Posted to Teevee at 05:09 PM on Feb 13, 2005
Lazy Town is really weird. Really, really weird.
The first time I ever caught it on TV, Alex, my younger son, was two weeks old. He and I were napping on the sofa. My older son, Zac, was sleeping on the floor. I wasn't wearing my glasses, so I had to squint at the TV. I saw a girl with pink hair and a man in tights. Then I saw a second man in a striped unitard thing. Then the pink-haired girl burst into Europop techo-song.
I put on my glasses. It only got weirder.
Lazy Town is actually a huge marketing bonanza in Europe. It was conceived and produced in Iceland (of all places) by Magnus Scheving, who is a world aerobics champion. He wanted to create a show to encourage kids to go outside and play. Of course, in order to watch the show, the kids have to come inside and sit, but it's the thought that counts.
There are only three human actors on the show: Scheving, who plays a superhero named Sportacus; Stefan Steffansson, who plays Sportacus' arch-nemesis, Robbie Rotten; and young Broadway actress Julianna Mauriello, who plays a girl named Stephanie. Stephanie is the niece of the mayor of Lazy Town.
The mayor is played by a puppet. A large, detailed, extremely lifelike puppet. Several townschildren are also played by puppets. These puppets are quite nearly terrifying. To a person standing a short distance from the television, it might be difficult to tell that they're puppets. Their mouths move, they have very realistic human features, and they have legs and feet. They're as good, if not better, than the real thing.
The human actors are not exactly all real, either. Much of Steffansson's face is hidden under rubber makeup to give him a distinctive Snidely Whiplash-esque profile. Like many effective kid show villains, Robbie is a cool dude. He has a keen fashion sense. He's funny and sarcastic. He's more fun than Sportacus.
I don't know how to describe Sportacus. He's a health nut. He's like Jack La Lanne after too much caffeine. My first thought, after watching my first full episode of the show, was "is this guy for real?". He moves around way more than any superheroes I grew up with. Yet, he makes a lot of sense. He speaks very softly. He's supportive and caring. He'a a good listener. But he doesn't captivate one's attention like Robbie Rotten does. But still, if Robbie is keeping the kids watching long enough to soak up the healthy lifestyle message, that can't be bad.
Mauriello is crazy talented. She's only thirteen and she is the emotional center of the show. While Robbie is hamming it up and Sportacus is doing backflips, Stephanie (Mauriello's character) is learning and figuring things out. She's the only dynamic human character and she's really impressively good.