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Subverted Kids' Show

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"No more teaching alphabets!
Let 'em sell cigarettes!"
The Capitol Steps, "Bye, Bye, Big Bird"

An easy way to catch the audience's attention quickly when making a video is to turn the video into one big nostalgia piece that hearkens back to their childhoods. That way the channel-surfers will stop for a second and go "hey— isn't this...?" and by the time they've figured out that it's not, it's too late; you've got 'em.

Of course, if your artist has any credibility at all then you won't want to do a straight pastiche. Instead, you'll want to parody the original work or genre, most typically by having the characters do things that would not be permissible in usual kids' shows. Not all videos do this, however.

See also Subverted Sitcom (a Sister Trope that does for sitcoms what this does for kids' shows), What Do You Mean, It's Not for Kids? (when a show not intended for children is mistaken for a kids' show), Sugar Apocalypse (where a Sugar Bowl is nearly conquered or destroyed), Disguised Horror Story (where a work of fiction masquerades as being harmless or near-harmless but eventually becomes super disturbing and nightmarish) and Vile Villain, Saccharine Show (where a lighthearted show has an incongruously sinister antagonist). If the characters in the show are also children, you may have a case of Mature Work, Child Protagonists. You might find the Depraved Kids' Show Host in one of these. Also see Age-Inappropriate Art and Grossout Show. If a show is like this parodying a specific work, it's a Dark Parody. Magical Girl Genre Deconstruction is a specific variant of subverted kids' show, focused on the Magical Girl genre. Mascot Horror is an entire genre of video game focused just around subverted kids' shows, with the distinguishing feature being that they're indie horror games that have specific mascots.

Contrast Parental Bonus, which is a nod to adults within a legit children's program.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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  • George Carlin and Jack Burns did a skit called "Captain Jack and Jolly George", or what it would look like if a pair of beatnik hippies got their own kids' show. Needless to say, it's not really for children. And then George Carlin went and played "Mr. Conductor" on the American version of Shining Time Station. He then went on to do a stand-up routine on parenting (entitled "Fuck the Children") in which he tells parents "And remember, this is Mr. Conductor talking; I know what I'm talking about."
  • Robin Williams plays a Mr. Rogers-esque kiddie show host in a segment of one of his early stand-up specials. He puts a hamster in a microwave ("Pop goes the weasel!") to demonstrate to kids how "we're all going to die from radiation", much to the disgust of the show's director.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animated 
  • Bring Me the Head of Charlie Brown is a fan film created by Jim Reardon in 1986. It centers around the beloved Peanuts gang attempting to murder Charlie Brown after a bounty is placed on his head by the Great Pumpkin. Eventually, Charlie grows tired of it and goes on a murderous rampage.
  • The Spanish animated movie Unicorn Wars features a cast of cute and cuddle multicolored bears very similar in appearence to the Care Bears in a dark, violent tale about the cruelty of war and religious fanaticism.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Groove Tube features "Koko the Clown", who acts like a sickeningly sweet kiddie-show host until it's "Make-Believe Time" and tells the kids to make the adults leave the room. He then sits down, lights a cigarette, and reads his viewers erotic literature, such as excerpts from Fanny Hill and de Sade's The Philosophy of the Bedroom. It adds to the effect that he selects passages his kiddie-viewers have specifically requested in letters.
  • Peter Jackson's Meet the Feebles. A variation on shows such as Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, with the cast suffering through a LOT of personal problems, and a bizarre (and violent) twist ending.
  • Ted starts off like this, with a little boy finding that his teddy bear has come to life as a Christmas miracle to be his best friend. It's played completely straight—possibly the neighborhood bullies are crueler than they'd usually be in a film like this—until the teddy wanders into the kitchen, and the boy's parents immediately react by asking what the fuck that thing is, and threaten to shoot it. The boy and his bear become famous all over the world... then we Time Skip to a point where the boy is now an emotionally-stunted adult, still dependent on his teddy bear, who is a Former Child Star and incredibly hedonistic and crude. After this, the subversion is complete and it drops the pretense to focus on other gags.
  • The Babadook features a pop-up book called "Mister Babadook", read by a mother, Amelia, when her son Samuel chooses it as a bedtime story. At first, it seems like an innocent, if quirkily spooky book about a friendly monster known as the Babadook. Then, the book switches to threatening the reader in first-person, talking about how the Babadook will stalk you and destroy you, and the Babadook adds to the book later, and threatens to possess Amelia and make her kill her son. After reading it, Amelia and Sam are indeed plagued by the monster.
  • It (2017) features one, as a result of Pennywise manipulating the characters' perceptions. It's subtle at first — in one scene we hear a cheery woman's voice from the television off-screen talking about how great it is to play with your friends in the sewer. Later, when Henry kills his father, the same host addresses him by name and encourages him to "kill them all!"
  • ABCs of Death 2 features this in the segment "W is for Wish", which consists of a Deconstructive Parody of action figure commercials that feature children ending up in the universe of the toyline to aid the heroes in fighting the villains. Two boys wish to help Prince Casio fight against the legions of Zorb, only to find themselves in a world where the heroes are slaughtered mercilessly by the villains, with the survivors held prisoner to be subjected to painful torture. One boy is reduced to a skeleton while the other ends up "rescued" by Fantasy Man, who may or may not have an impure interest in the boy.
  • The Banana Splits Movie can be considered to be one for the original The Banana Splits television show, but even In-Universe the show is a popular children's hit, but after the live showing for its last episode, the animatronics go on a psychopathic killing spree, as well as kidnapping the children in the audience to keep them captive to ensure the series will never end.
  • A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood begins like a normal episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, complete with intro. Mister Rogers shows off a picture board, with each window of the board containing a picture of one of Mister Rogers' friends — up until it gets to a picture of a sad-looking and bloodied Lloyd Vogel, whom Rogers refers as a new friend and beckons the audience to meet. From that point on, the movie goes back and forth between the aesthetics and plotlines of the show and Lloyd's story. This ends up being a downplayed version of the trope as the story goes on, as while the show segments' more optimistic look contrasts with the more dramatic content of the biopic, they're used in a way that without the film's backdrop would be a regular episode, and, much like the treatment of Mister Rogers himself, is never used to demean what the show stood for.
  • John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch deliberately re-creates the style of the children's shows that John Mulaney grew up with, but it's aimed at a much older audience. While it's not too graphic or vulgar (as the bulk of the cast is made up of children), it's still full of references to death, mutilation, and existential horror.

  • Go the Fuck to Sleep is written in the form of a classic children's picture book with gentle artwork that would be associated with books that would be found in pre-schools. If you haven't noticed from the title, there are plenty of F-bombs that get dropped due to the frustration of the baby not sleeping.
  • Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book, by Shel Silverstein, written in classic children's-book style with Silverstein's characteristic art, is designed to help let all of Uncle Shelby's little friends get what they deserve. It contains ideas for fun activities like playing hopscotch with real scotch, and explanations of amazing things like how the friendly kidnapper has nice candy and a fast car and maybe if you tell him your daddy has a lot of money he will let you ride in his car!
  • A Teddy Bear who comes to life to help a little girl is about as childish a cliche as you can have. Unless you've read anything by Mercedes Lackey.
  • I Want My Hat Back is what appears to be a children's book about a bear looking for his hat. It ends with the bear murdering the rabbit to get his hat back.
  • Der Struwwelpeter (Shock-Headed Peter) is a series of poems featuring children who exhibit different vices such as picky eating or bad personal hygiene. All of the characters end up injured, sick or dead. There's also The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb, who gets his thumbs cut off as a punishment for, well you guessed it already. The book was written and illustrated in 1845 by the German psychiatrist Heinrich Hoffmann as a Christmas present for his 3-year-old son, as he deemed classic children's books "silly". Earning the "expected" results from his son, other parents pressured Hoffmann to publish the book, which he eventually did under the title "Funny Stories and Lovely Pictures for Children aged 3 to 6". This is however a case of Values Dissonance, since Scare 'Em Straight tales were the norm for a large majority of children's literature back then.
  • Inspector Pancakes Helps the President of France (Solve the White Orchid Murders), by Karla Pacheco and Maren Marmulla, is a parody children's book that subverts itself. The pictures and the large-print narration are about a cute dog detective who tracks down a Harmless Villain in Gay Paree, while the small-print narration tells a different story, that also fits with the pictures, about a furry-story-for-adults canine Cowboy Cop hunting a brutal and depraved serial murderer in full James Ellroy style.
  • The Last Week Tonight produced book A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo plays with this trope. The book is a response to Marlon Bundo's A Day in the Life of the Vice President and the homophobia of Mike Pence. John Oliver goes on to say that the book is a legitimate children's book and not this trope, but buying the book will piss off Pence note .
    John: And let me be completely clear about this: This is actually a book for children! This is a real children's book. This isn't some adult book telling Mike Pence to go fuck himself. Although in buying it, that's exactly what you would be doing!
  • Do You Want to Play with My Balls? by Matthew and Christopher Cifaldi looks on the surface like an innocuous children's book about children playing with balls, but every sentence is a blatant double entendre on the fact that "balls" is also slang for testicles. A sequel was made later titled Do You Want to Play with My Box?, which was about two girls refusing to let the boys play in their cardboard boxes and was even more overt in regards to use of words that are also slang for private parts.
    Wow! Your balls are so big, I can't even fit them in my mouth!
  • The book Smally Mouse's Party is drawn in the style of a little kid's book, but contains elements like a depressed tortoise, a nymphomaniac hedgehog and a foul-mouthed owl who gives a mouse LSD.
  • Welcome to my Neighborhood, a book published by Youth Ambassadors to raise awareness of children living abused and underprivileged lives in Kansas City, features drawings of cute animals performing acts such as child abuse, bank robbery and murder. Even the relatively harmless-looking front cover contains broken beer bottles and other assorted rubbish. Adding to the disconcerting nature is that the stories are not fabricated and are based on actual events suffered and reported by children Youth Ambassadors reached out to.
  • Put Tony's Nuts In Your Mouth! by Bimisi Tayanita appears to be a book about a man who sells nuts and the people who enjoy said nuts, but like Do You Want to Play with My Balls? above, every sentence is a double entendre.
  • On the surface, Lucy Lickalotapus Goes Down South seems to be a story about a dinosaur who goes to Mexico and enjoys a whole variety of food on the way, but all the food (as well as Lucy's name) is a thinly-veiled metaphor for cunnilingus.
  • The Tin-Pot Foreign Dictator and the Old Iron Lady by Raymond Briggs is done in the style of his books for children like The Snowman and Fungus the Bogeyman. It's actually a savage and unflattering satire of The Falklands War that caricatures both General Galiteri and Prime Minister Thatcher as heartless metal monsters sending innocent "real men, made of flesh and blood" to be injured, maimed, or worse over a "sad little island" just to stroke their egos.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Bray Wyatt's 2019 gimmick post-WrestleMania is that of a Depraved Kids' Show Host. He hosts a show called "Firefly Fun House", which looks like Mister Rogers' Neighborhood with a fun, upbeat opening theme, and four puppets — Rambling Rabbit, Mercy the Buzzard, Huskus the Pig, and Abby the Witch — as his friends. The show appears colorful and upbeat on the surface, but it's full of dark undertones. In the first episode, Wyatt shows a pair of gloves with the inscriptions "Heal" and "Hurt" on them, and cuts in half a cardboard version of his past self with a chainsaw. In the second episode, he paints a burning house with Sister Abigail on it, and the word of the day turns out to be "Sociopath". In the third episode, Mercy eats Rambling Rabbit because he doesn't agree with "his bohemian views" and is pardoned by Bray because "everyone deserves to be pardoned". And things don't kick off until the fourth episode, where he finally reveals his Dark Secret.
    Bray: Oh, that just warms my soul! But don't worry - there's still a lot of darkness in this ol' noggin! But this time's different. This time, I learned how to harness it. How to control it. (somberly) So whaddaya say? You wanna see my secret?

  • The Avenue Q Broadway stage musical (origin of the infamous song "The Internet Is for Porn", among others), is a blatant parody of Sesame Street... with swearing, drinking, smoking, and sex. The writers have described it as "if Sesame Street taught adults how to live". Believe it or not, the show actually won three Tony awards: Best Score (Music & Lyrics), Best Book, and Best Musical.
    • Also, many cast and crew members were, at one point, in Muppet productions.
    • Also setting the show apart (and key to its success and acclaim) is that it doesn't run on pure cynicism or subversion. You actually care about the characters, and its ultimate life lessons (as found in "The Money Song" and "For Now") are actually uplifting pieces of advice.
    • This show just might be a subversion of a subversion... one of the creators said something to the effect of "What we're doing, we're not subverting Sesame Street at all. Sesame Street itself is a subversive show."
    • Brian Henson's Stuffed and Unstrung is an attempt to do this by the Jim Henson studio.

    Video Games 
  • Conker's Bad Fur Day. The game's original concept, Twelve Tales: Conker 64, would have been more appropriate to general audiences; however, after the gaming press accused Conker of being yet another cutesy Rare platformer in the vein of Banjo-Kazooie, Rare decided to completely rewrite the scenario to include more sex, violence, swearing and Toilet Humor. What it would have been can be seen in the GBC game Conker's Pocket Tales. In fact, the only thing that seems anything like the original Twelve-Tales concept that's left in the game was the fire-farting dragon, which really isn't any worse than some of the jokes snuck past the radar in Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo-Kazooie.
  • Eversion starts out as happy, colorful, smiley all around, and quickly begins turning into a big old pile of Nightmare Fuel with pools of blood, black clouds of death slowly engulfing the world, and those demon hands that start popping up out of nowhere!
  • The original Higurashi: When They Cry titles had graphics that looked very Super-Deformed and bright. If you ignore the intro and its implications of murder, the first several minutes of the novel looks like a typical Slice of Life visual novel about friendship and school, maybe a little harem mixed in. The series is a mystery-murder well-known for its Gorn and Nightmare Fuel.
  • The Reality Warper Peacock from Skullgirls lives this kind of life; thanks to cartoons negatively influencing her already tortured and unstable mind, she became a foul-mouthed, chain-smoking, highly dangerous thug who travels with an equally dangerous ensemble of living objects including an anvil and two bombs, and most of her attacks involve cartoony physics and gags that have a very realistic degree of killing power.
  • Bendy and the Ink Machine puts an interesting spin on this. The Bendy cartoons the plot revolves around are cute and family-friendly, with an old-fashioned rubber hose Disney style. However, in the studio, there's an actual Boris the Wolf, cut open and strapped to a table, and some toothy cartoon monstrosity (that resembles Bendy) comes after you while you're unable to escape.
  • Bonnie's Bakery may seem like a generic baking simulator. However, the food Bonnie prepares actually uses people she kidnaps as ingredients.
  • Showdown Bandit is a variation as while the Showdown Bandit Show was innocent enough (barring the fact they had an undertaker for some reason), the game takes place long after the show was cancelled, and the studio has been twisted into a maze filled with Perverse Puppets where the former stars resort to drastic attempts to live by the phrase "Don't Look Up". And as the end of the game reveals, the audience themselves may have been corrupted.
  • Baldi's Basics in Education and Learning at first glance seems like a late 90's children's Edutainment Game, complete with dithered graphics & Comic Sans. But then you inevitably get a question wrong...
  • Frog Fractions, at its outset, pretends to be a math-based Edutainment Game. The original premise rapidly disappears under successive waves of Gameplay Roulette and Mind Screw turn, and is barely even recalled by the time it becomes a porn business management sim.
  • Control features an in-universe one titled Threshold Kids, a puppet show created by agents of the Federal Bureau of Control as "light entertainment" in order to educate children (specifically Dylan) about the paranormal. Granted, they intended to make a perfectly normal educational kids' show, but to people who spend all day dealing with murderous refrigerators and endlessly replicating clocks, among other even weirder things, "normal" ends up being something more like Candle Cove (to the point that it's almost certainly a deliberate Shout-Out by the game developers).
  • The Steam description for My Friendly Neighborhood explains the show the game is centered around and named after was once the most popular Saturday morning cartoon in the world until its cancellation. Then the show came back on the air during the holidays for some reason, the same as it ever was... right up until the puppets started turning on and eating each other.
  • The titular character in Amanda the Adventurer seems to just be a parody of Dora the Explorer at first, if somewhat more unnerving. Then comes Episode 2, which sees Wooly try to warn the audience about Amanda ("Whatever you do, don't...") before the episode glitches and starts like normal — and it just escalates from there. The full version of the game gives the show an even scarier (not to mention sadder) context: It started out as a genuinely innocent children's show on public access television, created by a man named Sam Colton who based it on his adopted daughter, Rebecca, who portrayed Amanda. However, when a TV company called Hameln Entertainment approached Sam to turn the show into an animated series, everything went horribly wrong: Sam suddenly disappears when he discovers what the studio is making his daughter do for the show, after which Hameln makes Sam out to be the bad guy, kids around town begin to mysteriously vanish, and the show itself starts to become gradually more and more unhinged with Amanda discussing disturbing subject matter like death, animals getting violently injured, and telling kids that parents can sometimes be wrong, with the heavy indication that Amanda the TV character is now possessed by her own voice actress and forced to trap people in the TV show's world.
  • Poppy Playtime has the Smiling Critters Cartoon, which, on the surface, is about a bunch of cute and cuddly animals having fun, until it shows CatNap using his gas on his friends, causing them to laugh hysterically until they collapse. The cartoon then ends with CatNap sitting on the couch, staring silently at the viewers.

    Web Animation 
  • Bugbo: This series uses some of the cliches of children's shows. Most notably, Bugbo himself is a constantly enthusiastic host who teaches life lessons and asks the audience questions. However, there is also quite a bit of Black Comedy. Bugbo is implied to kill multiple characters in the series, and he does it all while keeping an unnerving grin. However, it keeps itself from being a Disguised Horror Story by focusing more on surreal humor than on scares.
  • Lacey Games: From the first glance it seems like typical flash game series aimed at young girls. However, as the game goes on it reveals its disturbing nature:
    • Lacey's Wardobe appears to be a simple dress-up game at first until the player finished the first level, a man who appears to be Lacey's stalker shows up in the background. The game ends with Lacey getting kidnapped by the stalker and he eventually kills and consume her.
    • Lacey's Diner: If the player lets the timer runs out, Lacey would lose her customers, and her sanity began to deteriorate. Letting the time runs out again at day 2 spiralling further her sanity, as Lacey begins to take revenge against her ungrateful customers by creating a new recipe with disgusting and downright squicky ingredients such as cigarettes, broken glass, meth, cockroaches, porn magazine, severed head of her Creepy Uncle, and even used condom which serves as symbolism of Lacey's Dark and Troubled Past. She then fed the secret ingredients to distorted version of her customer, leading to the diner closed for health violations.
    • Lacey's Petshop plays out as standard pet care simulator, until the requests of her customers slowly getting messed up, such as one of them asking Lacey to cut off a bunny's ears, legs, and tails because he found it 'too distracting'. After finishing all the customer request, it switches to nightmarish Point-and-Click Game-esque sequence of Lacey's house, exploring further of her awful home life.

  • The Order of the Stick: One strip features the Empire of Blood's grim version of an over-commercialized and over-hyped parade, including dark parodies of Sesame Street characters (Little Roc, Hurt & Burnie, etc.). Inverted with Felix the Mensch, a benign counterpart to Oscar the Grouch.
  • Homestuck has an in-universe example with The Squiddles, a sickeningly adorable cartoon that the kid protagonists remember. However, it turns out that the squiddles are actually humanity's subconscious representation of the Horrorterrors. This is especially apparent in the last song from the Squiddles album, "Let The Squiddles Sleep (Ending Theme)".
  • Dolan comics are about Donald Duck, except he's Ax-Crazy and gruesomely kills/abuses other cartoon characters.
  • In Jen Babcock's C'est la Vie:
    • Dogsbody character Louis Lamoureux gets his big break into television — inside the Reading Rabbit costume, which, as the name implies, means he has to turn kids on to the magic of books by reading stories to them. But some of the kids have other ideas...
    • Similarly, in the very first couple of episodes of the comic, anti-heroine Mona Montrois establishes her character as a cynical snarker by getting sacked from a nursery teacher job. She tells the kids the fairy-tales as they originally were, short of froth, glamour and happy endings...
  • Captain SNES: The Game Masta, a web-based series that emulates Captain N: The Game Master and similar video-game themed shows of the late '80s.
  • Doobl at first looks like a fairly standard Christian webcomic (with lame yet frequent bible jokes), but when a Death by Newbery Medal storyline comes up, Neek tells Doobl that animals don't have souls. After reading the bible to verify, Doobl begins to degenerate in both faith and family-friendlyness. Soon, Doobl becomes a jerkass and starts spewing profanity. Humi, up until this point an exception to Reptiles Are Abhorrent, studies the bible in an attempt to save Doobl, only to become just like him. It goes From Bad to Worse the moment Humi discovers his penis...
  • Clarissa is about a little girl living with her happy, seemingly perfect, family. It appears to be nothing that you wouldn't see in a newspaper or on a kids network. It just happens that everyone is a Stepford Smiler and that her father rapes her at night. It's played for laughs. The darkest laughs ever.
  • Kit N Kay Boodle contains adorable-looking Funny Animals, and looks like something aimed at little children. The very first storyline features the titular foxes having graphic sex in order to escape a pit (It Makes Sense in Context), and every story onward features near constant furry sex.
  • Ennui GO! has "The Jimmies", a Sesame Street-style show that Max and his friends watch. While it started out like a typical (if a bit weird) kids' show, later strips saw the characters on it do such things as discuss nihilism, hawk erection pills after they get their government funding cut, get their dicks switched around in parodies of kid-unfriendly shows, and (according to "Classic Jimmies" reruns) protest the Vietnam War.
    "Remember kids, to live is to experience suffering! And most people watching this are alive!"
  • "Bill Nye The Russian Spy": In a parody of Bill Nye The Science Guy, Bill Nye and his Russian blue cat Nermal (yes, that Nermal) are both Russian spies, hosting a science show that is secretly teaching kids how to create chaos and make Russians take over the world.


Smiling Critters

A show about cuddling animals having fun... except it's actually horror.

How well does it match the trope?

4.95 (21 votes)

Example of:

Main / SubvertedKidsShow

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