Kathie Lee’s Rock n’ Tots Café: Rockin’ Roundup (1995) – By Jonathon Pernisek

 Well, it’s official: I’m ashamed of myself.

I know this may be hard to believe, especially coming from the guy who plunks down good money for Z-grade DVD transfers of after school specials “starring” Demi Moore as well as a ticket to see Thunderbirds in theaters. But trust me when I say you can’t get any lower than watching a children’s show wherein Kathie Lee Gifford is the focal point. Blame my fellow b-fan of a friend for giving it to me as a gag gift if you must, but know the majority of the shame lies firmly in my lap. And with this in mind, let’s take a tour of Hell, shall we?

The premise of Kathie Lee’s Rock n’ Tots Café is pretty basic, in that it involves little else besides Kathie Lee running around a café like a coked-up lunatic. Think Pee-wee’s Playhouse but without any of the fun, wit, or imagination. In essence it’s the kind of drivel any parent would be horrified to witness even once, much less multiple times if their children just so happened to be caught in Gifford’s spindly web. Luckily, I can’t honestly believe any child could enjoy this even on the basest of levels, so perhaps the families of the mid-‘90s were spared such a curse.

But Jonathon, what actually happens in the wild world of the Rock ‘n Tots Café? This is a question you may ask if you were still reading this review, which you cannot possibly be doing because then we would both be very, very sad people indeed. And so even though no one is reading this “review” of a 20-minute children’s video, I shall go right ahead and answer the hypothetical question just for the sake of professionalism. Yeah, that’s it, professionalism. Not sadism.

Uh, so anyway, Kathie Lee Gifford runs this café where the only customers are a bunch of multi-ethnic children who essentially look dazed and confused as to why they are on a neon-colored studio set wearing cowboy outfits. Yes, the theme of the day at the Café is the Old West, and everyone sure is excited. All of Gifford’s lovable pals are here for the party, including Moochie, a mouse turned waitress who is constantly bursting into tears because of her extreme work load; Giff, a guy in a bear suit that looks like it was thrown away after a public high school lost its funding; Duke the Juke, who is in fact not a porn star but a magic jukebox, and Paw, the mysterious head chef at the Café whose identity is restricted to his left arm poking out from the kitchen. Together they’re sure to put on the best hoe-down these kids have ever seen!

Well, everyone expect Paw. There’s this unsettling, barely beneath the surface tension between Paw and Gifford that everyone senses but no one is brave enough to bring out into the open. Why the hostility? It mainly has to do with Gifford’s manic need to break into song literally every two minutes, which cues Paw to throw out more than a few harshly sarcastic remarks. “Sheesh, enough with the singin’ already!” is just one example. Gifford tries her best to stifle the anger she feels toward these outbursts, gritting her teeth and squinting her eyes in a vain attempt to appear bemused. “Oh, Paw!” she says with a sigh, when meanwhile the darkness within her demands blood.

Matters get even strangers when Duke the Juke (man that’s a dirty name) transports two “outlaws” from the Wild West to the interior of the Café. These bandits are played by none other than Gifford’s creepy older husband and tiresomely cutesy son. Some inane banter is exchanged between Gifford and her hubby, which within a matter of seconds drifts into the realm of the disturbing. Put simply, Gifford wonders aloud if she’ll meet this “bandit” sometime in the “future,” which results in an awkward edit and a shot of Mr. Gifford essentially looking directly at his wife’s crotch. Meanwhile Baby Giffy is complaining about his Mom’s incessant need to sing, completely oblivious to the time-space continuum that will apparently bend over backwards to ensure his birth.

I know, I’m looking into this a little more than anyone ever should, but frankly, I’m embarrassed and need something to ridicule in order to feel if only just a bit better about myself. You’ve never cringed until you’ve watched an emotionally unstable mouse complaining about her workload while children perform bad choreography and Kathie Lee sings about the Old West. For crying out loud, at one point the kids are forced to dress up as horrifically offensive Indian braves! I can’t think about this anymore. There should be a law restricting me from videos as such this…