A Saturday morning kids' Science Show
based on an award winning comic strip, Beakman's World
was a fast-paced romp through topics germane to any kid's lives, like "How is snot formed?" and "Why do we fart?" (The latter was saved for the very last episode).
The show starred Beakman, played by puppeteer Paul Zaloom, as he answered questions from viewers with a zany tower wig and a green lab-coat. Helping him on his quest for science is guy-in-a-rat-suit (and resident skeptic who would be a Deadpan Snarker
if he weren't wrong all the time) Lester (played by the late puppeteer Mark Ritts), and the lovely young female assistant, of which there would eventually number three (Alanna Ubach as Josie; Eliza Schneider as Liza; and Senta Moses
The structure of the show was pretty controlled for being so chaotic. Each episode started with The Teaser
, in which South Pole penguins Don and Herb (a Shout-Out
to Mr. Wizard, aka Don Herbert) turned on the show after some witty hijinks. The first act focused entirely on one question (or, less often, a series of questions revolving around a single topic). The second act was Beakmania, a rapid-fire run through many short questions, followed by a longer skit with a fun experiment or The Beakman Challenge. The third act was much like the first, focusing on another single question. The Tag
gave the viewer one more piece of information, then ended with Don and Herb turn off Beakman after some witty hijinks.
Some staples of the show included Famous Dead Guys who'd drop by the studio, accompanied by the sudden disappearance of one of the cast (wink, wink
), to tackle the question at hand. There were also several skits besides the Beakman Challenge that occured on Beakmania, including "Those Disgusting Animals" and "Cooking with Art Burn".
The show lasted from September, 1992 to March, 1997. A total of three-and-a-half seasons' worth of shows stretched out to a full five seasons, first on TLC, then on CBS. The show has also run in syndication (first before moving from TLC to CBS, then more recently starting in 2007, with BKN
syndicating it for a few years starting in 1999), as well as Spanish-dubbed reruns on Univision's kids block, Planeta U
. Zaloom himself still plays Beakman in live shows, including in places like Brazil and Mexico, where Beakman's popularity is through the roof
As it ran during the same stretch as Bill Nye the Science Guy
, the two shows get compared often
- Aside Glance: Lester often turns to the audience to make a snarky comment. Or a pun. Or a snarky pun.
- Becoming the Costume: In a way; Lester apparently has an empathic connection with his rat suit...causing him to cry when Beakman stands on the suit's tail, and causing him to burst into giggle fits when someone tickles his rat feet...when he's not even wearing them.
- Brick Break: Done in a "Wide Beak-World of Sports Segment", with Lester breaking his hand on the board, and then Phoebe successfully breaking it.
- Brooklyn Rage: Art Burn
- Butt Monkey: Poor Lester just cannot catch a break...
- The Cast Showoff: All the girls could sing, so the show gave 'em a chance. Senta Moses could break boards, so the show gave her a chance to do that, too.
- Mark Ritts' other job was as a puppeteer. He operates one of the penguins in the South Pole cutaways. They allow him a hand puppet (literally) in "Scratchy the Chicken".
- Catch Phrase "Bada-Bing, Bada-Bang, Bada-Boom."
- Mad Libs Catchphrase: Part of kicking off Beakmania: "You [X] 'em, I'll [something that rhymes with X] 'em, let's [dance]!"
- Every time a reference to miles comes up: "Of course, YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY."
- "Nothing disappears!" Soon replaced with "Everything goes somewhere!"
- Several screaming cut voice-overs were frequently used, most often "PENCIL ALERT!" preceding a list of things for an experiment, and "REPLAY!" for...well, replays.
- Call Back: Many props that were previously used in demonstrations are seen lying around the center, most notably the working diagram of a car engine.
- When Lester introduces Beakman to his "fiancee", Cindy the Camel, Beakman asks what happened to Rhonda the Cow from the previous season. Cue the cow puns.
- Creepy Cockroaches: The second "THOSE DISGUSTING ANIMALS!" segment. So disgusting, they freaked Liza out enough to require a second take.
- Crossdresser: Lester at times will put a dress over the rat suit, most famously in the "WHAT'S 4 LUNCH?" segments.
- Deadpan Snarker: Lester tries at this, and he would be one if he wasn't always wrong.
- Delusions of Eloquence: Art Burn: "Yo! Welcome to mah humble commode!" Lester a little: "I'm a victim of circumnavigational evidence!"
- Don't Explain the Joke: "See, it's not funny when you have to explain it." "Well, could you draw me a picture, then?"
- Don't Try This at Home: Rarely; most experiments could be done at home if done as instructed and with parental supervision, and indeed, were often designed and were encouraged to be done by the children who watched the show.
- Early Installment Weirdness: The Mad Libs Catchphrase intro to Beakmania didn't actually start until about the fifth episode. Also, in the pilot, Beakman didn't have his trademark lab coat, there was no Lovely Assistant, and Lester was a puppet (as operated by Mark Ritts).
- Embarrassing Slide: When Beakman did a slideshow about libraries, he accidentally put one in with him in his underwear.
- Everything's Better with Penguins: Don and Herb
- Exact Words: In one of the few times Lester was able to technically do the Beakman's challenge, Beakman challenged Lester to raise something without lifting up his arms. He had Beakman take it and then threatened him into lifting it.
- The other way: Lester challenges Beakman to rip a phone book with his bare hands. Beakman calls over his pet bear Bruno to rip it for him. "This is my bear, and these are his hands!"
- Some other gags are set up this way. Observe:
Josie: MAIL CALL!
Beakman: All right, Josie, what do we got?
Josie: Mail. That's why I yelled Mail Call.
- Excited Kids' Show Host: Beakman is a type 2, bordering on 3.
- Eye Catch: the robotic-voiced bumpers, which, sadly, are not to be found on Netflix's copy (though, oddly, the BKN Eye Catch is on most of the first season copy.)
- The Faceless / He Who Must Not Be Seen: Ray the cameraman
- Fingerless Gloves: Omnipresent on Liza
- Flanderization: Lester was originally just a trained actor with a bad agent, but later became much more disgusting and obtuse.
- Gasshole: Lester, of course.
Phoebe: We better evacuate...before he does.
- Genre Savvy: Lester would occasionally succumb to the inevitable and inform Beakman that he was not going to pooh-pooh the latest Challenge, because he knew from experience Beakman was going to turn out to be right and make Lester look foolish in the process.
- Gesundheit: When the caveman inventor of the wheel introduces himself, he gives the name "Og." "Og who?" "Gesundheit!" ...Lester then calls him "Mr. Gesundheit".
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Herb: "Turn Beakman on." Don [sensually]: "I love you, Beakman." Lester the Rat was shown on the phone to an unidentified female telling her that "I can keep the nose on if that's what you like..."
- While pretending to be a Dingo in a segment about dogs, Lester pulls off a pun that can be considered literally getting crap past the radar:
Lester: *holds a basket of berries* And these are my dingo berries.
- In one scene, Lester is reading A Ratboy magazine, which he scrambles to hide when Beakman and Liza come into the scene.
- Roy G Biv is quite obviously The Stoner. Pointed out in his second appearance, when he admits that his memories of his last visit were pretty hazy, and Beakman notes afterward that they were lucky he even found his way to the lab.
- Calling a pair of doohickies that demonstrate rotational inertia "Beakman Rotational Aerodynamic Thingies"...gives way to plenty of "spinning our thingies" jokes...
- The entire last segment, on flatulence, but especially when Beakman says that the gas has to go through the...drumroll please...ANAL SPHINCTER!
- Greasy Spoon: Art's Diner.
- Greek Chorus: Don and Herb
- Hair Decorations: So many are in the girls' hair that you lose count after awhile.
- Hates the Job, Loves the Limelight: Lester, who routinely gripes about being stuck in a two-bit "lab rat" role.
- Holding Both Sides of the Conversation: Lester does this several times with a hand puppet (literally) named "Scratchy the Chicken". He also does this with a poorly-constructed facsimile of a parrot to cover for not picking up the real one they were going to use.
- Hurricane of Puns: Once an Episode by the time Phoebe came around, though the early episodes were no slouch when it came to wordplay either.
- Humans Are the Real Disgusting Animals: The final "THOSE DISGUSTING ANIMALS!" named humans as the most disgusting animals of all, because they're the only animals that willingly feed themselves poison (smoking and drinking) and, while some animals live in the waste products of other animals, humans are disgusting enough to live in their own waste (pollution).
- Hypocritical Humor: On the question "How can birds talk?" (and remember that Don and Herb are penguins):
Don: Birds can talk?
Herb: Where do they get this stuff?
Don: Talking birds...
Herb: Of all the ideas.
- Iconic Item: Who else but Beakman wears a fluorescent green labcoat? Okay, other than him...
- Last-Second Word Swap: They have to get creative whenever they rhyme something ending in "ass". Example, one Beakmania introduces us to:
Phoebe: The Ron Glass of you bet your...bass!
- Another involves Lester mixing up "Desert" and "Dessert" (so he can have a "big, beautiful banana boat")...with him saying "Well, then, I've certainly made an "s" of myself."
- Leitmotif: "Lester's theme" plays anytime the rat appears and says something off the wall...which is about every 30 seconds or so.
- Lethal Chef: Art Burn.
"An' speakin' o' boils, check out dis baby right here! I'm savin' dat one for later when I make a batch of my secret sauce!"
- Limited Wardrobe: Played a little differently with each character. Lester wore the same rat suit every episode, the girls had a rather colorful wardrobe (though not an Unlimited Wardrobe; you will see the same clothing mix-and-matched throughout the episodes), and Beakman had a fairly extensive wardrobe of ugly shirts, covered up by his trademark green labcoat.
- Logo Joke: This show had a rocket flying around the Columbia Torch Lady, which had just recently changed when the show debuted, and the music changed during the run as well (though in the first season, the 80s Columbia print logo was featured in the credits; the modern one was in the credits from season 2). Sadly, recent syndication runs plastered it with the infamous Sony "Bars of Boredom" logo, though Univision reruns, thankfully, retain the logo.
- Lovely Assistant: Featured three lovely assistants (Josie, Liza and Phoebe, depending on season), and one not-so-lovely assistant (Lester).
- Nitro Express: In the dynamite segment, guess which rodent was tasked with bringing the nitroglycerin over from the "REALLY DANGEROUS STUFF" cabinet?
- And, of course, the whole point of the segment was to let Famous Dead Guy Alfred Nobel tell us how he was able to make the Nitro Express safe.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Many of the Famous Dead Guys were done in the style of a celebrity: Ben Franklin was a Rodney Dangerfield-esque joke-cracker; Albert Einstein was a German-style Jackie Mason, and Charles Goodyear was Jim Backus as Thurston Howell from Gilligan's Island.
- No Fourth Wall: Normal for a mail-in-your-questions show, but they still play with it occasionally. In one episode, Lester provides an intelligent and concise explaination of the science behind a Beakman Challenge. When Beakman asks Lester how he knew that, Lester says that he read Beakman's cue cards. And then, of course, Beakman regularly converses with Ray the Cameraman.
- When discussing electrical plugs:
Here's a lamp plug, this is a plug for a toaster oven, 'Be sure to watch "Beakman's World" right here on this station'; this is a plug for our show...
- Non Sequitur Thud: Lester does many of these...several of them to himself.
- Parental Bonus / Noodle Implements: One experiment requires "A bowling ball, a chainsaw, a Macintosh apple, a picture of Raymond Burr in short pants sitting on vinyl furniture..." Sadly, this is interrupted before we find out what it entails.
- Not only are all of the dances Beakman references in the Beakmania intro real dances (and pretty much done the way he does 'em), but the assistants always shout out actors and other people in entertainment that would have been relevant to parents of kids who would've watched the show in the mid-'90s.
- Post Modernism: They don't even try to pass Lester off as a real rat, he's always just been an actor in a suit. The Famous Dead Guys are played straighter in that the cast actually plays along, but it's clear they're in on Beakman's Paper Thin Disguises and the audience is expected to be, too. (Several times he comes back and starts talking in the style of the Dead Guy he just impersonated.)
- The Professor: I.M. Boring (or ocassionally I.B. Boring instead), originally of Inert State University, the resident substitute for sleeping pills.
- Punny Name: Lessee, Art Burn, Jim Shorts & Harry Pitts, Axl Greeese, Roy G. Biv, the Great Beak-ini...
- Rainbow Motif: Roy G Biv is the name of a a colorful hippie who explains the visible spectrum in "Scientific Method, Beakmania & Rainbows". He returns in a second season episode to help answer the question "Why is the sky blue?"
- Repeat After Me: There are several examples of Beakman saying "Let's say X", with someone else (usually Lester) immediately saying X.
- An amusing version of this, after a Beakman "a-ha" moment:
Lester: Oh, let's all say "A-ha", shall we?
Lester: ...shall we?
- Repeat Cut: The show was quite fond of this; for both Stuff Blowing Up and Lester's pratfalls.
- Rules Spiel: Done for all the do-at-home experiments: Always have adult supervision, take appropriate safety precautions, follow directions exactly, and don't make substitutions.
- Rube Goldberg Device: The crazy invention Liza makes to brush Lester's teeth while he sleeps.
- Series Fauxnale: The last episode of Season 1 contained a segment explaining to kids how they could find answers on their own. This was just in case the series wasn't picked up for Season 2. Not only was it picked up, but it also moved to CBS.
- Service Sector Stereotypes: Art's Diner empoloys several of the Diner type 2 type of waitresses (young and slightly rude) that look suspiciously like the assistants with beehive wigs and Joisey accents.
- Shaggy Dog Story: One segment (on camouflage) has Lester trying to hide from a bill collector, getting all sorts of tips on how to hide in plain sight from Beakman and Liza. The bill collector shows up at the end of the segment. Turns out his name is Bill Collector, and he just wants Lester's autograph!
- Shout-Out: Aside from Don and Herb (to Mr. Wizard), we have:
- Several letters "written in" by the kids of members of the cast and crew. If they shared a name with a cast and/or crew member, and were from the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area, you can be reasonably sure it was a kid of a crew member.
- The Nurse Phoebe segments featured a schoolboy version of Lester, the "poor boy from Mr. Guenther's class". This is referring to Al Guenther, the science consultant.
- From the Allergies/Codes Beakmania section:
Liza: How does a robin know where the worm is?
- Shown Their Work: But of course, as you can't very well teach science without knowing about it (and props to science consultant Al Guenther for aiding the cast in this.) Notably, the movie stunts segment featured a vignette featuring stuntmen Chuck Picerni, Jr. and Kane Hodder (yes, that Kane Hodder), who helped coordinate and do the stunts shown.
- Smarmy Host: Parodied in "WHAT'S 4 LUNCH?!?" With your host, Steve Shallow!
- Snow Means Cold: Every episode is begun, ended, and occasionally interrupted by a scene of two penguins watching the show from the South Pole. It is perpetually snowing during all of their scenes, which is particularly interesting because in one rapid-fire Q&A session, Beakman explicitly points out that the South Pole actually gets very little snow.
Herb: Don, did you hear what Beakman said about our snow?
- Special Guest: Averted. Every single Famous Dead Guy (and Girl) was some member of the cast, usually Beakman.
- Though Jean Stapleton guested as Beakman's Mom a couple of times. (Her daughter was part of the production staff.)
- Each assistant did one Famous Dead Girl: Josie as Marie Curie (nuclear reactions), Liza as astronomer Maria Mitchell (comets), Phoebe as Cleopatra (cosmetics).
- Lester was a Famous Dead Guy exactly once: As one-half of the Montgolfiers, the brothers who popularized the hot-air balloon.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Twice with the lovely young female assistant. Josie gives way to Liza, who'd give way to Phoebe.
- Take That: "Let's Macarena!" "LET'S NOT!"
- Throw the Dog a Bone: In one episode, Lester proposed a Challenge of his own, where he proved to a doubting Beakman that it is indeed possible to tear a phone book in half with your bare hands.
- Subverted in another Lester Challenge, in which he challenged Beakman to make 5 squares into 4 by moving (not removing) 2 lines. Just when it seems that Lester's won, Beakman manages to get it.
- Of course, Lester did get back at him by placing a "KICK ME" sign on his back.
- Unflinching Faith in Friction: Beakman does the "bowling-ball-on-a-rope" trick, and despite numerous rhinoplasty jokes by Josie and Lester, gets out of it unscathed.
- What's a Henway?: Don and Herb use the titular joke, but also use another version:
Don: So I'm skating down the ice, knitting a sweater, and a penguin cop tries to stop me.
Herb: What'd he say?
Don: He said, "Pull over"! And I said, "No! Cardigan!"
- Why Are You Looking at Me Like That?: Whenever something demeaning needs to be done, all eyes turn to Lester, who says the line.
- Wiki Walk: Beakman was ahead of his time: in the episode where he gives the process to look for answers (see Science Marches On) he also mentions how looking for research on one topic can lead you to learn about other topics, a perfect definition of a Wiki Walk years before wikis even existed.
- Your Mom: In the episode about codes Beakman asks Lester to read a code he made that says "Your Mother Wears Rat Feet".
Lester: That's no secret! Everybody knows that!
- Another segment: "Hi Lester's Mom! How's the food in prison?"