On the bright side, if I ever need a cursed object I know where to go.

Here's something of a cast photo that comes from a vintage Lidsville lunchbox...which I now own, thanks to my friend Chas' dark sense of humor.

“What is Lidsville?” is a very dangerous question.

 

This is a question with many answers, however the English language lacks the ability to fully and adequately answer this question. Before I make the futile attempt to answer what should be a simple question, let me begin by explaining how Lidsville came into my life.

 

There is an event that my friends and I sometimes attend in the basement of a building tucked in an alleyway in Chinatown, an event known as secret karaoke. Apparently it is a tradition at secret karaoke to project weird, cult television series on the wall behind where the lyrics are projected for singers. I’m not sure why, maybe because the people who run the thing got sick of all the clip art accompanying the bad midi files, but whatever the reason this was a fateful decision, for it introduced my friends and I to this forbidden series.

 

I was mesmerized by the indescribable nonsense casually and silently playing behind the karaoke. Everyone else was busy singing, getting drunk or socializing, but since I’m pretty bad at all of those things, my focus was on what was familiar to me: television. I watched in complete confusion as a green-skinned magician flew around in a crushed top hat, shooting lighting bolts from his fingertips at a boy and his living hat companions. And that was just the tip of the iceberg! There was no sound to accompany the plethora of confounding images, so after a while I had to drag someone down with me, just to make sure I hadn’t gone crazy.

 

Enter my friend Chas, who is a much more accomplished writer than I am. He, like most people in attendance, was having a good time, enjoying the atmosphere, when I brought the moving pictures to his attention. It wasn’t long before we were both shouting indignant questions about what on Earth could possibly be happening, why this was playing, and even whether it was a real television show. A fellow karaoke-goer filled us in, explaining this was an old children’s show from the 70’s.

 

A normal person would have left well enough alone, but sadly I am not normal.

 

Weenie, on the other hand, is a male geenie played by a woman, so he's always cross-dressing in a way.

Mark and Weenie, involved in one of their few plans that doesn't involve Mark putting on a silly costume and/or women's clothing.

My well-documented tolerance for all things TV beckoned me down a dark path, and I was already in too deep. I investigated the show, finding its theme song online, and even gaining access to a full episode. I conned my then-girlfriend into watching the episode, as no one else would do it. Luckily fate intervened at this point. I couldn’t find any more episodes utilizing the amount of effort I was willing to invest.

 

That could have been the end of it. That SHOULD have been the end of it. It was truly only the beginning.

 

Skip ahead to this past summer, when I was browsing the TV schedule with the help of my TiVo one Saturday morning when I discovered something I wouldn’t have believed possible. PBS was airing episodes of Lidsville! I couldn’t keep myself from switching the channel out of pure morbid curiosity, and then like with a train wreck I couldn’t avert my eyes.

 

That day I joined Chas and his girlfriend for dinner before seeing a movie, and I endeavored to use my talents as a storyteller to recount the terrors to which I had subjected myself. Whatever I said worked, to a degree. Chas was similarly intrigued, but his girlfriend was simply horrified.

 

And rightly so.

 

Over the next few weeks a plan was hatched. Our mutual friend Mike was getting married soon, so his fiancé and several of our friends were heading out of town for a Vegas bachelorette party. Normal guys would probably have a guys night out, but somehow I lured my friends into a horrifying challenge instead.

 

The villainous HooDoo answers the Hat Hotline, a phone line so hot he needs a potholder to hold it. I hope you liked that pun, because there will be a lot of it. To be clear, a lot of this specific pun.

At first it was to be a competition: Starting at 9 PM, we would determine who could endure the most straight Lidsville without break. We quickly realized this was too great a challenge for anyone but possibly myself to endure, so instead it was to be a bonding experience. We would band together against the nightmare within a hat within a TV screen, and struggle to endure the entire series in one night.

 

Long story short, while we nearly lost Mike in the middle to a survival instinct-induced sleep, the three of us accomplished what we set out to do.

 

We now know our enemy. Now it is time for me to warn you of a land from which there is no escape. A world of talking hats: some racist stereotypes, some that defy any logical description. A world filled with the magic of a malicious green-skinned wizard and the absolute worst genie I’ve ever seen in my life. A world populated by puns, costumes and…the hat band.

 

Lidsville.

 

Premise:

 

Probably the easiest and most direct way to explain the premise of the show is for you to watch the show’s intro. The theme song is basically a man just telling you what the show is about in a sing-song tone.

 

 

For those of you unable to watch videos while reading this, or simply too terrified by the notion of watching that, I will summarize. A boy named Mark sees a magic show at a six flags, and is so entranced that he decides to sneak back stage to learn more about the magic. When he arrives in the magician’s dressing room he stumbles onto his top hat. Somehow he triggers the hat to magically grow to enormous size, then he climbs in and falls into the world within a hat, Lidsville.

 

Mark’s goal, and understandably so, is to find a way out of Lidsville and back home. After a while, this goal takes a certain, notable shift, but that’s an issue for later. It’s a simple premise for a show inexplicably targeted to children, especially when you consider that the way out of Lidsville is simply to go up, since Mark fell down to get there.

 

Side note though, can anyone reading this explain to me what the curious frog is up with the theme song’s abrupt transitions? We go from this weird sort of monotonous drone to this psychedelic interlude. Next the video makes it clear that Mark is being chased by an evil wizard, yet all of a sudden Mark and the hats are like laughing and dancing. Why build all that tension just to suddenly have everyone celebrating Mark being trapped inside the world of hats?

 

Characters:

 

Mark (Butch Patrick, of Munsters fame) – The tragic protagonist of the tale. Mark simply believed in magic and wanted to unravel some of its wonder. His is certainly a case of “be careful what you wish for”, since he did in fact find an entire magical world, but for him, there would be no escape. As a kid’s show from before writers really gave children any credit, Mark and the other characters are pretty two dimensional. In fact, his most defining feature would probably be his knack for solving problems by dressing in costumes (sometimes cross-dressing).

 

Hooratio J. HooDoo (Charles Nelson Reilly, primarily of Match Game Fame to my knowledge) – The unfathomably campy villain of the piece. This green-skinned magician is really more of a wizard. Chief among the magic at his disposal is his magic lightning zapper hands and his hat which converts into a flying vehicle known as the Hatamaran. He also had a magical ring that could summon a genie until it was stolen by Mark, which proves to be the main source of contention through much of the series.

 

Weenie the Genie (Billie Hayes, of H.R. Pufnstuf fame) – Weenie is the somewhat androgynous Genie whose power is linked to the ring Mark stole from HooDoo. To say that Weenie is an unhelpful companion would be an understatement, to say that he is the worst genie would not. Weenie rarely, if ever, accomplishes what he sets out to do, and often makes things worse. It makes me wonder why Mark never tried to trade Weenie back to HooDoo in exchange for help escaping this horrible place.

 

It's hard to say what the worst fate to befall someone is within Lidsville, but getting captured by the bad hats is at least embarassing.

Pictured is Mark being captured by the so-called "bad hats". This band of thugs consists of a ganster fedora, an executioner's hood, a pirate hat and a...vampire...hat.

And the rest – There’s a pretty big, largely pointless ensemble cast on the show. This includes a plethora of magical puppets that populate HooDoo’s hat home (yes, he lives in a hat within a world of hats that exists inside a larger hat), HooDoo’s bumbling sidekick Raunchy Rabbit, a gang of lesser villains known as the bad hats and of course the “good hats” that inhabit Lidsville proper. It’s actually unclear as to whether lidsville is the entire world, some sort of county or province or merely just the town where most of the hats live. There’s a rather horrifying revelation down the line that clarifies things a little, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

 

At some point I will venture back through the terrible world of Lidsville, as something of a public service. In case you ever find yourself in the same situation as poor, star-crossed Mark, you need to know what you’re up against. Of course, there’s no guarantee that I will survive another trip there, but I will find a way to send you whatever warnings I can to you from the other side. Really the best advice I can give you is what a wise man once told me, “DON’T GO IN THE HAT!”

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