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The landscape of late-night/early morning television can be a grim, desolate place. I can't tell you how many times I've found myself awake at 4 am watching an infomercial for something like boner vacuums or facial cleansers and asking myself "Why am I watching this? Where did I go wrong in my life?"
I think television has become a lot more dull in recent years because everything is held under such tight reins by the sponsors. With everything being monitored like it is, people can't get away with things like they used to. (maybe that's a good thing)
But if one has the spare time and is willing to wade through the crap, there is the occasional kernel of interest to be found. From my experiences, I usually come across these in the public access, international, and religious channels. The show I'm going to talk about now is of the 3rd variety.
It was a humble little show by the name of "Faith Buddies", A show featuring interactions between children and puppets along with bible stories and songs. Not terribly well made or ambitious, it was little more than a second rate Sesame Street with Bible lessons thrown in. If you've ever seen things like "Junior Christian Science Bible Lesson" or "Wiser Family Puppets", it's that sort of show with a similar unnerving feel to it. Much like Sesame Street, except it leaves you feeling mildly uncomfortable.
But that's not to say it didn't have it's own unique quality to it(boy did it ever). It stuck to it's basic idea and unlike JCSBL it didn't evoke the feeling of everything in the show being the product of one crazy person. There had to be at least 3 different crazy people involved in the production of "Faith Buddies". It was definitely a low-budget venture, constrained in both the monetary and creative sense. The thing about the show that caught my attention was the characters, and the uh... "unique" tone that Faith Buddies had.
I've heard it said that the message itself is less important than the way in which it's conveyed. "Faith Buddies" seemed to have this as one of it's core principles. As such, it's content was largely the same as other shows of this kind, but it lacked the typical "softening" to make it more palatable for young audiences. Bible stories were told by means of a narration combined with a slideshow of colored pencil images, which would sometimes display graphic imagery in accordance with the story, like;
- Cain's murder of Abel (they didn't skimp on the blood like most do)
- people drowning in the story of Noah's Ark
- the plagues of Egypt (ESPECIALLY this one)
- Trials of Job
- numerous appearances of Satan (Not actually graphic, but notably darker and more serious than other depictions)
They didn't censor the words either; if you kept a keen ear you'd sometimes hear "bastard" or "ass". Always in a biblical context of course, but it catches your attention. Though I suppose in this current time where 7 year olds play games like Resident Evil, none of this is all that shocking.
So about the characters. First there's the main character of sorts, Pinky. Oh god, Pinky. Where do I start...
Imagine Kermit without his neck frill, with a big lumpy head, and colored pink. That's basically Pinky. Also notable was his eyes; his pupils were slightly too small and unfocused. Normally this wouldn't be important, except that they liked to end the show by zooming in on Pinky's face.
The character was referred to as a "he", but I could never tell whether his voice actor was a man or a woman. Either way, they gave Pinky a bizarre voice and it didn't help that he often would give his sentences a painfully drawn-out delivery at random. I can only guess that this was done to ensure that the "dumb kids get it", as Pinky had a tone bordering on condescending.
Pinky was like the "Alpha Puppet" and the show gravitated around him. Whenever one of the kids or the other puppets had a question, they would turn to Pinky for his insight. Though Pinky was typically shown with a Bible and would give verses most of the time, there would be other times where he didn't mention the Bible at all and seemed to be giving answers on a whim.
The first thing that caught my attention about the show was that Pinky's character had a distinct lack of warmth or empathy, which only got worse as the show continued. Pinky would give answers, but they would be very blunt and strangely defensive. Questions about hardships were swiftly answered with things like "Be careful with questions like that" or "Don't question God's ways." Pinky was very fond of the latter statement and would use it as his way of telling people to shut up.
The other 2 puppets were Berty and Gerta. There were others that would show up when needed, but these were the main 3 that were present for every episode. Berty was a blue hippo and Gerta was a green fuzzy bird. They were both little more than dimwitted idiots who's sole purpose was to be the foil for Pinky. They would get curious about something, come to "faulty" conclusions and then the kids would take them to Pinky to set their dumb asses straight. Pinky would give them a weird disjointed lecture and they would then would change their opinion.
Pinky also didn't shy away from making cheap shots at them or the kids, but they didn't dare to challenge him, except for one time when Gerta called him a "smarty pants". This was met not with any verbal response, but merely a cold hateful glare. I wouldn't think a scene between two puppets not speaking would make me feel uneasy, but it did.
"Faith Buddies" quickly became a guilty pleasure for me. As much of an asshole as Pinky was, I couldn't help but be amused by the guts this little puppet had. Pinky would tell it "like it is" (from his perspective) regardless of whether his words were appropriate or made any sense, and he just did not give a fuck whether he offended people or not.
This was very evident in the "Homosexuality" episode. Yes, they had an episode about gays. And this delicate subject was treated with all the subtlety of an hammer on glass. Sodom and Gomorrah, drawings of bearded men french kissing, Leviticus 20:13, dubious statistics regarding AIDS, the whole shebang. Pinky went so far as to suggest that prison rape was a mass conspiracy concocted by Satan to turn men gay.
It was funny up until the end when this little girl was talking to Pinky about her older brother who had recently come out to his family. Pinky proceeded to scowl at her about how he was a "sinner faggot destined for hell", leaving the poor girl on the verge of tears.
That was when I first started to really question what the intent was behind this show. It was always a little odd, but the latter episodes had become quite vile and mean spirited. This would culminate in the show's last episode.
Along with everything else, even the way Faith Buddies started an episode was strange. It would feature Pinky asking questions like "how do you feel about ___?" before saying "Today we're going to talk about" followed by a black title card showing a word like "Guilt" or "Forgiveness" in white font. The word for the last episode was "Predestination". And right from that moment I had this feeling in my gut that something wasn't right. I had seen other kid's shows touch on controversial subjects like homosexuality and sin, although briefly and with a lot more tact.
But I had never, ever seen a children's show focus on or even mention predestination before. I must admit I was really curious as to where they were going with this. I should have known better.
The episode started the same as any of the others. Berty mentions an idea he heard called "predestination", and talks about it with Gerta and some kids, a lot of goofiness and dicking around with musical numbers and such. Then they go ask Pinky about it.
Pinky reacted to this concept in an entirely too pleased manner unlike anything seen before. A little boy asks him to clarify what it means and he's told,
"Some people are destined for Heaven and some are destined for Hell," and rambles about the power of God. The boy asks,
"Didn't Jesus die to save everyone?" and Pinky replies
"He died for the chosen ones". The other children gradually begin to grasp the gravity of this and become visibly afraid. The same boy asks him how do people know where they're predestined to go. Pinky tells him,
"You won't know for sure until you die. But if you look deep in your heart, you just might find the answer".
Pinky then stares at the screen and everything comes to a halt. I thought the show was over, until another title card comes up:
"THERE IS NO REDEMPTION FOR THE DAMNED"
Another slideshow of illustrations appears, but there's no Bible story or moral this time, just a glimpse of what the viewer has in store for them if they're not chosen;
- A man and woman hugging each other before being burned
- people with their feet chained to the ground being eaten by marauding devils whose mouth spans their entire body, with their bodies being ripped from their feet
- people being impaled on spiked pillars by flying devils
- people in the lake of fire having their bodies burned and regenerated forever
- giant deformed creatures fighting and gouging out each others eyes
The accompanying music is spliced with sounds of screaming and painful cries, with intermittent quips from Pinky such as "This is the wrath of the Lord" and "It makes me happy to see sinners get what they deserve". This horror is thankfully cut short a few minutes in by yet another abrupt cut.
This time the credits have started rolling, but the scene is zoomed out to show the whole set, including lights, cameras, and microphones. The kids and puppets are nowhere to be seen. A man in a black hood enters the room, and proceeds to douse everything in gasoline before setting it aflame. The cameraman follows him out and the last scene shows the black hooded man and the cameraman laughing as they toss all the puppets used in the show into a furnace, with the final shot being a close-up of the burning Pinky puppet.
It hasn't been that long since I saw the last episode, but I've yet to find any answers as to what the intent of this show really was, or why it ended that way. I had some guesses that it might have been a covert parody all along, or perhaps the show's founders got their funding cut and this was their way of getting back. Or maybe they were just crazy. I really don't know.
Written by Cosbydaf