Every parent of a young child in confinement knows it or is about to learn it: you can’t choose where they find their joy.
For example, my two and a half year old son enjoys listening to the Thomas and Friends Storytime podcast. It is, by far, his favorite thing to do. By a similar margin, the podcast’s opening “toot toot” is my least favorite sound on the planet, which now activates my fight-or-flight reflex whenever I hear it. But due to some evolutionary quirk, I find myself unable to deny my boy his train show, as it gives him the kind of happiness unattainable by adults without the use of Class A drugs.
Nonetheless, I’m really faced with how much I hate this show and the trains in it. Part of that can be attributed to stepping into our fourth week of never-ending lockdown. Most of this can be attributed to the fact that Thomas and Friends Storytime is a bad show about trains that I hate.
There are a lot of great reasons to hate this show, but I won’t cover any of them here. This is simply a list of all the trains in the series, ranked by how much I hate them. This classification is not final. Those in a position similar to me may want to make their own list of trains they hate from their kid’s train podcast. It doesn’t have to be a train podcast specifically driving you crazy during lockdown. For me, however – and I cannot stress this enough – it does.
Nia is the least objectionable train in my son’s train podcast, maybe because she has so little airtime. I can’t tell you much about Nia other than that she’s painted orange which is good, and that she has already been tasked with bringing an elephant to Sodor Wildlife Park and the elephant s ‘fled, which is not the case.
A lot of people don’t like Gordon, who is haughty and rude, but I feel an affinity with this train because the contempt in which he holds all the other trains on the Isle of Sodor is very close to mine. There aren’t many Gordon-centric episodes in Thomas and Friends Storytime, but as if to make up for that, the actor screams each of his lines at an overwhelming volume. Gordon doesn’t go on adventures like other trains, and seems to be very attached to the core business of “being a train”. It is for this reason alone that it does not rank higher.
I’m told there is a famous episode from the old TV show where Henry is locked in a tunnel for eternity as a punishment for disobedience. I’m not exaggerating when I say that if this happened to one of the trains from Thomas and Friends Storytime, I would take my shirt off and run around the living room like I just won the World Cup.
Henry is not buried alive in the podcast, which is a shame.
Diesel is a diesel shunting engine and is the closest thing to Thomas and Friends Storytime with an antagonist. Why is he the antagonist? Well, when Reverend W. Awdry dreamed of the magical island of Sodor to delight and entertain a generation of children, he decided to establish a vendetta between diesel and steam engines. I can only assume that he did this for his own impenetrable Protestant reasons, and the end result is a completely incongruous kind of sectarian tension running through the series. Diesel is the head of the diesel faction on Sodor and has already stolen a Christmas tree. Pathetic.
My son has episodes that he likes more than others. Thomas ‘Animal Friends, starring Rebecca, is his everyone’s favorite episode, and as a result, I know Thomas’ Animal Friends better than literally any media or art I have ever encountered. I have more clarity on the events taking place in Thomas’ Animal Friends than anything that has happened to me in my real life, including the birth of my son. It is for this reason that I would like to see Rebecca the great tender engine explode with huge amounts of dynamite.
4. Cranky the crane
I’ll be the first to admit that Cranky The Crane is not a train. He always makes my list.
In 1896, the Lumière brothers launched their film Arrival of a train at La Ciotat station. It’s a 50-second clip of a train arriving at a station, and when it first aired in Paris, audiences were so terrified that they ran screaming out of the hall. It was premonitory, because 125 years later, that’s my exact reaction when James The Red Engine appears in any episode of Thomas And Friends Storytime.
James is touted as “the fun engine”. For starters, it’s a lie. James does not at any point in any of the episodes that could even be generously described in these terms. The podcast’s insistence that James is a comedic relief might be what tilts me into lockdown, ripping our speakers off the wall and ramming them and myself into blessed traffic.
The only reason this guy isn’t number one is that the other day we were at the park and my son stretched out his arms and ran along the path and said “toot toot I’m Thomas ! ” with a huge smile on her face which was the best thing that has happened to me all week.
Nonetheless, Thomas is a huge shit and there’s no question about it. JRR Tolkien once said that “cellar door” was the most beautiful phrase in the English language. It was only because he had never heard the expression “Thomas The Tank Engine was transformed into atoms by a futuristic beam weapon”.
And so, by default, Percy, The Green Engine, is my most hated engine on Thomas and Friends Storytime. He’s in most episodes and says things like “The last one in Tidmouth Sheds is a broken boiler!” without any consequence of a sane God.
This is the list. I no longer wish to talk about trains.