Toybox: No great shakes

Here’s a message to all fans of Five’s FlashForward: take any strand of toddler’s TV and, like it or not, you are dreaming of the future, but it’s a future that is not necessarily yours. Despite the mawkish sentiments expressed by the likes of Whitney Houston, children are not our future but their own and the fascinating set of booby prizes we are lining up for them grows longer every day: our pensions; the national debt; nuclear waste; ecosystem melt-down and the crowning glory; the aftermath of wall-to-wall children’s TV presentation.

Presenters channel an avuncular television personality that would have real nephews and nieces stare straight through it like the perspex windshield of the plastic bus to Insincere World

I refer not to the programmes themselves - which can be anything on the scale from delightful to a sack full of turds of the size surely deposited by Clifford the Big Red Dog - but about the spaces in between, the painful interstices occupied by simpering, moon-faced continuity announcers. Day in, day out, these hapless graduates from drama school are charged with filling up the schedule with tiresome puzzles, one minute games or doggerel verse and are generally required to ooze with charm when there is clearly none on offer. The best are very good, but others seem to channel an avuncular television personality that would have real nephews and nieces stare straight through it like the perspex windshield of the plastic bus to Insincere World.

Children can naturally see through disingenuity and I fear that repeated exposure to it will somehow inoculate them against their own magical powers, leading to a generation of credulous buffoons that accept at face value everything that the door-to-door N-Power salesman tells them.

At first, it seems that Milkshake! - the Channel Five morning toddler strand - is ploughing a different course and our children’s ability to make rational decisions about their energy supplier will not be compromised. Leaving aside the wholly unnecessary exclamation mark - the typographical equivalent of a squirt of bleach in your eye as well as the product of an enfeebled mind - the strand is rather good and avoids the impulse to fill continuity with trite by leaving its cheery personnel safely behind a desk. That they then blow it with a weekend double-dose of half an hour of filler material called The Milkshake! Show is something of a mystery.

It’s a happy, smiley, sugar sensation of a show, based around a handful of well-executed confectionary dance numbers and quite a lot of attractive people milling around looking cool, waiting for some decent dialogue to be written. They wait in vain. Style hasn’t so much won over substance as invaded it, massacred the residents and then torched the place, leaving it flailing in the ashes unable to recover.

Without any decent lines, the Milkshake! Show presenters demonstrate that there is a thin line between self-possession and self-obsession. The facade quickly crumbles when you realise that the entire premise of it is centred around five continuity announcers, who slouch around the set like the cast of a Vodaphone advert teleported into a children’s library. The self-obsession of the show reaches its pinnacle in an awful claymation feature called the Little Lodgers - where the thumbed out splodges of plasticine all turn out to be ghastly caricatures of, who else, but the presenters themselves.

The worst aspect of all this is that it would only take a couple of decent writers to make it work. The Milkshake! Show makes its otherwise gifted presenters look less real than their plasticine avatars - as they stand around desperately linking the strands of a show only unified by a lack of attention to its audience.
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