to have trouble dating and making friends. However, his difficulties had much more to do with being a whiny little shit that no one could stand than it did with his persistent baldness. After graduation, Caillou attended a small liberal arts college in Canada where he dedicated himself to writing agonizingly dark poetry. Caillou became well known on the poetry circuit for having identified the most number of words rhyming with “aboot.” After fulfilling Caillou’s many demands and bending to his every whim for 18 years, Calliou’s parents finally wised up, sold their house and retired to the Florida Keys, as far away from their son’s college as possible.
Blue of ‘Blue’s Clues’ fame also endured psychological trauma from her years in the spotlight as a puppy actor. Blue suffered from severe abandonment issues after her owner and best friend Steve heartlessly walked away and never looked back when he left “for college.” (A search for Steve’s student records from the university he claimed to be attending, turned up no evidence of a student by his name enrolled at the school.) Steve seldom returned home for visits despite his many televised promises to do so. During his rare visits, he was distant with Blue, rejecting any request to help Blue find “those stupid fucking paw prints!” Steve’s brother Joe has tried for quite some time to fill the hole in Blue’s heart left by the departed Steve, but Blue continues to find it difficult to trust again despite years of intensive therapy.
‘Dora the Explorer’
Dora had a bit of a health scare in her teen years when she was diagnosed with a serious eye injury caused by years of rarely blinking. She has, however, almost completely recovered after extensive blink therapy. Dora briefly dated her cousin, Alecia (who occasionally guest starred on ‘Go, Diego, Go!’) until the girls’ parents found out about the romance and put a stop to their budding relationship. It took Dora some time to recover from this young heartbreak. Dora is no longer on speaking terms with her former best friend Boots the monkey who leaked private details about her to the paparazzi. Dora, her wife and their two daughters adopted from China, now live a quiet life in Decatur, Georgia, a liberal suburb of Atlanta. Another cast member, The Map, was last seen over the mucky mud, past the whispering forest, and onto Skid Row in Los Angeles. The Map never bounced back after losing his job to the newly invented global positioning systems. Today, he can be found wandering the streets of LA, angrily muttering curses against “Garmin” and “Magellan” who are believed to be the voices in his head.
‘Go, Diego, Go!’
Diego continued to run the Animal Rescue Center, helping countless lost animals return to their homes and find their roars. He also found some acclaim as a documentary filmmaker. His films about baby jungle animals won numerous film festival awards, but never made a profit. Sadly, Diego was mauled during what should have been a heartwarming reunion with his former friend Baby Jaguar who had been released back into the wild many years prior. The tragedy was caught on film by Diego’s documentary camera crew and the incident now serves as a cautionary tale for animals rescuers across the globe. Without Diego’s guidance and dedication, the Animal Rescue Center and its employees were like a ship without a rudder. The rescue center, which bore Diego’s name, lost its funding and was, unfortunately, forced to shut down two years after his death.
Kelly of Kelly’s Hardware Store finally gave up waiting for Handy Manny to grow a set of balls and ask her out. She married the heir to the Ace Hardware fortune after they met when he approached her to buy out her Main Street store. After a lavish wedding, Kelly sold her house and moved out of Sheetrock Hills and she and Manny eventually lost touch. Manny never got over losing Kelly and still tortures himself by quietly following her fairytale life via Facebook. Manny never married or had children. Upon Abuelito’s passing, Manny inherited his grandfather’s house where he still lives today with his tools and his elderly boarders, Mr. Lopart and Mayor Rosa. Manny continues doing handyman work for Sheetrock Hill’s many needy and clumsy residents, but has never actually received payment for any of his jobs.
‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’
Shortly after Emily Elizabeth entered middle school, Clifford the Big Red Dog was diagnosed with Gigantism. Because everyone in Birdwell Island thought it was delightful to have an enormous red dog roaming the town and because Clifford’s presence greatly increased the tourist trade on the island, his illness went untreated for many years. Sadly, veterinary surgeons were unable to remove a tumor on Clifford’s pituitary gland and he died young due to complications from his disease. Emily Elizabeth blamed herself for not recognizing the signs of Clifford’s illness earlier. Clifford’s burial plot has been turned into Birdwell Island’s first luxury ski resort, an unexpected, but much appreciated benefit from his death.
I count myself lucky that Biggie and Smalls have not continued to follow the rise and precipitous falls of some of their most beloved preschool television characters. We just barely dodged a similar bullet as they were born slightly too late to jump on the ‘Hannah Montana’ bandwagon and follow it and Miley Cyrus’s obscenely high-cut leotards right over the cliff. My heart does go out, though, to those characters who were unable to bear the burden of early success. Entertaining toddlers while their mothers are simultaneously sitting on the toilet and breastfeeding their younger siblings isn’t an easy task and I am grateful to the characters listed above for doing the difficult job when I needed their help the most. Those whom we have lost will live on forever in my heart.