Late Monday afternoon, I picked up my sick kid from daycare and made the grievous error of caving to her pitiful demands for a chocolatey bread snack, which she promptly vomited all over herself and her car seat. I dashed toward the house for a wet towel, fell, and twisted the hell out of my ankle. I am now trapped on the couch, next to a sick child, and we are limited to basically one activity: watching cartoons, which is really the only way you can get any work done with a 3-year-old anywhere on the premises. As a consequence, Peppa Pig has fully consolidated her hold over my tired adult brain.
I now fully inhabit the Peppa Pig universe. I see everything through the lens of Peppa. The only thoughts I have are thoughts of Peppa. This is your brain on Peppa.
It’s not like this is the first lazy stretch we’ve spent watching cartoons, of course; it’s wintertime in the Northeast and there’s only so long you can roll play-dough flat. The entire soundtrack of Frozen is etched onto my frontal lobe. I’ve spent more than one late Sunday afternoon wondering why it seemed so important, circa 2004 for Dora the Explorer, to replicate the mechanics of using a computer mouse. Sometimes, too, my 3-year-old requests a brief return to a nostalgia pick: Little Baby Bum, the worst cartoon on Earth, which is mostly CGI music videos for British nursery rhymes but has lately expanded into such alarming territory as a tune about the lifecycle of frogs, featuring a horrifying stream of CGI eggs flowing from a CGI frog’s ass. I can barely express to you the hideousness of being trapped with this content, so I will simply show it to you.
But the dominant cartoon at this particular moment is, without question, Peppa Pig. Once a funny pop-cultural phenomenon that was happening to other people, Peppa now occupies huge swaths of my waking hours. Increasingly, I am fascinated by Peppa Pig’s parents, Daddy Pig and Mummy Pig. I have decided that Daddy Pig is a Labour voter who spends much of his time fuming about the absolute state of the NHS; he was definitely a Remainer, and he reads the Guardian. I think I saw him on an episode of Question Time filmed in Swindon during my brief trial of the streaming service BritBox. He is bad at directions and gets very grumpy when he inevitably gets the entire family lost.
Mummy Pig is highly sensible and very patient with her entire family, except for when something happens like a school project assignment, which is an alarming glimpse at my near future.) I can’t quite figure out what she does for a living. She sometimes reads a women’s magazine called Ezza, which I assume is a reference to the British women’s magazine Grazia. Daddy Pig is, of course, an architect.
There is an alarming lack of internal logic to the Peppa Pig universe. At one point, they go to the zoo, where the zookeepers include a crocodile and a lion, and the animals include penguins. Why are crocodiles and lions sentient, but not penguins? The show has no explanation. Also, in the world of Peppa Pig, all animals are shaped essentially the same. Elephants and zebras and pigs and dogs basically just have different ears. Are they human-animal hybrids? Another data point: Santa exists in this world, and he appears to be a human. Where are the other humans?
What’s particularly interesting about Peppa, if you want from the very beginning, as I have, in seemingly the last 36 hours—this is my life now, it has always been my life, it will be my life forevermore—is that Peppa Pig started off as something very low-key. Just a little domestic cartoon about a small pig named Peppa, her parents and her little brother George. She goes to the dentist! She has a bath because she was jumping in middle puddles! Somebody’s hat blew off in the wind! Next thing I knew, Mommy Pig was being pressured into parachuting out of a plane in order to raise money to fix the school roof. By Season 7, they are visiting a family of kangaroos in Australia and visiting the Great Barrier Reef in a submersible where they find a chest of gold. At one point, there’s a suggestion that playground teacher Madame Gazelle might be a vampire. The sense of the ridiculous is heightened by the fact that the narrator seems very aware of the unfolding ridiculousness, in a manner that reminds me of the original Bridezillas narrator.
Nothing made me feel quite as unmoored as the advent of Mr. Potato. (Nor am I alone in wondering what in the hell is the deal with Mr. Potato.) Mr. Potato has some sort of morning show that is for kids and also adults, where he talks up the virtues of exercise and vegetables. Perhaps there is some British frame of reference that makes this make sense for its original audience. Is it a Jamie Oliver thing? Even so, there’s really no way to explain “Potato City,” a vegetable theme park that also inexplicably involves dinosaurs. One of the characters even asks: “Why have you got dinosaurs in Potato City?” Another question for which there is no answer!
So far, nobody in my home has developed a faux British accent (though my kid has picked up the phrase “it’s a bit boring”). I’m sure sometime in the next six months, we’ll move on to Disney princesses or Sesame Street or Paw Patrol or something. However, there will remain a warped corner of my mind occasionally prompting me to wonder whether Grandpa Pig is merely a hobbyist who likes a captain’s hat, or if he was actually a member of a navy, and if so which navy.