Were you even a child of the 90s without an unhealthy obsession of big purple lovable dinosaur, Barney? Personally, I remember being infatuated, owning everything from Barney underwear to Barney tents, and of course Barney & Friends stuffed animals. Even now, just thinking of the show puts a nostalgic smile on my face. Peacock’s new documentary miniseries I Love You, You Hate Me examines the Barney phenomenon from the dinosaur’s creation to the explosion in popularity to the chilling obsessive haters that would stop at nothing to literally kill him just like he “killed their childhood.” Real life is far more complicated than Barney’s imaginary world would suggest—filmmaker Tommy Avallone attempts to be as subjective as possible by diving deep. Copious interviews with many of those involved (be it cast, crew, or creatives) suggest a swirling vortex of drama.
Back in 1988, one woman’s frustrations at trying to keep her toddler, Patrick, busy led to a visionary idea. Barely any programs existed on television during that time aimed at strictly preschool children. What if Sheryl Leach decided to make one herself? The early years and the genesis for Barney is so simple, yet so perfect. Leach was always committed to maintaining the show’s tone of upbeat positivity at all times, and viewed herself as the mother of Barney. I was fascinated to learn that the show’s concept was originally that several different toys would come to life! Barney was designed as a teddy bear, but a traveling dinosaur exhibit prompted a vital change. Patrick became so infatuated with dinosaurs that Barney just had to be one!
I loved hearing about Sheryl, Patrick, and the empire she created in such detail from others, but it is a true shame that the two of them did not participate in I Love You, You Hate Me. It would have been so interesting to hear them reminisce about the past, but alas, it was not meant to be. Instead, the picture painted of Sheryl is nothing but kind and warm. She appeared to take great comfort in the outreach she had to children of all ages through the magic of Barney. She also apparently did not take great stock in the Barney bashings, even as they spread hate across the land with bashings and stuffed animal torching taking center stage. A tragedy surrounding Sheryl’s son, Patrick, casts a dark cloud over the second episode in particular.
How can a show designed to entertain very young kids incite so much hatred? Why does Barney’s body actor, David Joyner, allegedly run a tantric sex energy business? What was the origin of the I Hate Barney Secret Society? These are some of many questions that pop up in this engaging, thorough documentary on Barney Mania. I often found some of the interviewees to be a bit disturbing, like the one who started a Jihad group to destroy Barney website on a very early version of the internet. The fact that they have the gall to so openly fess up to their own hatred actually shows immense personal growth. One person compares the dynamics of hating to Neo-Nazism and white supremacy—people who identify themselves by what they hate are utterly bizarre. Steve Burns recalls a story about when his celeb death hoax went viral, and that in itself reflects upon a sad truth.
At times, I Love You, You Hate Me brought back so much nostalgia for me. My parents renting the VHS tapes for me, singing along to Barney with my grandma, and playing in that aforementioned Barney tent are among some of my most vivid early memories. Time capsules into the 90s like this one here really speak to me on a personal and emotional level; the added layer of my connection to Barney with my family made this particular documentary practically sublime.
Return to the whimsical, carefree world of Barney in the two-part eye-opening documentary, I Love You, You Hate Me, coming to Peacock on Wednesday, October 12th.