So, What Made 'Hey Arnold' A Masterpiece?

by Mary Grace Garis

As we gorge ourselves on ‘90s nostalgia, the battle rages on over which old school Nicktoon reigns supreme. And, at risk of ruffling some feathers, I’m gonna make a bold move and suggest that Hey Arnold! may be the best Nickelodeon cartoon of all time, or at least in the top five. During its substantial run, Hey Arnold blessed us with a myriad of top notch episodes, and to this day, they are still highly worthwhile things to watch. It takes a truly unique cartoon to retain its timeless value even when very few of the characters within it have cell phones.

I say this as and die-hard Rugrats fan who’s somewhat tired of the babytalk in my old age. Of course, to test of this "Hey Arnold! is the best" theory yourself you can always go forth and stream the show online. Or, if you’re living the fabulous life, you can actually tune in to Nickelodeon’s ‘90s channel The Splat. But, from my experience, there’s something about Arnold! that continues to captivate.

And, in case you need some more convincing, I captured just a few of the “somethings” that made the show great. Stay tuned for 16 (mostly Helga-related, tbh) reasons why Hey Arnold! is still an animated gem.

1. That Baller Theme Song

It's so jazzy and peppered with just the right amount of "Arnolds." There's no question which football-headed child is coming down the street.

2. Actually All Those Baller Songs

Ronnie Matthews may have been pulling a Milli Vanilli, but what about that Dino Spamoni? Now that was a talent.

3. Arnold's Cooler-Than-Thou Room

It's modern! It's efficient! It comes with a kick-out couch and a window ceiling!

4. This Unforgettable Friendship

Admit it, you tried to co-opt Arnold and Gerald's handshake for your own.

5. Helga Geraldine Pataki

Basically all of us (especially me) at 9-years-old, on the cusp of womanhood, wrestling with a melange of feelings, struggling with our crush on certain men in tiny blue caps.

6. Helga's Poetry

"Cowlicks like fields of yellow corn" and so on and so forth. Truly the voice of a generation.

7. Helga's Arnold Shrine Of Used Chewing Gum

The point is that pretty much Helga Pataki was a national treasure and every little thing she did was magic.

8. Brainy's Distinct Brand Of Creeping

You know how you're trying to have a romantic monologue and someone's mouth-breathing next to you? The only solution is to punch them in the face.

9. The Badassery Of Arnold's Grandparents

As a substitution for Arnold's world-adventuring parents, Grandma and Grandpa were around to bring the lolz... and the pain. Pookie may seem senile, but she could unleash a can of whoopass on you if you're not careful.

10. The Show's Ability To Emotionally Stir You

I mean, the episode with Stoop Kid is enough to stand up and make you cheer, and then you have tales like Pigeon Man that'll wreck you. How often does a show for children remind how terrible humanity is? Depressing at the time, depressingly beautiful in retrospect.

11. The Remarkably Diverse Cast Of Characters

Gerald is African-American, Phoebe is biracial (half-Japanese, half-Caucasian), and the bar mitzvah episode celebrated Harold's Jewish faith. All things considered, the show was very fair at showing Arnold's city was a definite melting pot of people from all sorts of walks of life. How refreshing.

12. The Push For Physical Activity

Weren't those kids constantly playing stick ball in the street? I mean, even if you were watching the show holed up at home, you at least felt secondhand healthy.

13. The Gentle Weaving Of High Culture

How fantastic is the opera episode? You have parodies of everything from Carmen to Pagliacci to Die Walkure, all in the span of, what, 11 minutes? You don't see Rocket Power creating art like that.

14. The Persistent Message That Everyone Has Layers And A Story To Tell

Every bully has a soft white underbelly, every stressed out perfectionist has poem that they hijacked and a Emily Dickinson statue haunting them. You know, that old yarn.

15. All That Fashion Trendsetting.

Helga was rocking bushy brows (or um, I guess just the one brow) before it was cool, and Arnold? His flannel undershirt is the epitome of grunge chic.

16. It Was Just On A Different Level Entirely

Hey Arnold! always had an underlying but not overbearing sense of sophistication, it was smart for it's demographic yet always humble. It was like, well, Arnold himself. And that's why it's still just as easy to watch today as it was a decade ago.

Images: Nickelodeon; Giphy (16)