In a half hour that’s thoughtful and fun, follow fourth-grader Arnold the optimist as he plays peacemaker among the students of P.S. 118. The show still airs weekdays at 10:00 and 10:30 p.m. on Teen Nick. But why revisit this oldie-but-goodie?
1. Characters. This show has some different character types, from archetypes—the rich snob (Rhonda), the bully who’s a kind of a baby (Harold), the brainiac (Phoebe)—to fictional icons among the series like Dino Spumoni, Chocolate Boy and Stoop Kid (say it with me: “Stoop Kid’s afraid to leave his stoop!”). But the thing is with this kids’ show there was development amid the stereotypes. Rhonda proved creative and resourceful when her family became poor; Harold discovered worth as a butcher; and Phoebe proved imperfect when she plagiarized a poem. Showcasing development from time to time not only subverts audience expectations but reminds young viewers there may be something to be learned here: that they can relate and learn and change for the better too.
(I also applaud the show for portraying ethnic characters like Gerald, Mr. Hyunh and Lorenzo as well as multiracial characters like Phoebe and Nadine (according to the Hey Arnold! wiki). Even if they’re just cartoons, it’s nice to see some POC represented and not always in the most stereotypical sense (as per the wiki we have a biracial Nadine portrayed as being interested in entomology, a rich Hispanic-American in Lorenzo and the Asian Mr. Hyunh portrayed as a masterful country singer).
2. Lessons. We learned plenty of lessons on Hey Arnold!: some broad and cliché, others a little more episode-specific. Let’s revisit some:
- Family doesn’t have to be blood.
- Communication between you and others is key.
- Stand up for what you believe in.
- Grandparents are the coolest (and the strangest—here’s lookin’ at you, Grandma Gertie).
- If a girl is mean to you, she just might be in love with you. (Or not. But it’s a possibility.)
- You just might be the jinx.
- Mementos are important.
- Sometimes math does relate to real life. (*gasp*)
- Skip school at your own risk.
- Love is the best inspiration.
- Past tragedies don’t have to determine a person’s future disposition.
- It’s about what you think about your appearance, not others’ opinions.
- There’s always a reason why a bully bullies.
- Manipulation can get you what you want but rarely what you (or the other person) need.
- Some things will never make sense.
- Some things make perfect sense.
Think you can guess which episodes I’m referencing? If not, it might be time for rewatch, or you could head on over to the Hey Arnold! wiki for detailed lists of characters, episodes and behind-the-scenes trivia. It’ll getcha right in the late ’90s feels. 😉