Watching 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood' as an adult is a freaky marvel. Did you know that?

In the wake of PBS’ announcement of a Mr. Rogers next-generation spinoff featuring a descendant of Daniel Tiger, I set out to recall exactly who Daniel Tiger was by watching a few clips of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on YouTube. (Because that’s what the internet, and my work days, are for.) The show was not much like I remembered — the rhythm, dialogue, and messages seemed absolutely foreign to me. Do you ever go back and watch a children’s show after 20-25 years and it’s just completely different? And you think, wow, maybe I should be learning anew from this kiddie crap every day? 

I have never given Mister Rogers enough credit. I was just never that into him. I believe my younger sister usually stuck around for him after we’d finish Sesame Street while hunched over PB&Js in the mid-’80s. Maybe she was napping? I don’t know. The whole premise seemed lame and below me as the cool older sister. I was instantly skeptical of Mr. Rogers’ kindness and snail’s pace (a deadly combination) in all of his endeavors. Who was buying what he was selling SO SLOWLY? I did not care to find out. Perhaps the bottom line is that I was simply not yet willing to admit that I too could benefit from daily psychotherapy.

The only times I was able to look slightly alive were when the methodical drones of Mr. R. gave way to the emphatic choo-choo of the trolley, full of adventure and urgency and the promise of puppets. I loved watching that trolley barrel into the dark madness of the Neighborhood of Make Believe. That was it, though; once it arrived, everyone was annoying and slow again.

Or maybe not! Let’s take a look at this clip from “Mr. Rogers Goes to School.” Watching it at 30, I detected something I never would have picked up on as a child: Some passive-aggressive sass from supporting character Harriet Elizabeth Cow. Am I just a real jerk, or is everything she says from 6:00 on potentially sarcastic?

“I enjoyed working on it with you.” Nah, I’m sick of it and the irony is that I haven’t done any heavy lifting (I’m a puppet).

To Daniel Tiger: “I’m so glad you brought your truck.” Not again. I am so sick of your attachment to that f—ing truck. 

To Lady Aberlin after Lady A’s rather sensual (?!?) dump truck demo: “Thank you for that.” We all know how toys work, woman. Why not lay those hands on Handyman Negri instead?

This one is my fave and also induces the most self-loathing. When Harriet Elizabeth Cow tells the children the best thing they could do on the first day of school was learn from Handyman Negri, she says, “After all, we don’t always have a builder, a guitar player, and a photographer with us.” This is a perfectly fine, complimentary thing to say. So why do I insist that it has undertones of Choose a career already, low life?

Agggggh, I’m as awful as “Lady” Elaine and her perpetually swollen alcoholic’s nose. I’m loving it!

Later, Prince Tuesday and Anna brag about their fathers’ professions and how they both have mommies, too, and Harriet Elizabeth Cow snaps a gruff “Good.” Tragically, all I can hear is Congratulations, you’re not from broken homes. Whoop-de-doo! Good for you. You did it!

Am I a horrible person, projecting my own opinions of Daniel Tiger and the gang onto an unsuspecting cow? Am I trying too hard to make believe that the least subversive show in history may have been slightly sarcastic? The answer to at least one of those is definitely yes.

But okay, okay, all intriguing hints of passive-aggression aside, here’s another adulthood delight that even the most cynical bastard grownup cannot resist/twist into a pretzel of jadedness. As a kid, I remember always zoning out whenever Mister Rogers started singing — which is awful, but it’s the truth. But look at these amazing lyrics that would have gone unnoticed over my empty little head back then. Turns out I could use this advice today more than ever.

You can ask a lot of questions about the world and your place in it
You can ask about people’s feelings
You can learn the sky’s the limit
Did you know when you wonder, you’re learning?
Did you know when you marvel, you’re learning?
Did you know that?

Gulp! Sometimes I forget!

The takeaway: I like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood a little more than I thought I did, and I like myself a little less.

It happens.

I’m learning.

By the way, hi.

Be sure to stick around for the next in my 500-part Wahhhh! I’m So Adult! series: A deep dive into the existential messages within the Sesame Street segment about how orange crayons are made. Not really. But maybe.

Which other kids’ shows are begging for an adult-rewatch? (If you’re about to say the creepy live-action Rainbow Brite where everyone’s doing gymnastics, I’m already on it.)

Annie on Twitter

Comments (45 total) Add your comment
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  • Really Karen

    Mr. Rogers was a pedophile.

    • Mike

      Takes one to know one I guess?

      • Satan

        It’s just too easy for people to be snarky b¡tches on the Internet these days. :/

    • Satan

      And you’re an awful person for even saying that. And this is coming from SATAN.

      • Nicole

        Seriously, I mean, he was just a nice, boring Christian man – leave him alone.

        That being said, in my house it came down to Mr. Rogers vs. Mr. Dressup and Mr. Dressup ALWAYS won – he rocked. But it was a Canadian show, so y’all might not be familiar with Casey, Finnegan et al.

    • Grumpster

      I seriously doubt that…but all things aside, I think he was the most BORING person ever to have lived. The show was unwatchable in every respect…even as a kid I hated it. I think he and Lawrence Welk took the cake when it came to schmaltzy boring television.

    • Iggy

      Dont f**k with the Rog,man!Might have to make a visit to your hood,ever seen a driveby in a trolleycar!!

    • Rachel

      So says the guy whose screen name is Satan.

      I do agree with you, though…am I going to hell?

  • Jen

    I have all positive memories of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. So, I am slightly fearful to watch as an adult and realize its not as great as I remember.

    This can be applied to all Nickelodean shows as well.

  • Alex

    I dunno, I always found Mr. Rogers to be creepy. I could never watch him as a kid. Freaked me out every time.

  • kt

    OMG! The orange crayons! I remember that!

  • Cygnus

    Lazytown. Best concept ever, with the catchiest kid-show songs ever.

  • Dianna

    Reading Rainbow.. It was on for close to 26 years!! I can remember almost every episode by heart (sad fact I know) I even own some RR DVD’s that I found at a yard sale

    • Swerds

      Yes, please! Reading Rainbow rocked!

      • riley

        heck yeah, Reading Rainbow was the best!! I especially loved the part at the end where all the kids would tell about their favorite books. and Levar Burton would say (to introduce the segment): “But you don’t have to take my word for it.” and yes, I did like Mr. Rogers too. I also loved Sesame Street (back in the pre-Elmo days), Electric Company, Captain Kangaroo and the Letter People too!

  • Ang.

    I remember the crayons! I also have a vivid memory of the segment on how orange juice was made. (Except that it was about frozen orange juice that came in cans, and my mom always squeezed it fresh, so I didn’t understand it.)

    I always liked him. And when I was little, I especially liked the way he changed into a sweater every time. My dad always liked cardigan sweaters, and he would always change from a suit jacket into a sweater when he got home, too. I remember liking the segments with Mr. Rogers better than the stuff with the puppets in make-believe land or whatever, though. Either way, I don’t stand for it when anyone snarks on Mr. Rogers!

  • BK

    I have a couple things:
    1. I remember this episode! The pencil boxes made me have a major flashback.
    2. Why does Daniel Tiger have a watch on his wrist? He’s a pre-schooler, can he even tell time?
    3. I wish you put the opening to Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood when he comes in, swtiches into a sweater and changes shoes. I loved the way he put his shoes on when I was a kid.
    4. He did a really interesting episode with the woman who played the Wicked Witch in Wizard of Oz. She went through all the different make-up she used in the movie so kids wouldn’t be scared.
    5. I totally remember the Crayon making thing too.

    • Lynn

      THe watch was a gift from Lady Aberlin. Daniel lives in the clock house and she gave him a watch one time and he was amazed that a clock could be so small.
      Wow! Did I just remember all that from memory? LOL!!

  • abadstroller

    Loved Mr. Rogers, but even as a kid, Lady Elaine and Harriet the Cow creeped me out. Thought Rex the Owl was sweet, but I wanted to punch Daniel the Tiger….As long as we’re talking about PBS kids’ programming: Does anyone else remember “ZOOM”? The address for the show is forever burned in my mind by the catch jingle: “ZOOM! Z-Double O-M! Box 3. 5. 0. Boston, Mass.! OHHHH, Two, One, Three, Fourrrrr!”

    • abadstroller

      Oops, I forgot the last part of the song: “Send it to ZOOM!” (BTW, my favorite kid on the show was Nancy–I loved her hair and thought she was the best!)

    • Diane

      I went to BU and my friends were soooo excited that we lived in the Zoom zip code

      • abadstroller

        :):):)

        I wonder what would happen if you’d send a letter or postcard to that address today!

    • abadstroller

      From the same era: “The Electric Company”. The cast members were “groovy”(I know that this dates me….). And “Sesame Street” with Mr. Hooper and Bob (this is wayyyy pre-Elmo and Rosita).

      • Squishmar

        Morgan Freeman was on “The Electric Company” and yes, he is groovy. ;)

  • Jim

    It’s easy to be oh-so-hipster cynical about Mr. Rogers. No doubt the pace was slow and his mannerisms could be a bit saccharine. But as a parent, I appreciate his message of being an honest and consistent presence for your kids. He knew parents weren’t perfect, and taught us not to beat ourselves up about our imperfections. And some of the episodes of the Neighborhood of Makebelieve are subversively funny and freaky. Mr. Rogers knew that he was playing to several different audiences.

  • chop

    Take a look at the acid trip that is THE GREAT SPACE COASTER!

    • ericalina

      YES! holy crap, what a show that was.

  • Giselle

    Reading Rainbow, Mr. Wizard, Square One, and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? are all good to revisit. Kidsongs, Captain Kangaroo and just about any Nickelodeon live action short from the nineties are only worth revisiting if you want to drive yourself nuts.

  • Roberta

    I was bored by him as a kid, but as a young mom, he made me feel better every day. I was so overwhelmed and lonely and he told me every day that he liked me just the way I was. I believed him. And he was the BEST alternative to Barney.

    • abadstroller

      As a mom, I’m not sure who creeped me out more Barney or the little kids on the show. Shows that my son loved from those days: “Wishbone” (LOVE that dog and the kid Joe was cute) and Levar Burton’s “Reading Rainbow”. And there is the mixed blessing (for the infant set) that was “Teletubbies”….

  • Melinda

    I loved Mr. Rogers :)

  • ag

    One of my favorites was Zoobilee Zoo!! I can still sing the theme song. I still enjoy Reading Rainbow and Wishbone as a 20-something.

    • Squishmar

      Was that Zoo show with people dressed up as animals? And does the name Henrietta Hippo mean anything? I don’t think I’ve thought of that show for a very long time… like since the last time I watched it!

      • Squishmar

        No…I just checked Zoobilee Zoo is a different show. Does anybody else know what show I’m talking about? It would have been in the early ’70s.

      • Iggy

        Wow,have’nt thought about that til ya said it! Is it the “New Zoo Revue”?

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