Hey Arnold! was a brilliant show for its time, one might call it a precursor to Avatar: The Last Airbender in terms of kids' shows that weren't afraid to dig deeper. It dealt with street crime and taught the lesson of "never let power go to your head" without resorting to a Broken Aesop. It dealt with dysfunctional families, parental abandonment, poverty, spooky urban legends, even alcoholism (though it was never said straight out Miriam was an alcoholic).
The characters were also wonderfully fleshed out, all fitting certain archetypes but having just enough development to keep them from being flat stereotypes. Arnold was goodness and wisdom personified and borderlined on being a Gary Stu, but not obnoxiously or sickeningly so. He was still a real kid with real flaws and issues, and the way he was able to reach out and help so many people was through sheer stubbornness ("Cranky Author", "Tutoring Torvald", "Weighing Harold"). Helga was madly in love with Arnold to the point where she held him up as her "light in the darkness", but call her a simpering little damsel in distress who can't let go of Arnold's peen and you'd be thanking your lucky stars she's just a drawing or you'd be answering to Old Betsy. Gerald was way more than the token black best friend, he was cool and we got to see his home and family (who were also developed nicely), he was the keeper of several urban legends and even got to be the Beta Couple with Helga's BFF. Harold started out as a bullying jerkass who cried to Mommy every time he got what was coming to him, and soon developed into a jerk with a heart of gold and one of the gang. Lila was clearly a send-up of the classic Mary Sue, but she was a genuinely nice person who wanted to be everyone's friend.
And the adults fit a variety of tropes too-some WERE useless and mean, but others were kind and a friend to the kids, and some failed to do right but still had their hearts in the right place. Even the jerks like Big Bob had their moments.
It was also quite shippy for a kids' cartoon. Eventually Arnold more or less picked up on Helga's feelings for him (his dream of her almost confessing her love in "Married") and seemed to have some for her as well, but he also had ship tease with Lila. Harold had TWO love interests: snobby Rhonda and kindred spirit Big Patty. Rhonda herself had a little ship tease with Sid in "Wheezin' Ed" and was the object of Curly's obsession. Sid was seen trying to flirt with Arnold's old crush Ruth, Stinky had a crush on Helga and briefly dated Gloria, Helga had her own stalker with a crush on Brainy. And of course let's not forget the subtle but still adorable Gerald/Phoebe.
There's still a lot I haven't seen of the later seasons and I intend to watch them ASAP. This show is awesome and I can't believe I ever stopped watching.
Now onto Doug. This show was more simplistic, the only difference being its technicolor cast. XD But it's far from flat. The characters are still pretty nuanced, relationships fleshed out, and it had some pretty good stories. Unfortunately it was prone to Wall Bangers (namely the money episode, which was only saved by a small crowning moment of heartwarming at the end) and while I personally don't mind them I could see people quickly getting bored of Doug's endless imagine spots. But even those were at least realistic, what 11-year-old hasn't at one time or another thought "what would my favorite secret agent do at a time like this"? And Mr. Bone could get pretty annoying.
But overall it was a pretty cool show.
One thing I'm noticing this time around is that Roger and Doug's interactions can be easily interpreted as FoeYay. XD; There's nothing blatant, it's certainly nowhere near the Cartman-Kyle levels (I would be quite scared if Roger chased Doug across the country demanding Doug suck his balls @_@). But some scenes... XD But Roger does seem to give a crap more about Doug than he lets on. Even if he's a douchebag about it.
I'm also quite liking Beebee Bluff. She's snobby and spoiled and her parents give her the world on a silver plate, but she's also sweet and a loyal friend. We get to see more of this in the Disney series, but I won't be going into that incarnation in this post. (I did like the Disney series, for the record, I have good memories of watching it along with Pokemon on Kids' WB. But this post is for Nickelodeon only).
Chalky Studebaker is another interesting character. He's totally The Ace, but we're also shown that he's got a big name to live up to (his brother Cliff) and all the extracurricular activities he's taking on cut into his study time to the point where he panics and copies off of Doug. And he's also a pretty nice guy, not the sort who rubs his perfection in your face.
And of course, Doug/Patti is one of the best OTPs of all time. ♥ The first episode I watched was their not-really first date. They're very will-they-or-won't-they in a subtle way, but at the same time you just get this feeling that they're gonna get together. Doug's feelings for her are handled very well, he wants to impress her and be with her, but he's so shy and awkward that he rarely if ever falls into the Dogged Nice Guy stalker territory.
The "nostalgia filter" trope is brought up a lot when discussing the shows of your childhood. Sometimes you look back on the stuff you used to watch and think "wow, this is stupid, what the hell was I thinking" and it's clear you've outgrown it. There are shows you look back on and think "yeah, it was stupid but I loved it anyway". And the ones you loved as a kid but just wouldn't be able to "get" as an adult.
And then there are the shows that you see again for the first time and realize they haven't lost their charm even if you've grown older. For me, Doug and Hey Arnold! are spot-on examples of this type of nostalgic show. The former is far from perfect, but it's got its charm. And the latter is just plain amazing.
(I'll do a separate post about Rocko soon. XD)
rugratsfrankie on YouTube. Has a scattering of Hey Arnold!, Doug, Rocko, and assorted other Nicktoon episodes. (Except for Ren&Stimpy)
ArnoldPhilShortman on YouTube. Every episode of Hey Arnold! to date. The first and second season eps are shown flipped backwards, though, most likely to get around copyright issues.