For our ‘nostalgia’ themed fifth issue, Alicia Barker reminisces on five of the best kids’ shows she watched growing up.
Arthur (1996 – present):
The longest-running children’s animated series in the US, this PBS cartoon follows 8-year-old anthropomorphic aardvark Arthur Read, and his Elwood Elementary classmates, as they learn important life lessons and pretty much just live the good life. Not only does this show have one of the catchiest themes ever, courtesy of reggae royalty Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, Arthur actually manages to tackle issues like cultural diversity, dyslexia, cancer and the importance of reading, all without being preachy or condescending. The characters, like Arthur’s troublemaking little sister, DW, spoilt rich kid, Muffy, and Arthur’s rabbit bestie, Buster, are so loveable and will always have a special place in my heart. Who can forget the song ‘Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card’ or when the Backstreet Boys guest starred in an episode? What a wonderful kind of day, indeed.
The ’90s really excelled at cartoons, and this spin off of Beavis and Butt-head perfectly captured everything great—and everything that sucked—about the era. Daria Morgendorffer is a misanthropic but highly intelligent teenager, whose acerbic wit and dark sense of humour sets her up as the straight woman to her ridiculous, stereotypical but often loveable family and classmates at Lawndale High. Daria’s monotonous voice and indifference is symbolic of a generation that was disenfranchised by big corporations trying to make a buck off teen culture—ironically the series first appeared on MTV—and the show was not afraid to poke fun at alternative culture either. Creator Glenn Eichler said in an interview “the basic tenet of the Tao of Daria is that life is not fair”, and in a world where most shows for younger audiences would have you believe the opposite, Daria is—and was—refreshing.
Round the Twist (1989-2001)
Can we talk about the brilliance of this cult classic? The first two series of the show were based on short stories by Paul Jennings, an English-born Australian children’s author, whose fantastic imagination gave the program its spark. The show, filmed around Aireys Inlet, Victoria, tells the story of the Twist siblings Pete, Linda and Bronson, who live in a lighthouse with their affable but slightly pathetic father, Tony. I’d be willing to bet that there has never been a kid’s show that got away with so many bizarre, fucked-up storylines. One episode sees youngest son Bronson eat a rare whirling derfish, resulting in his, erm…you know… spinning like a propeller, allowing him to become a human outboard motor known as “The Port Niranda Porpoise”. In the The Big Burp, girl-crazy Pete takes a piss on a tree, falls in love with tree-spirit, Jeannie, only to find out she has impregnated him with her dryad spawn. If you want to know how the baby is born, take another look at the episode title.
Nickelodeon produced some of its finest cartoons in the 1990s and Rugrats is no exception. Who can forget the antics of Tommy, Chuckie, Phil and Lil, not to mention the aptly named Angelica; the tyrannical, bullying ‘big kid’ cousin of Tommy, whose schemes got the Rugrats into all kinds of strife. Rugrats also had, at least at the time, the rare quality of appealing to adults and kids; I have fond memories of my dad sitting down to watch with my sister and I, and laughing at all the jokes thrown in for older audiences; who doesn’t love jokes about tax and “male bonding”? To these toddlers, the world is as mysterious and as full of wonder as it was to the kids watching the show. The Rugrats movies were great too, and introduced Tommy’s cute little brother, Dill, but the spin-off Rugrats: All Growed Up was questionable at best. Stick to the original, guys.
Art Attack (1990-2007)
I’m sure if you asked some of the artists who’ve been featured in Catalyst what first inspired them to be creative, Art Attack would be a major influence to many of them. Host Neil Buchanan, like many other frustrated artistes, was rejected from Liverpool Arts School, but went on bring many kids the joys of projects such as ‘paint on a plate’. Take that, art school snobs! I remember playing the Art Attack video game at home—I think my parents bought it because they were sick of the house being covered in paint and glitter—and it was just as amazing as the show. Neil Buchanan’s voice was really soothing for some reason—must have been the Scouse accent—and even though watching Art Attack never really brought out the latent artistic genius in me, I got to watch Buchanan make ‘papier mache balloon trousers’, which is infinitely better in my books.