Thanks to YouTube, children’s entertainment has become the wild west. Traditional kids’ shows now have to compete with badly animated nursery rhymes, toy unboxers and – in one unfortunate incident I stumbled across three weeks ago – a Lego remake of Avengers: Endgame where Captain America gets stabbed through the heart by a home invader. Compared to this, even the most cynical, conventionally made kids’ show is a relief. Even Paw Patrol – a dystopian fantasy about every terrible thing that would happen if a society chose to privatise its emergency services and sell them to a suspiciously wealthy 10-year-old with a worrying penchant for strapping heavy robotic equipment to puppies – was a source of relief, at first.
Sure, there were gripes. The male dogs heavily outnumbered the females. Chase, the matinee idol of the Paw Patrol, constantly elbowed his way to the front of every episode at the expense of poor, overlooked Zuma. The mayor was just a negligent woman who walked around with a chicken in her handbag. But the show on the whole had a sensible underlying schema. There would be a problem. The dogs would be told how to fix it. They would fix it. The end.
However, Paw Patrol was also subject to a clear schism in quality. The culprit, as always, was commerce. The first Paw Patrol toys were released in the middle of 2014, before the first season had even ended; a line of figures, soft toys and vehicles that proved astonishingly popular. Before very long, every worn-down, nagged-out parent had cracked and submitted, and, by the following year, gross product sales had reached £188m. But this left Paw Patrol with a problem. If everyone had a Paw Patrol toy, then it meant that people would stop buying Paw Patrol toys. So, in season two, they turned Chase into a spy. From a creative point of view, this was catastrophic – it created a new Paw Patrol hierarchy whereby Chase, that brown-nosing git, would for ever be seen as the leader – but commercially it ripped open the floodgates.
Super Spy Chase meant a new line of toys had to be created, forcing parents back out to the shops for the latest plastic tat. And it was such a success that a feedback loop was created. Later in season two, the pups junked their perfectly good HQ for a roaming tour bus. In season three, they traded that in for a special plane. In season four, they got a submarine and a different bus and a new beachside headquarters. Last year, they also became superheroes. Every new vehicle or outfit or unnecessary genre diversification brought with it a new phalanx of toys. Paw Patrol the television series now primarily exists as a research and development division of the toy line, endlessly dreaming up new ways to separate parents from their money.
And it is all the fault of Super Spy Chase. If he’d just remained Chase – annoying, overconfident, faux-alpha Chase – we wouldn’t all be stockpiling rubbishy toys for an inevitable drizzly boot fair 15 years from now. But Paw Patrol was too greedy for that. I hate Paw Patrol more than anything in the world. Except for Bing.