Childhood Cartoons Revisited

Cartoons from our youth dissected as a young adult

Go Go Gadget OK Cartoon

It has been quite awhile since I have watched Inspector Gadget, but its influence on both myself and the rest of my housemates in The Village is clearly evident. Anytime we want something done, but don’t want to do it ourselves, one of us usually orders it done by saying “Go Go Gadget…” It never actually works, but it still gets a good laugh out of all of us. A few days ago I posted “Go Go Gadget Sports Journalism Job Opportunity” on my Facebook page as a joke and one of my housemates mentioned that Inspector Gadget had recently been put on Netflix. I decided to check it out for myself, as I hadn’t watched any reruns of the show since it was taken off the air for good in 2000. I probably stopped watching it sometime in 1998, but I don’t know for sure. All I know is that after re-watching a few episodes of the show, I have mixed feelings about it. It had its clever, funny moments, but it also had its dull, boring moments as well.

Inspector Gadget debuted on CBS way back in 1983 and was the first syndicated show from DIC Entertainment. It featured the main protagonist Inspector Gadget, a clumsy, dim-witted cyborg with seemingly everything imaginable stored somewhere in his body. He had the ability to choose his device of choice by uttering the words “Go Go Gadget” followed by the name of the gadget. For example, if he wanted a kitchen knife, he would say “Go Go Gadget kitchen knife” and his arm would turn into a kitchen knife. Inspector Gadget also has the responsibility of taking care of his niece, Penny, and her dog, Brain. Penny serves as the brains of the family, as she is the one who usually foils the plans of the evil Doctor Claw, the leader of M.A.D. organization. Yet, Inspector Gadget never realizes that it is Penny and Brain who have stopped Doctor Claw’s devious plans.

The best part of the show was the running gags that occur in just about every episode of the show. One such gag is the notes that Inspector Gadget receives from his boss, Chief Quimby. The notes themselves are not the gags, but the note’s end, which always reads “This message will self destruct.” However, after hearing the message, Inspector Gadget nonchalantly tosses the note away, always landing near Quimby, who is stealthfully hiding somewhere in the background. Quimby bears the brunt of the explosion, having never learned from past episodes. The other running gag is Inspector Gadget’s misfortunes when summoning some of his gadgets. There is always one point of the show where Inspector Gadget gets screwed over by his arsenal of gadgets. For example, if he was falling from a tall building and called for a helicopter blade, a flower pot would instead appear. He usually gets saved by luck or by Penny.

The one thing I didn’t like about the show was the majority of the characters. I found Penny to be an annoying, brainy little girl that becomes more of a headache with every scene she appears in. Inspector Gadget’s dumb nature grows old after awhile and it makes me wonder how he ever became an inspector in the first place, as he’s clearly not qualified for the job. That’s another thing that bothered me about the show: it’s just too unrealistic. I know that sounds stupid to say because it’s a cartoon show, but most cartoons have aspects about the show that are somewhat realistic. Inspector Gadget has nothing. Penny, a young girl, is smart enough to foil the plans of the most evil organization on the planet on a regular basis, with absolutely no help from her uncle, who is supposed to be trained in situations like that. How is a little girl and her dog smarter than an investigator, somebody who is supposed to be extremely smart? Wouldn’t they just hire the girl and fired Inspector Gadget? That always irked me because there was nothing I could relate to when watching this show.

I didn’t have a favorite character nor did I have a favorite episode. Doctor Claw was kind of cool because he had a pet cat that he showed a lot of empathy toward. I’m a cat person myself so I liked seeing the cat for the ten seconds it appears in each episode.

Inspector Gadget ended on Feb. 1, 1986, but was re-run on Nickelodeon from 1987 to 2000. Perhaps the best parody of the show was the one done by Robot Chicken. It makes me laugh every time and I wish the show was more like that.

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Johnny Test: A bright spot in a dismal era

When I’m wrong I have no problem admitting it. And I will admit that I was wrong when at the beginning of the blog I said that cartoons of this generation have been awful. While I stand by the majority of that statement, there is one show in particular that has me eating some of my words this week. I am talking about Cartoon Network’s Johnny Test. To be honest, I wouldn’t have even stumbled across the show if I hadn’t accidently hit the up button on my TV remote one too many times while seeing what Comedy Central had to offer one afternoon. I don’t really know what interested me in the show, but there were all sorts of chaos on my television screen and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Whether it was the talking dog, identical twin sister scientists or the main protagonist, Johnny Test, himself, I had finally found a show produced by either Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon beyond 2004 that was actually watchable. It brought a tear to my mind (well, in my mind it did).

Cartoon Network debuted Johnny Test on Jan. 7, 2008, but the series premier of the show dates back to Sept. 17, 2005, when it appeared on The WB Television Network, which became The CW in 2006. The show ran on The CW from 2006 to March 1, 2008, before moving to Cartoon Network for its fourth season. Johnny Test is a comedy/comic science fiction cartoon created by Scott Fellows and produced by Cookie Jar Entertainment as of the second season. Warner Bros. Animation produced the first season.

Johnny Test focuses on an 11-year-old boy named Johnny, who appears to be just a typical trouble-making kid living in a suburban household in the fictional town of Porkbelly. However, Johnny’s life is anything but normal, as he lives with parents who are the polar opposite of society’s stereotypes and his identical twin sisters, Susan and Mary, who are self-described geniuses who are always creating new inventions. There’s also Dukey, Johnny’s talking dog that exhibits human intelligence as a result of one of the twin sisters’ experiments.

*Note: You’ll have to watch the video on YouTube itself because the video didn’t allow me the option to embed.

The aspect of the show that I like the most is that it understands its target audience and doesn’t attempt to do anything radical that may turn them off. The creators understand that after a certain age people are going to stop watching, and instead of trying to appeal to the audience as they age, they instead continue focusing on the specific age group they targeted from the beginning of the series. It doesn’t dumb itself down to appeal to seven and eight year olds and it doesn’t try to tackle controversial issues to appeal to those in their mid to late 20’s. Each episode centers around Johnny being used as a science experiment for one of the twins’ newest invention. However, something usually goes terrible wrong, whether it’s the invention’s fault of the aftermath of Johnny’s actions. Either way, it’s usually up to Johnny and Dukey to solve the problem with the aide of the twins. Each show follows that same format, yet it never seems to get dull. It also doesn’t make the crucial mistake of giving secondary characters too big of a role in the show. Johnny’s parents are secondary characters and thus that is what they remain in every episode. There aren’t special episodes where they are the center of attention and the rest of the characters are hardly seen. I never understood why shows chose to do that. If the producers wanted to make secondary characters the stars of the show then they would be the central characters and not secondary characters.

Speaking of Johnny’s parents, it’s quite interesting as to what the producers of the show have done to portray them. By that I mean they have the exact opposite roles that one would expect of a father and mother figure. Johnny’s mother, Lila, works from morning to night and provides the income for the family, which is what the stereotypical father would do. Johnny’s father, Hugh, is a stay-at-home dad who enjoys cooking and cleaning. Hugh is what most people would think of when describing the stereotypical mother. This appears to be a slight jab at the idea of society’s stereotypical view of how a family works. It sends the message that a mother can work and a father can raise the kids and it doesn’t end in catastrophe.

My favorite character, or characters, in the show are the twins just because of some of the things that they say when describing an invention that they have just come up with. As a 22-year-old watching this show, I can only laugh when they describe how a portable black hole works or how they have managed to transport Johnny into his favorite video game. It clearly makes no plausible sense, but yet they make it sound so scientific that a younger viewer may actually think that what they are saying is scientifically correct. Like most female characters on cartoon shows, the twins deal with the everyday struggles of beauty, fashion, boys and aces all of their classes. While they are super-geniuses, they still possess human characteristics that make them a fun part of the show.

Johnny Test is currently in its fifth season with eight more episodes remaining. The show has already been picked up for a sixth season, which will be comprised of 26 episodes, being Johnny Test to 117 episodes, which would be the most ever by a show aired on Cartoon Network. There is currently a full-length animated TV movie in the works as well.

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Hey Arnold!: Obsession, Stereotypes and Elementary School

While As Told by Ginger almost flawlessly portrayed life through the eyes of a junior high school student, Hey Arnold! did the same for the younger kids in elementary school. There are many different themes that this Nickelodeon cartoon entertains, including life as an orphan child, bullying at school and even love. The messages Hey Arnold! tried to convey was apparent even as an elementary school student myself when I first starting watching this show. While it wasn’t my absolute favorite cartoon show on Nickelodeon, it definitely ranks up there in the top five. If it was on, chances were good that I’d be watching. Days where they ran marathons of Hey Arnold! were all the more sweeter.

Hey Arnold! first appeared on Nickelodeon on Oct. 7, 1996, with the airing of “Downtown as Fruits.” The episode features Arnold, the main protagonist, and Gerald, Arnold’s best friend, who end up getting on the wrong bus on their way to the elementary school for their part in the school play about nutrition and get dropped off in the back ally of downtown. Arnold is dressed as a strawberry and Gerald as a banana. The strength of the episode paved the way for five strong seasons totaling exactly 100 episodes. The show was produced by Snee-Oosh, Inc. and Nickelodeon Studios and created by Craig Barlett. Barlett also worked on writing scripts for Rugrats.

The greatest strength of Hey Arnold! was the characters and how each of them stood for a different stereotype. Arnold was the voice of reason and seen as the golden child who always tried to make the best of a bad situation. Gerald was the African American character who grew up in a rougher part of town and had dreams of making money through a variety of different schemes. Helga was the emotionally unstable girl who liked to boss everyone around, but at the same time didn’t want anyone to know about her secret crush. I have to admit, Helga was my least favorite character of the show, as I’m sure she was for many other fans. Her moodiness annoyed me and her insane love affair with Arnold was borderline psychopathic. I sure hope girls that age don’t act similarly to her when it comes to boy crushes. Herald was the powerful bully who had secrets he hid in his mistreatment of others. There’s Phoebe, the nerdy smart girl; Rhonda, the girl obsessed with fashion; Curly, the troublemaker; Lila, the female equivalent to Arnold; Sid, the paranoid; and Eugene, the nerdy kid with horrifically bad luck.

Hey Arnold! is one of the only Nickelodeon shows in the ’90s to feature an interracial friendship. Arnold and Gerald’s friendship lasts through thick and thin, from cleaning out a vacant lot filled with all sorts of garbage to create their own baseball diamond to saving their neighborhood from being torn down and turned into a mega-mall. There are no racial issues that are presented in the show, but having an African American character that is featured in the majority of episodes was a strong enough theme in a positive sense.

My absolute favorite episode is episode three of season five, titled “Arnold Visits Arnie.” The night before Arnold is set to visit his cousin Arnie, a hillbilly-like portrayal of Arnold, he dreams about his impending visit, except that everybody is the polar opposite of who they are in the real world. Most importantly, Helga is like Lila and vice versa. In the real world, Arnold has a crush on Lila and Helga has a crush on Arnold. In the dream, Lila has the crush on Arnold, but is a jealous, bossy reincarnation of herself. Arnold meets dream Helga and instantly develops feelings for her, but she does not feel the same way about him. The dream quickly turns into a nightmare as Lila hunts down Arnold in the corn stalks, jealous of his new-found affection for Helga. The episode is the most creative in the series because it takes the characters that everybody has come to know from the inside out and gives them a snippet of what they would be like if they had the exact opposite personality.

As for a favorite character in this show, you can’t go wrong with choosing Arnold, but I tend to shy away from the main protagonist. That’s why my favorite character was Eugene, the nerdy, clumsy kid that tended to be the butt of many of his classmates’ jokes. It may sound strange to have Eugene as my favorite character, but I feel like he is someone that we have all seen before. You know, the guy that never gets the sarcasm in your voice. The guy that never understands any of the sexual innuendos during a conversation. The guy that tucks his shirt into his pants. We all know someone like that and I felt like he was a very likable character. Despite his lack of popularity and mistreatment by other kids, Eugene always kept a positive attitude and that’s something I envy in a person.

The show ended on June 8, 2004, but that hasn’t stopped people from making some unique videos about Hey Arnold! That includes the one below.

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Spongebob Squarepants: Nickelodeon’s Lifeline

For you to have never of heard of Spongebob Squarepants, you must either live in a pineapple under the sea, under a rock or in an Easter Island head. Since 1999, the little yellow sponge that is Spongebob Squarepants has become an American icon. His face has been plastered on everything including clothing, food, beverages, stores, jewelry, etc. Simply put, if you have a pulse, you’ve seen Spongebob Squarepants sometime during your life. The show is impossible to avoid, which has become a problem over the years. As is the case with just about everything in life, the longer something goes on, the worse off it becomes until eventually it dies off. Like every kid growing up, I adored Spongebob and would watch it anytime it was on the television. However, now that it’s been spamming my television screen for the past 13 years, I have grown tired of the show and just want it to end already. Unfortunately, Nickelodeon does not agree with my viewpoint.

Spongebob Squarepants made its debut on Nickelodeon way back on May 1, 1999, following The Kids Choice Awards. The show centers around the crazy happenings of a yellow sponge who wears square pants and lives in a pineapple in the sea city of Bikini Bottom. That was one of the strong points to the show; the names of the characters were so direct, but at the same time creative. Spongebob’s best friend, Patrick Star, is a pink starfish that lives under a rock. As a young kid, I glanced over some of the details of this show that were so obvious to me now as a college student. Patrick was portrayed as the least intelligent character on the show, constantly saying or doing extremely dumb things that the average person would never think of. But the symbolism in Patrick’s character is the idea that he lives under a rock. The old saying of someone living under a rock is used when someone hasn’t heard of a something that is well-known to the rest of the world. In Patrick’s case, it’s logic that he’s never heard of and it’s perfectly fitting that he lives under a rock.

My favorite character in the show was without question Squidward Tentacles. Squidward, an octopus who lives in an Easter Island head, neighbors both Spongebob and Patrick, and hates both of them with a passion, although they believe that they are all best friends. Squidward is the show’s pessimist, offsetting Spongebob and Patrick’s severe optimism. He finds himself desperately searching for peace and quiet, attempting to live out his dream of being a famous clarinet player or artist, even though he is terrible at both. I see a lot of Squidward in myself and that is why I like him as much as I do. We both have a sheer disdain for those who are overly cheery and want nothing more than to be left alone the majority of the time. We both take comfort in being alone or being surrounded by others that share our same values. Of the 320 episodes that have aired, Squidward has made an appearance in 270 of them.

The secondary characters in Spongebob Squarepants is what has really allowed this cartoon to air as long as it has. They open up a plethora of different story lines to delay the feeling that the show has grown stale. Most notably is the business rivalry between Mr. Krabs, the owner of a fast-food burger joint called the Krusty Krab, and Plankton, the owner of a failing restaurant called the Chum Bucket. Again, great names that are both simple and creative. Several episodes center on Plankton attempting to steal the Krabby Patty secret formula using a variety of evil schemes, but in the end are foiled. The funniest episodes of the show come when Mrs. Puff, a puffer fish that is the driving instructor in Bikini Bottom, is a central character. Mrs. Puff secretly despises Spongebob because of the misery he has instilled upon her, as she has experienced 38 failed driving tests of his, usually ending with her being sent to the hospital on a stretcher. I always got a laugh when Spongebob would hit a wall or an obstacle and crash the boat, causing Mrs. Puff to puff up. I still laugh when I think of that image.

Now I used to absolutely love Spongebob Squarepants growing up. Don’t get me wrong; it was a great show. But all good things must come to an end and Nickelodeon is crazy to think that they can get by with showing 10+ hours of Spongebob Squarepants everyday. A network cannot rely on a cartoon lasting forever and Spongebob is clearly past its prime. Everything has an ending point. If a cartoon as great as Rugrats can’t last forever then there is no way Spongebob can escape the same fate. As of today, there have been 204 30-minute shows produced with 168 of them already aired. In total, there are 320 individual segments within those 168 episodes. Spongebob Squarepants has won 27 awards, including its fifth straight “Favorite Cartoon” award at the 2012 Kids Choice Awards. There have been 16 special episodes of the show, three television movies, one theatrical movie back in 2004 and a second movie that will premier on the big screen sometime in 2014. The eighth season of the show debuted on March 26 and the network has already announced that it has picked up Spongebob for a ninth season. It doesn’t look as if Nickelodeon is ready to pull the plug on Spongebob just yet, which is bad news for those of us who have had enough of his annoying, high-pitched laugh.

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