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Gullah Gullah Island is a television series for the pre-school audience. It aired on Nick Jr. and later on Noggin in the US, starting in 1994 and lasting until 2005. Sixty episodes were produced from 1994 to 1999 and another eight followed at irregular intervals. Most of the series was taped at Universal Studios in Orlando, where it shared a set with Clarissa Explains It All and earlier All That episodes. The setting was supposed to be Beaufort County, South Carolina, including Saint Helena Island, which is regarded as the focal point of today's Gullah culture.

The series follows the adventures of Ron "Mr. Ron" and Natalie "Miss Natalie" Daise as they lead a group of children and a large, yellow polliwog--a polliwog in the show's context being little more than someone in a frog costume with a tail. The cast includes some of the Daise's own children and a niece as well as a diverse and changing bunch of other child actors of whom Jazmine Sullivan and Vanessa Baden went on to make a bit of a name for themselves after the show. Otherwise their casting success was mixed. Most of the guest kids were good but the little red-headed girl who appeared regularly couldn't dance to save her life and probably got no lines for a reason.

Many of the plots revolve around Binyah Binyah Polliwog--"binyah" is explained as a Gullah word meaning "been here a long time"--who loves children and is almost magically attracted to places where children are playing. Sounds almost like someone from a sex offenders' registry. Binyah Binyah is not very bright and is only semi-articulate but manages to take part in the games like a three-year old might. Not the sort of quality that you'd get from Jim Henson but good enough to do the job without breaking the budget. A lot of the show is about singing and dancing, polliwog and all. Each show features a couple of numbers performed by the group and the odd guest star, ranging from American and African staples to rather tame hip-hop and salsa.

I find it helpful that the show does not limit its cast to match the audience's age and is more realistic than most in using an age range that is likely to be found in a family setting. The music is at least as good as that of any other children's program and the stories fall in line with the average in terms of entertainment and didactic content. I'm not a great fan of television for the youngest but I don't mind letting the little 'un watch the show as it's fun to dance with, more intelligent than the Teletubbies will ever be, and deviates a fair bit from the white television mainstream. I'm also pleased to report that, despite the creators being pretty religious folk, none of that is evident in the show.

Gullah Gullah Island can be a bit boring for the adult who has to watch it with the young 'uns. It's even cleaner and more inoffensive than Sesame Street. I think it's a good influence though, especially for white kids that grow up in minority-deprived neighbourhoods. It's unusual in being dominated by non-stereotyped black characters rather than just featuring the token black kid, though "Mr. Ron" seems to be one of those guys who can't perform without a huge, sparkling grin that makes him look like he escaped from either a minstrel show or a toothpaste commercial. Bill Cosby he ain't. Assorted other ethnicities feature regularly, and the groups of kids are mostly mixed in terms of origin and appearance.

Despite being reasonably popular during its time on the air, Gullah Gullah Island was never released on DVD and is hard to find on any medium. Original VHS tapes go for about ten dollars an episode on the used market. DVDs may be obtained from the stars' web site, where they sell the fruit of all sorts of labours, ranging from Ron's baked goods and Christian love songs to Natalie's ceramics. The series has not been licenced for release as such so the discs can only be had as a "gift" with a larger purchase. As far as I know, this show has not been released at all outside the States. There are sometimes reruns on US television, though last I heard they were at some unholy graveyard hour so you'd probably be best off programming your favourite recording device to record them for future use whenever you get the opportunity.

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