Friday, September 24, 2010

COLUMN: It’s Fred vs. Pee Wee Herman — to the death!

I spent a good chunk of my Saturday night watching “Fred the Movie” on the Nickelodeon channel. I’d say that it was two hours I’ll never get back, except I have a feeling they will return someday, if there is really such a place as hell.

For the uninformed among you — e.g., those of you without kids between 9 and 14, whoever you are — Fred is the “YouTube sensation” known for his squeaky voice and manic delivery, and the screaming … Good God, the screaming. I could try to explain further, but instead you should probably just click on this link and watch. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

OK, now that you’ve seen Fred for yourself, you’re probably having difficulty reading this column because you’ve been distracted by the blood coming out of your eardrums.

What you might not know, though, is that as originally devised by young creator Lucas Cruikshank, Fred was supposed to be 6 years old, which would (sort of) explain why he acts like he just ingested a barrel full of sugar cubes. But in “Fred the Movie” he’s been aged to 15 without changing his behavior, making it feel like you’re watching a mentally challenged person humiliate himself for two hours. In other words, it’s exactly like every other show on Nickelodeon.

I watched it because I wanted to interpret it for my kids, who are 9 and 11; I ruin a lot of their entertainment for them in this way, because that’s my job. And I’ll admit there were a few funny moments, including some with John Cena, the professional wrestler who plays Fred’s (imaginary?) father and has a habit of picking him up and smashing him against coffee tables, in a supportive kind of way.

But I couldn’t help but wonder: Has there ever been a mainstream children’s movie with so much vomit in it? Somehow I can’t picture Walt Disney looking at the rough cut of “Mary Poppins” and declaring, “It needs more heaving!” “The Parent Trap,” maybe.

Now, you might say Fred is just this generation’s Pee Wee Herman, Paul Reubens’ manic man-child of the 1980s. This is an assertion to which there is only one possible logical response: I served with Pee Wee Herman; I knew Pee Wee Herman; and Fred … I know you are but what am I! HehThat never gets old.

For one thing, Pee Wee was the master of his domain (so to speak): He lived in a cool house all by himself, had awesome contraptions, a great bicycle and seemed like a generally well-respected member of his community, as evidenced by the fact that James Brolin wound up playing him in the movie within the movie. And he had no trouble hitchhiking to the Alamo to find his missing bike, whereas Fred can barely get up the nerve to take a bus across town to visit Judy, the “girlfriend” whom he spends the entire movie stalking — he’s sort of like DeNiro in “Taxi Driver,” if DeNiro were a chipmunk.

The way I see it, Pee Wee at least had some panache, in that he didn’t vomit on anyone, much less the girl he was in love with, and his movie didn’t end with him making a YouTube video where everybody vomits, thus somehow making him the most popular kid in school and the apple of the formerly vomit-covered girl’s eye. Yet this (spoiler alert!) is how “Fred the Movie” ended, leading me to wonder: I made it all the way to the end?

But after suffering through it, I figured I needed to at least turn it into a teachable moment for my kids, so as to completely erase any fond feelings they still might have harbored about the evening. So I put on “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure,” and guess what? My son said he found it “even funnier than Fred.”

I know he was probably just trying to humor me, but after two hours of bodily excretion jokes, I say I deserve his pity.

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

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