Home > Animation, tv > Good Shows: Hey Arnold

Good Shows: Hey Arnold

Now I said before I was gonna do another post about Animorphs to compliment the last one, but I think I’ll save that for next time (which looks like it will be centered around the TV show and comparing it to the book series. I just need to find some videos of the old episodes so I can see if they were as mediocre as I remember).

Anyway, we’re gonna be talking about a tv show this time and one that was somewhat popular at the time, but is a bit underrated now. That show is the Nickelodeon cartoon, Hey Arnold!

Let’s take a look back, far back, a million years ago…in the Nineties. It was a simpler time, when gas cost less than two dollars a gallon, when a new fad toy like Tamagotchi and Furby came out every year driving kids to near-Lovecraftian madness if they could not obtain them, and when Nickelodeon was still good. Which isn’t to say Nickelodeon didn’t put out good stuff after the Nineties (Avatar and Fairly Oddparents being good examples and Invader Zim being the most triumphant one, even though they cancelled it), but around the mid-Nineties was where Nick was king. They were still running successful Nicktoons like Doug, Rocko’s Modern Life, Angry Beavers (speaking of which, Rocko and Angry Beavers might end up in some future posts as well), and of course, Hey Arnold.

Hey Arnold was the second longest running cartoon on Nickelodeon, right after the cartoon that just does not die, Rugrats (I liked Rugrats as a kid, but it got worse in the later seasons. And the All Grown Up spinoff is just…just not good. At all). In case you’ve never seen the show, Hey Arnold was about a nine year old kid named Arnold who goes to school in a city. He lives with his grandparents in a boarding house filled with other odd people and goes to school with classmates just as odd. These friends of his include his best friend Gerald, a country bumpkin named Stinky, a loudmouth somewhat-paranoid and obsessive kid named Sid, a polite, perfect Canon Sue named Lila (who Arnold has a crush on most of the second half of the series) and many others.

The most prominent figure besides Arnold however is Helga Pataki. Helga Pataki is a tough tomboyish girl who is angry, bitter, and snarky most of the time. She especially likes to pick on Arnold, calling him Football Head. But, in reality, Helga is in love with Arnold. Like… really obsessed over him. But she’s afraid to tell him and instead lashes out at him, which I guess would make her a textbook Tsundere. Nobody knows her secret aside from her best friend, a smart nice girl named Phoebe, and the few people she does tell over the course of the series. Aside from Arnold, she was the most focused upon character on the show and as a result seemed to have the most depth, but we’ll come back to that.

This show had a lot of things going for it. For one thing, it was funny for both kids and adults like 90% of the most successful Nick shows. This was in no small part to the fact that there were many, many, many jokes that seemed to creep back the censor (Helga’s poetry had a lot of this in it, I think more than once making a line in them about her “girlhood” trembling, which…I REALLY have no idea how that got past the censor, but it went over most kids heads. That’s just one example I can think of now, but seriously, this show had enough mature jokes slipped in that rivaled Rocko’s Modern Life in dirty joke stealth). It also had a good cast of voice actors. All the kids in the show were voiced by actual kids (which is a rare occurrence in voice acting) and all the kids were talented and seemed genuine in their performances. Not only that, but it also had Simpson alumni Dan Castellaneta and Tress MacNeille doing the voices for Arnold’s Grandpa and Grandma, who are two of the funniest characters on the show.

The shows were episodic in nature, with the only real story arc running through the whole series being that Helga is in love with Arnold and masks it by picking on him. The plots involved a lot of stuff you would typically in a show about kids in school (there’s one about a teacher’s strike, one about getting a new teacher, one VERY funny one about Phoebe making a fool of herself in front of the entire student body and getting humiliated for it to the point she never wants to go to school again, which rings very true to anyone whose ever been picked on by a large group of people in school), but it also had a lot of episodes that dealt with weirder stuff, mostly involving urban legends which the kids either encountered or actively investigated (for example, there’s one episode where there’s a legend about a dead mobster hiding his money on a cave in an island near the city and the kids go on a Goonies style search for it). There’s also another episode where Arnold encounters a deranged man who acts like a superhero named Monkeyman whose voiced by Andy Dick, and yes, its as weird and funny as it sounds). Most of the episodes were good, although there were quite a few that were hit or miss at times (one complaint I personally have is that there’s one overused plot where somehow Helga’s feelings about Arnold are going to be revealed because of a crucial piece of evidence that somehow came in Arnold’s possession and she has to get it back. It’s used like ten times over the course of the series and, although a few of them are quite good and funny, most are just the same plot each time).

The real strength of the show, however, was the well-defined characters and the development of them over the course of the series, which resulted in the best episodes. Pretty much every character in the show gets several episodes devoted to them over the course of the series and all the characters get subtle development. There’s one character named Harold who is one part “bully” and one part “momma’s boy who isn’t that bright”. He doesn’t get that many episodes devoted to him, but they do flesh him out a surprising amount. They show he’s an orthodox Jew and portray his rabbi and his families practices accurately. He teases people a lot, but all the kids recognize he’s a good person. He even gets a girlfriend named Big Patty, who is assumed to be a bully when she’s really just misunderstood. Again, this isn’t a main focus of the series, but he gets enough episodes that you can see the progression. Most kids get this. Other good examples are Eugene (a kid who has the worst luck ever, who eventually humorously accuses Arnold of being the jinx instead of him since every bad thing that’s happen to Eugene involved Arnold in some way) and Phoebe (who is Helga’s loyal friend who is smart and nice, but allows herself to be walked on sometimes. It is shown later in the series that she can be quite the badass when she’s pushed hard enough though).

However, the characters that get the most development and best episodes are Arnold and Helga. Arnold is involved in pretty much every episode anyway, but the best ones involving him are the ones that explore his emotional baggage about his mysteriously-absent parents. And I have to say, it’s refreshing that this baggage only gets to him in several specific episodes instead of having him angst about it the whole series. It’s more realistic and makes him a stronger character showing he has some issues, but he deals with them well enough and doesn’t let it control his life. However, the episodes when he shows his more vulnerable side give him the most character development and show he’s a more three-dimensional character than people might have originally thought (since he does at first glance seem to just fit in the generic nice guy protagonist who helps people archetype). He also has some good episodes which explore his relationship with Helga, and any time when they have a moment is always sweet.

Helga has a ton of episodes as well, but the best ones are the ones that explore her family, which is dysfunctional. Her adult sister is an obsessive-compulsive perfectionist who is idolized by her parents, while Helga herself is neglected. Her dad is a blowhard and her mom is heavily, HEAVILY implied to be an alcoholic even though they never come right out and say it. A lot of episodes involve this but one of the best ones and my favorite episode in the whole series is one called Helga on the Couch. The whole episode consists of Helga seeing a child psychologist and talking about her early childhood, where we get a more in-depth analysis of her family problems, how she met Arnold, why she’s so obsessed with him, and why she acts the way she does. It does a very good job of explaining why Helga is the way she is and her interaction with the psychologist is kind of heartwarming, probably since she’s the first adult who actually listened to her. Lot of good character stuff in that episode.

It’s a very good series that I recommend very much. It’s one of my favorite cartoons of all time. I liked it so much I even wrote a fanfiction of it. Now, I’ve written fanfiction before that I was not that happy with and am sort of ashamed to even bring up, but I still like that specific fanfic. I learned a lot while writing that one and really helped me develop.

Now, like I said, some episodes of this series are hit or miss, so I want to leave you with links to some of my favorites.

Like I said, this one is my favorite episode in the series. Very good character development and good writing. This is a link to the first part of it, but all three parts can be found linked to the first part.

This one is just a funny episode that has a few good Arnold/Helga moments. Helga wins a dinner for four at a French restaurant and tries to use it as an opportunity to impress/actively put the moves on Arnold. Of course, things don’t go over smoothly, but it has kind of a sweet ending.

This is Parent’s Day, which is the first episode to address where Arnold’s parents are and the first to reveal he has some baggage about it. Lots of character development for Arnold and his grandparents. It’s also probably the saddest Hey Arnold episode, mostly because of the ending. This is another long one, so this is a link to the first part and the other parts can be found in the related videos to it.

Aaaand this would probably be the dirtiest episode of the series. This is a weird episode where Arnold visits his bland-doppleganger cousin Arnie only to find that Arnie’s town is apparently Mirror Universe (except no goatees and no Evil Spock) since it’s populated by Bizarro versions of his friends. I don’t want to spoil exactly what happens, but its one of the weirder episodes and it is really funny especially if you’re older because there are some dirty overtones in this episode. And undertones. Dirty over-undertones. Just watch it.

Starring Andy Dick as Monkeyman. Really, do you need another reason to see this episode?

Anyway, those were my thoughts on Hey Arnold. If you’ve never seen the show, check it out. You won’t regret it.

Edit: Since I originally posted this, pretty much all of the clips I linked were taken off youtube. HOWEVER, you can now get Hey Arnold DVDs off Amazon as part of their burn-on-demand DVDs they’re putting out now. All seasons of the show are currently available. Check them out

Categories: Animation, tv Tags: ,
  1. January 13, 2010 at 4:39 am

    I forgot all about Hey Arnold. It was a good cartoon with good lessons on race, the elderly and friendship. Football head!

  2. August 27, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    I enjoyed reading this article. It brought back memories of better days.

    If you really loved Hey Arnold, I suggest you check out the following 90’s site.


    It’s a forum based on the 90’s and the greatness that came with it! Join to discuss the great 90’s cartoons, shows, movies, music, snacks, commercials, memories and everything else that you enjoyed about the 1990’s! Join the movement to get the great cartoons and shows back!

  1. June 21, 2010 at 1:20 am
  2. January 19, 2011 at 11:40 pm
  3. February 23, 2011 at 7:54 pm

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