Mutt & Stuff & the End of Innocence

I’m not entirely sure how, but somewhere along the way my two and a half year old son Declan got addicted to a supremely stupid show called Mutt & Stuff. The show is a co-production of legendary “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan and the Krofft Brothers, puppeteers of great renown who specialized in Saturday morning puppet shows for children that doubled as heady fodder for stoned adults. 

As some of you may know from a classic Mr. Show spoof about a puppet show called The Altered State Of Druggachusettes, The Krofts enchanted easily entertained small children and adults on mushrooms alike with “classic” shows like H.R Pufnstuf (oh you better believe they were “puffing some stuff” as in smoking marijuana cigarettes), Lidsville, and The Land Of The Lost,not to mention the poorly read My World of Flops entry Pink Lady & Jeff. 

Mutt & Stuff, which marked the Krofft brothers return to TV after an extended absence, stars Calvin Millan, the toothily handsome son of Cesar (who pops in occasionally) as a boundlessly enthusiastic young man who runs Mutt N’ Stuff, a dog school where an assortment of cute actual dogs and a stunt woman in a dog costume playing a human-sized dog named “Stuff” (he’s the Stuff of “& Stuff”) matriculate. Stuff’s sole characteristically is that he’s lovable but there is nothing ingratiating about the character: he’s like a low-key version of The Simpsons’ Poochie, who keeps obnoxiously insisting on the spotlight without doing anything to merit it.

 Actually one of Calvin's more subdued smiles

Actually one of Calvin's more subdued smiles

Yes, there’s something almost morbidly fascinating about Stuff’s cynical, calculating awfulness but there are even worse characters, like Noodles, a sassy mouse with a similar, “Gotta love me” vibe whose sole gag is tricking people into pulling a lever that release a blast of confetti. 

Calvin presides over the proceedings with the kind of exuberant peppiness found in people at the beginning of 10 day long cocaine and meth benders. He shouts every line while grinning a ghoulish Joker smile of the damned and conducts animated, if one-sided conversation with visibly uncomfortable real dogs cursed with having to embody broad human archetypes (surfer, clown, grandmother) that take anthropomorphism places they were never meant to go. 

The plots on Mutt & Stuff would be outlandish even for cartoons, like an episode where Stuff foolishly challenged his heroes the Harlem Globetrotters to a game. At first, the dogs of Mutt & Stuff do quite poorly, but eventually they learn to believe in themselves and have fun and eventually beat the Harlem Globetrotters. Call me a hopeless cynic, but I do not think a group of dogs who lack even the ability to hold a basketball, let alone throw it into a hoop, would defeat the flashy, high-flying clown princes of basketball. 

 How long must we promote the poisonous fiction that dogs are good at playing basketball?

How long must we promote the poisonous fiction that dogs are good at playing basketball?

Then there are guest stars like Jimmie “J.J” Walker as Wally Whiskers, a party comedian for cats (which, actually, is probably not a bad idea for Portlandia) who, like, everybody and animal in every episode, learns an important lesson about friendship or caring or sharing or just not being a fucking piece of shit in general. There’s also Lou Ferrigno Jr. as Superhero Super Sammy, Beverly D’Angelo as a mermaid and Freaks & Geeks’ Sammy Levine. 

And I’m not even getting into the magical tree with the faces of Sid and Marty Krofft, or the pair of beatnik cat puppets doing cat-themed wordplay Laugh In-style, or the multiple guest appearances by Stuff’s uncle H.R Pufnstuf, or Melvin the one-liner-dispensing fire hydrant. 

Objectively speaking, Mutt & Stuff is terrible, but because it makes Declan happy, it makes me happy. To see Dex lie down on the couch with a bottle of chocolate milk in his hand and an episode of Mutt & Stuff on the television is to see the very image of contentment, of happiness, of blissed-out satisfaction. 

So I’ve come to love Mutt & Stuff in spite of its shittiness. It may be hokey and formulaic, accidentally (or not so accidentally, given the Krofft brother’s history and reputation, which is only slightly less drug-intensive than those of Timothy Leary and Cheech & Chong) psychedelic and broad, but I love the look on Declan’s face when we watch it, so I can’t hate something that gives the greatest source of joy in my life so much enjoyment. 

I became invested enough in the show to feel genuinely bummed to learn that after seventy something episodes, it was probably ending. I was strangely sad because I knew that Declan’s days of being a carefree baby, bottle of chocolate milk in his hand, big, unabashed smile on his face, and Mutt & Stuff on the TV of our small but cozy little apartment were going to eventually end just as sure as Mutt & Stuff’s run will. 

 Dad & Dex

Dad & Dex

I could not be more excited to discover the boy and man my son will become, but right now he just seems perfect and there’s part of me that wants to make time stop, like Declan freeze-framing Mutt & Stuff, so this moment, this wonderful, pure moment of infinite connection and promise and love, could last forever. 

I know that’s not possible, or even really desirable in the long term, but right now I just want to hold onto everything, including Mutt & Stuff. So if I see Stuff’s big, dumb, fluffy face in the years ahead, as my beautiful baby becomes a boy and then a man, you’ll have to forgive me if I get a little misty. It’s just something in my eye. That’s all. 

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