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The Unnecessary Busyness of Busytown: The Mystery of Pointless Effort
by Elizabeth Beasley

Richard Scarry's tales have entertained children and adults alike for generations in both book and video form. One such television iteration is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Busytown Mysteries, seen in the United States on the Cookie Jar TV block on CBS as well as being available on streaming outlets. In the show, Huckle Cat, Sally Cat, and Lowly the Worm solve mysteries for their young audience.

However, at the same time, they teach children the key concept of pointlessness -- necessary for understanding for the world of work. The solution to each mystery is well foreshadowed, so alert children will scream the answer at the television and feel frustrated by the idiocy of Huckle Cat. Yet this will prepare the youngster for meetings where the outcome is already decided, but for some reason two hours must still be wasted to pretend there is valuable input to gather for that looming "decision." In the episode "Where's Junior," Junior Monkey is missing and his younger sister gives numerous clues yet no one will listen. Who has not felt completely silenced at work at least once? At the end of each mystery, Huckle may or may not credit his "team" for the help, but it is always Huckle who is lauded. While Sally may have found the important clue or Lowly may have broken the case, it is always Huckle who shines.

The incompetence of workers is quite evident as well. Concrete gets switched with flour ("The Mystery of the Unbreakable Bread"), soap gets mixed up with gasoline ("The Trouble with Bubbles"), and telephone lines get crossed ("The Mystery of the Unpopular Pizzeria"). The chimney sweep leaves footprints ("The Monster Mystery"), the highway lines aren't straight ("The Twisty Line Mystery") and the firefighters' hose gets left in the park ("The Forgotten Fire Hose Mystery"). Mr. Fix-It alone causes numerous problems with his super-strong magnet, garbage truck, and jet-powered skates. A little quality control would ruin the premise of the entire show.

Yet perhaps the most unnecessary activity of Busytown Mysteries isn't the rework that must occur from simple animal error, but from their driving. For each errand Huckle, Sally and Lowly must run, they each take their own vehicle. Why is there no mass transit? Why is there no carpooling? If they are going to the same place, why can they not take the same vehicle? ! Adding to the wear and tear of the roads, Pig Will and Pig Won't often join the detective team. Yet these brothers at least share a vehicle, although siblings Huckle and Sally cannot share a car. At least once per episode, three to four cars whizz off to the same destination. WHY? Will future episodes be "They Mystery of the Ozone Regulations" or "The Mystery of the Carpool Lane"?

There is no good reason for the pointless assertion of individuality, endless displays of ineptitude, and obliviousness to the obviousness other than it is maddening. In that way it just like the work world -- the "Busytown" we all cannot escape from until death, disability or retirement.