Why parents are celebrating the departure of PBS’ ‘Caillou’

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CAILLOU® Chouette Publishing (1987) Inc. Wild Brain Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved.

Who will mourn for Caillou? Not parents, that’s for certain.

Whether their children are young or already grown, parents across the world greeted with glee the news that PBS has finally canceled Caillou, an animated show about a bald young boy, after 20 years on the air.

Calliou began life in 1989 as a children’s book series by Montreal author Christine L’Heureux and illustrator Hélène Desputeaux. An exchange student from the Canadian channel Télétoon, Caillou premiered on PBS in September 2000 and ran for 177 episodes before entering syndication in 2010.

Children’s educational television, a genre PBS pioneered, is notoriously difficult to perfect — a fidgety formula balancing entertainment, early developmental needs and parental tolerance. Even still, Caillou the show and Caillou the child inspire malice largely unparalleled among cartoons.

“Caillou is definitely enemy number one on a lot of my friends’ lists,” said Andy Chow, a statehouse reporter for Ohio Public Radio. Chow has two children — a 5-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son — and says Caillou is one of very few shows that’s entirely banned in his home.

“As someone who’s watched many episodes, I still haven’t been able to actually understand what it’s trying to accomplish,” he says.

The backlash has been festering for ages. In a 2014 SB Nation article, Spencer Hall took a break from writing about college football to call Caillou a “despicable, spineless 4-year-old boy who cannot do anything.” More than 10,000 Redditors subscribe to r/CaillouHate, which decries the “little bald bastard who sucks and can’t do anything right.”

Even John Oliver took aim: “F*** you Caillou, grow some hair and leave the house,” Oliver ranted in a 2014 episode ostensibly about net neutrality. “Find out what the world’s aboot!”

(For the record, Chouette Publishing, the Montreal company that created Caillou, says that the character was initially envisioned as a 9-month-old baby and remained hairless when he grew older to maintain visual continuity.)

In 2015, Caillou topped an AV Clublist of “8 kids’ shows to avoid at all costs,” landing above Barney & Friends, Dora the Explorer and a slew of non–public-media offerings. Whereas Barney primarily irritates through singalongs, and Dora may lose points for repeatedly questioning your children, parents say both are dwarfed by Caillou’s main offense: his personality.

“He is bratty, has tantrums and is often unkind. His entire world revolves around himself and his own needs and desires,” said Joanna Schroeder, an L.A.-based writer and media critic who focuses on parenting and gender.

If children’s television icons like Mister Rogers and his protégé Daniel Tiger, star of the current PBS hit Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, demonstrate values like social skills (how to share toys and play together), emotional development (coping with stress) and clear communication (talking about your problems), Caillou offers whatever is the opposite of a role model.

“We would just have our kids act like Caillou the rest of the day, and it really seemed counterintuitive to what we’re going for,” Chow says.

Schroeder says Caillou exhibits bad behaviors that are normal for preschoolers, but on such a scale and regularity — seemingly in every episode throwing a fit — that they’re normalized and even encouraged. And Caillou’s own parents are complicit, whether he’s bullying his little sister or losing the class hamster.

“Somehow, Caillou often seems to win out, and his bad behavior is encouraged by his parents, who offer little structure or role-modeling,” Schroeder says.

Chouette claims that Caillou’s misbehavior has a purpose. “Like adults, children go through difficult periods, but they lack the communication skills to articulate everything they feel. Caillou’s experiences are an attempt to translate the inner life of a child and his varied and sometimes contradictory feelings,” the publisher’s website explains. (“Bruh Caillou need to calm down,” a commenter wrote below.)

Joel Oliphint, an editor at the alt-weekly Columbus Alive, made no attempt to hide his glee over the downfall of this “bald-headed whiner with the dying-chipmunk voice.” He says that his own kids mirrored the actions they saw in Caillou — down to copying his fear of thunderstorms.

“I don’t like storms, daddy,” Caillou says in one episode after being awoken by the sound of thunder. Caillou’s dad teaches him to count how far away the thunder gets, allowing Caillou to return to bed, but the damage is already done — Oliphint says his kids never remembered the ending.

The breaking point for the Chows came during an episode where Caillou’s dad asks the two kids to help buy a present for their mom. “The dad looked at him and said, ‘This is our little secret. You know how to keep secrets, right?’” Chow said. “And the whole episode was about keeping a secret.” Chow said that went entirely against their intentions to keep kids safe and make sure they can tell adults what’s happening.

Next to the rest of the PBS Kids lineup, Caillou was the bald-headed stepchild who lingered long past his welcome.

“In other words, pretty much everything on PBS is better than Caillou,” Schroeder says. “Is Caillou a dangerous and damaging show? Certainly not. But in a world full of beautiful, lovingly created shows for preschoolers that both comfort and encourage preschoolers, why offer a show that falls so short of the mark?”

PBS declined Current’s request for an interview for this article. In a statement, a spokesperson said that Caillou was retired “as part of our ongoing efforts to continuously refresh our offerings to meet the needs of today’s kids.”

21 thoughts on “Why parents are celebrating the departure of PBS’ ‘Caillou’

  1. I agree with so MANY others. Good riddance to this whiny, little bald-headed twit! My son once asked me if he could have the barber shave his head bald like him. I was like UMM NO!

    • i used to watch that as a kid myself, even i wondered why he acted like that haha. I was only four, but i was always a good kid and noticed that he was very bratty

      • Caillou was a bratty idk why they wrote this type of storie unless it wouldn’t have been good for them?? i mean we are finding reasons im glad about that im pretty sure Caillou has an evil side🤔 i mean the show wasn’t boring but it got sus— Im glad it got cancelled im glad about that cause children couldn’t have learn about his indulgences.

  2. I’m 16 and caillou was a pretty big part of my childhood. that theme song is ingrained in my head. I don’t remember it being so problematic

  3. Except for the idea of teaching child to keep secrets, I don’t see any complaint here that doesn’t seem to clearly miss the point. Seeing a child survive his difficulties is informing. He’s not a bad kid, he just has the imperfections of toddlerhood – some which, I might add, many of us share into adulthood. The fact that he recovers and his parents continue to love and support him through his problems is VERY IMPORTANT. And, as is often the case, watching with our kids and having discussions about the content is key. Kids can’t necessarily be expected to get even the most clearly stated messages on their own. Even when they do, parents should engage in these important conversations. Otherwise we’re counting on the media to teach our kids values. That’s our job.
    I watched the show with my granddaughter and we thoroughly enjoyed it. I, though I may be a party of one, WILL mourn its loss.

    • Wow. You demonstrate a shocking opinion lacking in perspective and reason. For many years I have been horrified and mystified about that shows existence. An absolute train wreck of misguided bad behavior and worse parenting. Strange that you make the above excuses, instead of just saying that the parents could have consistently offered a healthy solution, and maybe he could learn to become a decent human. And children watching could learn something worth learning.

  4. I agree with you B Banfield. TV shouldn’t educate kids, parents should. I grew up watching Caillou with my siblings and we were very well behaved. That probably has to do with the fact that I grew up in a Mexican household where bad behavior isn’t tolerated and where manners and respect are demanded from children. Caillou was funny and entertaining, and it was just one of many PBS shows that I loved to watch. My favorites were Mister Rogers, the Reading Rainbow, and Between the Lions. Some people just like to make a big fuss about minor things….ugh. It’s them throwing the tantrums, not Caillou. LOL

  5. I’m so sorry to see that delightful show get cancelled. My grandson is now 10 and I loved watching Caillou with him. To this day the kids love hearing the theme song. Too bad people make so much of nothing. Instead of arguing to get the show cancelled, why not turn the station off? The kids in our household will really miss Caillou. Why not go after the other smutty shows on the air??

  6. I agree, if you don’t like the show just don’t watch it. Kids can’t express their feelings of being afraid of thunderstorms? Or kids can’t differentiate in keeping a secret about a gift for mom. Let’s raise kids with a back-bone…and not say oh don’t watch that show because it’s offensive! Everything is offensive nowadays….Please parents get a backbone and stop complaining about everything!!

  7. I was very, very surprised to hear about the cancellation of Caillou. I watched the show when it was regularly featured on PBS and continued to search for it when it only appeared episodically. While the tantrums are true, don’t forget the good things the show focused on: diversity with portrayals of ethnic and children with special needs, learning about different races and their customs like Chinese New Year, going to school, etc. At the end of each episode, I thought a lesson had been learned by/taught to Caillou.

    Also I would advise those opponents to look closely at some of the replacement series.

    If anyone knows where I can purchase the entire series on DVD, please advise. Thank you.

  8. I too loved Caillou and my kids grew up watching this show. I did not feel he was any more whiny than most preschoolers. It would be hard to find a child or an adult nowadays that doesn’t feel like the world revolves around them!

  9. I think that Caillou Is a show that people all ages should be able to watch. I think that if Calliou comes back it should be loved. I could use some improvement tho………

  10. The problem “I’m my opinion” was that the Caillou episodes rarely shifted the focus from a 3 and 4 year old constantly whining, crying, throwing temper tantrums, acting out in school, mistreating his little sister, showing regular selfishness, disobeying his parents and teacher. The writers were too redundant in writing almost every episode to reflect all these negative or rude behaviors instead of once in a while showing the little boy’s happy, celebratory or learning abilities to show an alternate side of this boy as he was growing up in those painful early years. I wouldn’t ban the show in my home but my little ones clearly enjoyed and looked forward to The Cat In The Hat, Arthur , Odd Squad, Pinkalicous & Peterific and my youngest loves Ready Jet Go!! If anyone was to blame it is the poor writing for that show!!!

  11. My 2 year old loves Caillou, she is actually is watching his show right now and I don’t seem to be bothered by it! She has a older brother and sister and they are well behaved children, he parents do good with him with having 2 children under the age of 5. We love watching Caillou on our house I even bought her the Caillou doll and his cat Gilbert and she is sooo happy!!!

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