In the ’90s, Christian kids had a few pop culture icons. There was Psalty, of course, and his family of libropomorphic psalmbooks who took human children on wholesome adventures of singing hymns and dodging giant vermin. There was McGee, the animated manifestation of a young evangelical’s moral code. John Avery Whittaker and the rest of the citizens of Odyssey. And, of course, VeggieTales. Can’t forget about VeggieTales.
But there is one character who remains shrouded in mystery. It may have been a b-lister, by the standards of the times, but its influence loomed large over a certain kind of household. Its name was Colby the Computer.
Colby was introduced via Colby’s Place, which has the form of a TBS sitcom pilot if TBS sitcom pilots were insane. We are introduced to a rollerskating robot who appears to run some sort of after school soda fountain and has a piano for a stomach. You can watch the whole first episode here, though we can’t say we recommend it.
Let’s start with what’s working here. First of all, the ’80s fashion is genuinely fantastic. Secondly, the screaming color scheme kind of works once you release yourself to the acid burn. And it’s impossible to fully hate anything with a laugh track.
And then there are the questions. So many questions! But the one that looms largest is, unfortunately, the one the show chooses to hinge its entire thing on: What is Colby?
Well, one might say, the answer is in the title: Colby is a computer. Hence the name “Colby the Computer.” To that we say: Are you off your rocker? Have you ever seen a computer? Admittedly, this was a very different time in computer science, but we at RELEVANT know enough to know that Colby is no computer. Look at it! It wears a baseball hat! And skates! It talks and moves! It is self aware, gifted with that most precious of God’s gifts: sentience!
Colby is not a computer. In fact, calling Colby a “robot” might even be a stretch.
In later attempts to adapt Colby for the screen, the target audience seemed to drop a few years and “Colby’s Missing Memory” found Colby on edge, having lost its memories and in the throes of pure panic. This “robot” is not only sentient, but capable of feeling. Colby not only talks and moves, but reasons and emotes. We must conclude that not only is Colby not a computer. It is at least in the stratosphere of personhood.
But where does Colby come from? Who was its maker? What is its purpose? We have no answers to such questions. On the surface, Colby seems to exist only to point kids towards God’s Word, which is all well and good for the kids. But what about Colby itself? Is Colby, though blessed with reason and feeling, doomed forever to point the kids towards a divine truth it can never itself know? To pave the path for a journey it can never walk? Will Colby spend what we must call its “life” watching children grow old and die, ascending to an eternity it will never know until the sun itself burns out and it continues alone on an empty husk of a planet long since rendered uninhabitable by the ravages of time?
Let us hope not, but we must hasten away from such horrors and return to the central question: What is Colby? Why were these kids’ parents cool with their kids spending hours alone with this thing? Is it still around? What does it want? And should we be trying to make sure it has what it wants?