Published in Entertainment Weekly
By: Ken Tucker
April 27, 1990
It always amazes me that lots of parents I know refuse to let their children watch Pee-wee's Playhouse (the phrase I hear repeatedly is "He's so creepy"), yet don't mind at all that their tykes' brains are being rotted by You Can't Do That on Television.
You Can't Do That features a mostly kid cast making smutty jokes in rapid-fire, blackout-sketch style. Here's a typical exchange from a recent edition:
"Gee, I really enjoyed those brownies you made."
"You dope - those weren't brownies, that was pig manure!"
You Can't Do That teems with excrement jokes and passing-gas jokes and nose-picking jokes; the few adults who pop up often portray parents who drink too much, slur their words, and fall down a lot. Don't get me wrong; I'm not one of those bluenoses who think no one should make jokes about alcohol; W.C. Fields is the sort of guy I wish my kids watched more often. And I like a good bathroom joke as much as the next fellow, but the operative word here is "good."
The cast of You Can't Do That seems to think that merely by invoking a bowel movement, a great witticism has been made. Created and written by grown-up humorist Roger Price and performed by a stock company of perfectly competent teens and pre-teens, You Can't Do That seems to think that the only humor kids like is
bathroom humor, an attitude that is condescending. There's a sense in which I want to like You Can't Do That, because it's so gleefully vulgar, so unlike all the pious, proscriptive junk that passes for children's programming these days. But between the stupid jokes and the show's format - a tired rip-off of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In and Monty Python's Flying Circus - it's all just too depressing. Too, in fact, creepy.
While I'd never say that they shouldn't be allowed to do that on television, I wish they wouldn't.