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Oobi is an American children's TV series created by Josh Selig, who is known for his work on Wonder Pets! and Sesame Street. It stars a cast of bare-hand puppets played by Muppet performers. The concept is based on a training method used by puppeteers learning to lip-sync, in which they use their hands and a pair of ping pong balls instead of a puppet.

The Jim Henson Company and Sesame Workshop both controlled Noggin while Oobi was being made. Their influence led to the show's cast consisting entirely of Muppet alumni. Creator Josh Selig had worked on Sesame Street since its first season and later became one of the main writers. He left the show to start what he envisioned as his own successor to Sesame Street, which ended up being Oobi.

Oobi ended with 47 shorts and two seasons of half-hour episodes (26 in total). In 2012, a spin-off titled Oobi: Dasdasi premiered on IRIB and aired throughout Asia. The original show is currently available on Amazon Video.

History

Production

Josh Selig came up with the idea for Oobi while watching bare-handed performers audition for Ulica Sezamkowa, the Polish version of Sesame Street. It also drew inspiration from hand-themed Sesame sketches, such as "There Once Was a Hand".[1] Early promo statements for Oobi called the characters "furless Muppets" and the show was filmed at Kaufman Astoria Studios, where Sesame Street has been taped since 1993.

Tim Lagasse, who played Oobi, was chosen for the part because of his experience as a bare-hand performer on A Show of Hands. This was a series of short films that Lagasse made for Nickelodeon in 1993. Many of the techniques he used to convey expressions through hand motions in the films were carried over to Oobi.

Oobi started as a collection of two-minute shorts that played between shows on Noggin and Nickelodeon. Forty-seven shorts and twenty-six full-length episodes were produced. The second-season premiere on September 6, 2004 posted a 2.35 Nielsen rating with the preschool age group, making it the highest-rated premiere of a Noggin original series.[2] Production ended in 2004 and reruns continued to play until the Noggin channel closed in 2009.

The show has been described as "a puppetry purist's puppet show"[3] by actress Cheryl Blaylock. Elements of the series were made as simple as possible to emphasize the puppetry and fully engage young viewers.

On the thought process behind Oobi, Selig said: "I was convinced that children's television had gotten too busy. I wanted to see what would happen if I distilled every element of a show - from the puppet design to the language - to its essential elements...it was an experiment, and I'm delighted to see that it seems to have worked."[4]

Spin-off

In 2012, a spin-off of Oobi titled Oobi: Dasdasi premiered on the Iranian network IRIB TV2.[5] The American prop makers for Oobi supplied the puppet costumes, which are identical to those of the original show. 78 episodes were made and aired throughout Southeast Asia and Japan. Full episodes can be watched on Vimeo.

Oobi: Dasdasi also follows a family of hand puppets, but it introduced new characters and locations, some of which highlight elements of Iranian culture. The stories have a heavy emphasis on comedy and typically follow the children of the family as they discover something new.

Pop culture

Oobi has also been featured in a variety of non-Nickelodeon media, such as a music video by The Format and a parody commercial from Durex. In 2016, Oobi was the inspiration for a Disney XD pilot about a hand puppet, called Right Hand Guy.[6] The pilot was in consideration for a full series but did not get picked up.

Plot

The show takes place in a quaint and old-fashioned town where almost everyone is a talking hand puppet. The puppets have acrylic eyes and accessories. The kids have four of their fingers straight, and they use their thumbs as their bottom lips. The adults have a different appearance; their fingers are curled up, which makes them look taller. The only regular character who is not a hand is Frieda, a talking foot puppet.

Episodes of Oobi are split into parts: a main story, a collection of interview segments, and a game segment. In the interviews, Oobi asks real kids and families about the episode's topic. Game segments only appear in season one and were replaced with longer stories in season two. They featured the puppets playing simple learning games together.

Characters

Main characters

  • Oobi is the main character of the show. He is a curious four-year-old boy hand who doesn't wear any clothes or accessories. His favorite toy is a red model car that he likes to carry around. He dreams of becoming a piano player when he grows up and takes lessons from the local pianist, Inka.
  • Uma is Oobi's sister. She is known for her tendency to comically overreact to small changes. She is obsessed with chickens and often talks about and imitates them, much to Grampu's annoyance. She wears a little barrette on her pinky finger.
  • Kako is Oobi's best friend who likes to crack jokes. He and his parents, Mamu and Papu, live across the street from Oobi in a big red house. Kako is usually laid-back, but he can get insightful and sincere whenever Oobi needs advice.
  • Grampu is Oobi and Uma's single grandfather, who acts as their guardian and caretaker. He is wise and sociable but sometimes rather unlucky. He is dating Oobi's piano teacher, Inka. He is known for his catchphrase, "Lovely!"

Supporting characters

  • Frieda the Foot is Oobi's favorite playmate at the local park. She is a five-year-old girl depicted as a talking foot puppet. She can't play any games that involve catching or throwing, which sometimes creates a problem when she and Oobi want to spend time together. When Frieda talks, her toes move up and down, making it look like she is gesturing the words without a mouth.
  • Inka is Oobi and Angus's piano teacher, as well as Grampu's love interest and later girlfriend. She has purple hair tied in a bun and wears a lot of jewelry. She is very talkative, especially when she is talking about France and its culture. She has an ambiguous Eastern European accent.
  • Angus is Oobi's nerdy friend and fellow piano student. His appearance is similar to the other kids, but his eyes are under his fingers rather than on top of them. He is introverted and overly self-conscious, contrasting with Oobi's calm demeanor. He has a talent for acting and singing, but gets stage fright whenever he has to perform in front of an audience.
  • Mrs. Johnson is Oobi's elderly but energetic neighbor. She has a pet cat named Kitty. She loves company and is known for decorating her house with extravagant displays for Halloween. She wears a white-gray wig, eyeglasses with circular lenses, and a sleeve-like brown dress. Despite her name, she does not seem to be married.
  • Maestru is Oobi and Kako's singing instructor. He is uptight but very smart. He reluctantly gives the boys singing lessons at the town community center. He is quick to point out flaws in his students' singing and can get irritated easily. However, he is also shown to genuinely like his students and wants them to succeed.

Cast

Reception

The series was given a 5-star rating by Common Sense Media.[7] The review stated that "when it comes to preschool programming, Oobi really breaks the mold, succeeding in its simplicity." The show has received a variety of awards and nominations from organizations such as Parents' Choice, Prix Jeunesse, and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.[8][9]

References

  1. "Right Hand Guy" - Claimfame
  2. "Oobi Does It" - Newsweek
  3. Old School Lane's Nickelodeon Tribute: Interview with Cheryl Blaylock
  4. Child.com: Behind the Scenes With the Creator of Oobi
  5. Interview with the producer of Oobi: Dasdasi
  6. Disney Channel pilot: Right Hand Guy
  7. Oobi TV Review - Common Sense Media
  8. Oobi - Parents' Choice Awards
  9. Prix Jeunesse Finalists 2004
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