The 90’s were sort of a boom period for cartoons. We were treated to some of the greatest animated shows to every grace our screen on Saturday morning. It was during this period that Nickelodeon, Nick for you degenerates, was churning out classic show after classic show. Among these was the animated gem that is “Hey Arnold!”. The show starred Arnold and his classmates, who all lived within the same neighborhood. Arnold himself lived with his grandparents who were his legal guardians due to the disappearance of his parents. His friends were all comprised of the usual generic characters that you would find on a kids show at the time. The show mainly consisted of Arnold helping someone out with a problem or getting himself out of a precarious situation. The entire idea is a simple enough concept, yet the show somehow managed to turn this into its own unique and memorable niche by going deeper than any other show had before.
The characters of the show, as stated previously, were pretty generic in the beginning. You had the main character Arnold, who was just an all-around nice guy. You had the” girl next door” in Lila, who Arnold was infatuated with. Let’s not forget Helga G Pataki, who was literally obsessed with Arnold. These all seem like pretty simple characters, however further along in the show these characters become more dynamic. As they are featured more, why they are who they are becomes clear.
Lila is the sweetest girl in the fourth grade, with manners that would put the queen of England to shame. She is nice to everyone no matter what. When Helga follows Lila home one day she learns that Lila is dirt poor and that her father has lost his job. You see it is here we learn that Lila has learned to be courteous and grateful because she herself has very little. This causes Helga to begin standing up for Lila despite Arnold having a crush on her. We also get a chance to look into why Helga is the way that she is; rude, disrespectful, and Arnold obsessed. You see Helga’s household is pretty much neglectful. Her mom comes off as either drunk or heavily medicated in nearly every episode, while her father is money obsessed beeper tycoon who rarely shows compassion. Her parents shower her little attention and this drops to basically zero when her “Perfect “older sister Olga comes around. Helga is basically the black sheep in her family. This explains her need to lash out at others, which stems from the general lack of feeling loved at home. This also causes her infatuation with Arnold who, as we see in a flashback, shows genuine concern for her on the first day of kindergarten by giving her an umbrella when she ends up out in the rain. This act of kindness causes Helga to be drawn to him as he treats her how she her parents won’t. This goes to show that Arnold has always been an all-around nice guy, but who is he besides that? Well we come to see that Arnold has many issues that he’s dealing with while still helping his friends and family with theirs. The main one being that his parents have been missing since he was a baby. Episodes sometimes end with Arnold looking at a picture that he keeps in his room, often shedding a tear.
This just goes to show you how deep and developed cartoons in the 90’s were. Taking typical characters and giving the real life issues to deal with made the show that much more relatable and helped solidify its place in history. The show also gave us compelling stories to go along with these characters.
When it comes to storytelling “Hey Arnold!” will go down in history as one of the best shows to ever do it. While it may have started out as a kid’s show, it certainly did not shy away from dark themes. In the shows first Christmas themed episode Arnold becomes the secret Santa for Mr. Hyunh.; a tenant in his grandparents building. Hyunh explains to Arnold that he feels down around this particular time of year because he was separated from his daughter during the final days of the Vietnam War and he hasn’t seen her since. Arnold then goes through hell and high water to find his daughter and reunite them for Christmas. For a children’s show to touch on such topics as the Vietnam War and how it affected families within the nations involved is simply astonishing.
The show also had a multitude of undertones and subtle nuances that implied more mature traits for each character. As stated previously, Helga’s mom was heavily implied to be either a drunk or a drug addict. She came off as disoriented in every episode and was often spaced out from what was going on around her. Arnold’s teacher was implied to be a homosexual. This was greatly hinted at during a thanksgiving themed episode in which we saw Mr. Simmons mother appear to be unapprovingly of his abnormal relationship with a male friend. These among other things helped define the show as more than just another cartoon and more of a real life example.
This show gave kids at the time an example of many things that they would either grow to face or were already facing. Arnold wasn’t simply a main character but someone who kids should strive to be like. He had his own issues that he was dealing with but not one time he takes them out on anyone in the show. He was always helpful and did whatever he could to fix anyone’s problems. This is not strictly regulated to just Arnold however as many of the character end up experiencing situations that help the, grow in maturity while showing them that you never know what someone is going through. Rhonda turns her nose up at Big Patty and often ridicules her until she learns that Big Patty wants nothing more than to make her mother proud and is actually a very well mannered lady. Helga leans, as stated previously, that Lila Is poor and lives in very bad conditions after bullying her at school. There are countless examples of this throughout the series but one main point is always given, you simply never know what someone is going through.
This is one powerful message to be taken from a children’s show. To be able to deliver this message to growing children and entertain them at the same time is an impressive feat, one that was obtained throughout the course of the show. “Hey Arnold!” will go down in history as one of the greatest animated television shows to ever come across our screens simply because it helped teach us, not who or what we should be but that everyone has their own problems in /”life that they are dealing with and we should do our best to help them by not adding on to it. This show sums up everything that was great about Nickelodeon and cartoons as a whole in the 90’s. Arnold and his gang will forever remain in our hearts as a smile will creep across the face of anyone that this show has ever managed to touch whenever someone shouts ‘HEY ARNOLD!”