Nothing Syrupy About This Pancake Mountain
by Michael Katzif
Okay, so there’s this goat puppet named Rufus Leaking. (Get it, get it?… Sigh.) And he gets to hang with George “One Nation Under a Groove” Clinton, the Flaming Lips and even the seemingly angry musician Henry Rollins. And then there’s Captain Perfect, a cape-wearing sidekick who does not live up to his name. If this sounds like a flashback to the nutty world of Syd and Marty Croft, you’re not far off. Enter Pancake Mountain, an offbeat variety show that has both kids and parents alike tuning in to watch the mayhem.
The Washington D.C.-based cable-access program is the brainchild of filmmaker Scott Stuckey and a small group of friends who serve as the show’s actors, designers, writers, artists and puppets. Stuckey created the show to combat what he describes as “dumbed down” children’s TV programming. “Dumbed down” it is not, as can be seen on the new DVD set, fourth in a series.
Pulling its name from the theme song by a D.C. indie rocker, Pancake Mountain has grown into something of an institution, both for its oddball sketch comedy (Miss Manners teaches the art of sloppy eating) and as a place for musicians to reach a much younger audience — like ages three to ten. Each episode is framed around a dance party: a rock sock hop for tots featuring a who’s who from nonmainstream music scene, including Nebraska’s singer-songwriter Bright Eyes and Metric’s Emily Haines.
A highlight of the DVD is actress Juliette Lewis, who doesn’t always seem to be in on the joke. “Do actors make good musicians?” Rufus awkwardly asks Lewis, who fancies herself a singer. “Before you answer,” he adds, “let me say two words: Corey Feldman.”
Michael Katzif, a podcasting guru and music writer for NPR, scours YouTube for old Stevie Wonder performances on Sesame Street.