Scandalized viewers criticized Dillermand as inappropriate, tone-deaf, and a jarring choice on the heels of the country’s growing #MeToo movement. But the series’s creators, and many bemused fans, defended it as a subversive comedy that has served up opportunities for parents to have frank and unsqueamish conversations about anatomy with their kids.
“The series is about being true to one’s self,” Morten Skov Hansen, the head of DR Ramasjang, the company’s kids’ channel, told me in an email. “It’s as desexualized as it can possibly get.”
While I don’t speak Danish, the tone of John Dillermand is not easily lost in translation: The show isn’t about sex. It’s about taking responsibility for your actions, and the awkward realities of inhabiting a human body. But in every minute of the Dillermand jaunt, there’s also a reminder that male bodies are still allowed freedoms that female ones are not.
John Dillermand is, in some ways, a throwback to the man-children who have dominated kids’ TV across continents and decades. Dillermand, who is middle-aged, lives with his remarkably spry great-grandmother (oldemor, in Danish), and retains the worldview of a young boy. He is clad inexplicably in a red-and-white striped swimsuit (which graciously accommodates his elongating appendage, because a nude penis would have been a bridge too far), and occasionally a pom-pommed beanie. A character reminiscent of Mr. Bean or Inspector Gadget, he lacks street smarts and maturity, and innocently sees the world as his playground.
Were Dillermand typically endowed, he might be merely bumbling or pitiable. But his giant penis—billed in the show’s theme song as the largest in the world—won’t allow him to languish in anonymity. A manifestation of his id, his pecker acts of its own accord. It’s sassy. It’s hedonistic. It’s got an appetite (for food, mostly), and isn’t afraid to buck social norms to sate it.
This tension between man and member drives the show’s zany plot. After Dillermand’s penis plucks an ice-cream cone from a child’s hand and flings it onto a stoplight, Dillermand must redirect traffic and set the situation right. When the diller nearly drowns several kids, John wrangles it into a makeshift propeller to airlift the children to safety. Dillermand’s penis wields weapons with abandon—a dagger, a chain saw, a rifle. It provokes animals and bullies children. It steals. It commits acts of violence. It even terrifies Santa Claus (who mistakes the penis for a snake) so badly that he tumbles down a chimney and injures himself.
Dillermand has enough self-awareness to occasionally bemoan the shenanigans of his wayward penis, pulling his hat over his face and groaning, “Ugh, that dumb diller.” It’s often Oldemor who must remind her man-child great-grandson to pak den væk—put it away!—when Dillermand’s diller runs amok. “What will the neighbors think?” she screeches. But Dillermand always comes through in the end, picking up a lesson or two about conscientiousness along the way.
In the months since its premiere, John Dillermand has accumulated a veritable cavalry of tiny fans. Anne Sofie Pleidrup, who lives with her husband, her son, 6, and her daughter, 7, in Denmark, told me that her entire family has been enjoying the show. Both her children are creeping up to the age when anatomical differences are starting to fascinate them, and she was delighted that “they found the same punch lines funny.”