15.5.13

The Daddaist: Busytown Mysteries

Game of Thrones is an hour-long fantasy epic where the main action takes place on two separate continents. Parks & Recreation is a 30 minute sitcom set in a small town in Indiana. (I promise, at some point I will talk about Busytown Mysteries. Bear with me.)

What those two shows do better than any other on television is world build. They start with a base and draw outward. Theoretically, the creator of a fictional world should know every single thing that has ever happened in that world. That minutiae doesn't have to be conveyed (though George R.R. Martin certainly tries), but it's vital to realistic character development.

Take Parks & Rec. Leslie Nope and Ron Swanson are two primary characters. Over the show's five seasons, we've come to know these characters quite well, and we know generally how they will interact when placed in a variety of situations together. Sometimes Leslie will be frantic and Ron will be reasonable. Sometimes Ron will go crazy with his ex-wives and Leslie will protect him from harm. Excellent episodes have been built around these interactions, but if the writers keep going back to that well, it'll run dry.

So, over the years, Parks and Rec has built a staggering stable of minor characters to fall back on, and the more we learn about each of those bit characters, the more their interactions with the main characters matter. And since each major character relates to each minor character in a different way, we more fully understand the major characters. They can move and change and evolve based off their experiences. That's how real life works, and that's one of the reasons Parks and Rec is so relatable.

Not only is world-building helpful for realistic character development, it's also highly appealing to sophisticated audiences. People want variety. Think about how Boba Fett, who had a relatively minor part in the Star Wars trilogy, has become one of that universe's most revered characters. Look at nearly every created world that has earned a rabid cult following, and you will find immense depth and variety. Further, a sprawling network of characters actually makes the audience smarter, encouraging them to remember a growing host of personalities and experiences. Again, just like real life.

This is why I'm proud my daughter has fallen in love with Richard Scarry's Busytown. Like Pawnee, Busytown is a rich, realized world with an array of diverse characters who work together to make their town run. We may not know the name of the cat clown who drives the rhinoceros car, but we could, because we've seen him cruising around town.

Lana's gateway to Richard Scarry's beloved milieu was Busytown Mysteries, a Canadian show based posthumously on Scarry's characters which aired in 2007. The series follows Huckle Cat, his sister Sally, and Lowly the worm as they deduce conundrums like "The Mystery of the Unbreakable Bread" or "The Vanishing Tiara Mystery". It also features three distinct theme songs in every episode, which sounds annoying, but isn't because the songs are good. From there, Lana picked up the books quickly, and frequently pores over the pages with her lantern after bedtime. She also adopted the alter ego of Huckle Cat, which leads to photos like this.


Unfortunately, she hasn't quite got the mystery-solving side down yet. I've tried to appeal to her alter ego when she's looking for Teddy, her bear, but she inevitably reaches conclusions like, "Teddy loves to climb and Teddy loves the sky, so he must be on the roof!"

I try to disguise my eye-rolling.

VERDICT: With resourceful and relatively bearable characters, catchy songs, and a realized world, you could camp your kid in front of Busytown Mysteries for hours on end and still feel vaguely okay about yourself. I know from experience.

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