There's a new cast of kids on "Barney." For those of us in the don't-put-Desitin-on- the-cat set, that passes for news. The kids are not merely different, they are improved: better looking, better dressed. They manage to be merely innocuous rather than cloying even as they spout the same drivel. ("Don't feel sad, Baby Bop! It's OK that you spilled paint on my favorite sweater!")
Each morning I spend a half-hour with the "Barney" crew. My 2-year-old bops to the music. I sip coffee in bed and try to keep the ditties from lodging in my brain for constant replay throughout the day. You'd think I'd welcome the fresh crop of scrubbed children, but I don't. I actually miss the old smarmy crew. People without small children just don't understand; they think the big, purple guy is the show's irritant. Barney himself is merely inane. But those kids! Picking a favorite is out of the question, but in seasons past I've heard fellow mothers argue over which was the most annoying.
Topping the least-popular list was tall, blond Michael, who charged through the paces of "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt" with the fervor of a lad auditioning for the Nazi youth chorus. Moon-faced Kathy irked me the most, smirking one moment, sulking over her perpetually lost teddy bear the next. Min took smarminess to an even higher level, but at least she danced well. Tasha couldn't say her lines without bobbing her head from side to side, while hefty Tina, perpetually clad in acrylic sweaters and tight leggings, was somehow designated the show's exercise enthusiast. Adolescent Lucy could strum a guitar, but you had to wonder why she couldn't find any friends her own age. "She has breasts!" my sister once hissed. "Once they get breasts, they should be off the show!"
There's not much to say about the new kids. They're interchangeable. Pleasant. Together, they look like a Gap ad. You could ponder the future of the old kids. Who would be the first to enter drug rehab? Who would find happiness raising llamas in Montana? The new kids all look destined for comfortable lives in Connecticut.
The old "Barney" kids provided more than fodder for the imagination. Sure, our own children outshine Michael, Kathy and Tasha. They are cuter, smarter, more natural. But we can't turn off our children after a half-hour. We can't change channels when they pee on the plants, when they knock over a cantaloupe pyramid in the supermarket, when they scream and writhe until we pop in yet another "Barney" video. But we don't hate our children. We can't. In those "Barney" kids we had a safe outlet for our pent-up aggression. We could hate those children without guilt or remorse. And in the sweet days of old, we really did.