I am bound and determined to churn out as many light and fluffy pieces as this coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic warrants. If we keep up the current situation, I should be writing these from a bunker in the Smoky Mountains up until 2025. I’m confident that even then the news will have urgent reports about spikes in potential coronavirus deaths, which will be followed by reports the next day with a modified downward prediction, and then back to another projected increase the day after that.
If I do wind up in a catacomb or a bunker, I will make sure it is equipped with a TV connected to Netflix. The reason is not to keep up with the latest “adult” content about crime families, or people engaged in all manner of malfeasance of both the true-life documentary and dramatic series variety. I will want Netflix because I will need daily doses of a show that should be on everyone’s coronavirus stuck-in-the-house menu: “Shaun the Sheep.”
Created in that wonderfully weird stop-action animation by the creator of “Wallace and Gromit,” “Shaun the Sheep” is the best medicine this side of hydroxychloroquine. There is so much to like.
For one, there are no queasy moments that come with a lot of Netflix fare where people under 17 and over 70 should be protected from. But saying it is entertainment that is perfect for all ages makes it sound like the kinds of institutionalized wholesome movies that are never all that entertaining.
You don’t even have to know how to speak English to enjoy “Shaun the Sheep.” You don’t need to know Spanish, Russian, Italian or Farsi; there is no human language at all. Other than music, all sound in the series is broken down into little 6-minute vignettes where humans and animals alike communicate through pantomime and selected grunts, bleeps, and clicks.
It takes a moment or two to get used to this style of nonverbal communication, but in no time, I found myself in a “Shaun the Sheep” rhythm, and everything is understandable. In fact, by not relying on language at all, no one is excluded from understanding everything that is happening. It may be the one great universal form of entertainment.
Now other people in my house who have been playing the home version of “house arrest” alongside me are beginning to ponder my sanity as I laugh out loud at the antics of Shaun and the other animals on the farm. When they politely suggest I may have lost my mind, I politely respond, “Get in line and take a number. And don’t disturb me when I’m enjoying an episode of ‘Shaun the Sheep.’ ”
By far the best thing about “Shaun the Sheep” is Shaun himself. I know I’m referring to a lump of animator’s clay, but stay with me here, or take a number and get in line. Shaun is not a mischief maker and too clever for words like so many other cartoon characters — though he is careful around the farmer to walk on all fours like the sheep he is and then resume his life as a biped when he is among his fellow animals. Mainly, Shaun is always looking to help people. This may take the form of producing delicious pizza at a pop-up drive-thru restaurant, finding a baby sheep’s teddy bear, or helping the dog on the farm win a barnyard talent contest.
Shaun sees a problem and goes about fixing it. Maybe they should send him to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. He is all about putting the world right in a world that has its fair share of piggish behavior. In “Shaun the Sheep,” that piggish behavior is provided by three thoroughly awful pigs. They are as self-centered and destructive as Shaun is dutiful and gracious. And he manages all of this with bleeps, clicks, and facial expressions. We know exactly what he is thinking and what his motivations are. And his motivations are always from a servant’s heart.
It would be a stretch and a half to turn “Shaun the Sheep” into a Ph.D. dissertation on postmodern Christian symbolism in modern cartooning, but you could probably get a decent high school project out of it.
With church doors still locked and having gone through the first Holy Week in our diocese’s collective memory without access to the sacraments, we can still thank God for his goodness and seek the open, protective arms of the Blessed Mother. And when the outside world is just a little too much to take, hunker down and watch 6 minutes of “Shaun the Sheep.”