Monday, October 23, 2006

Top 5 Nicktoons

I grew up on what many seem to refer to as "the golden age of Nickelodeon." The early-into-the-mid 90s was their big breakthrough of live action shows, with "Hey Dude," "Welcome Freshman" and a bevy of game shows in the wake of "Double Dare" success like "Nick Arcade" and "Get the Picture."

Just as this was happening, there was the beginning of Nicktoons, AKA cartoons that made their stake only on the channel. Since their debut in August of 1991, there have been more than 20 shows that fit the official definition. Here is my personal ranking of the top five.

5. The Angry Beavers - Come to think of it, I'm shocked this seems to be the first and perhaps only example of a cartoon about beavers. It seems a natural fit, why with 'toons about dogs and birds and whatever, to have nice cartoon beavers go home to a human-looking home inside of a dam. This one, like the majority of my list, has an appeal beyond the kid set and a wicked sense of humor, and that's what makes it rank. The voiceover work of Nick Bakay (i.e. Salem the cat from "Sabrina the Teenage Witch") is a highlight.

4. Doug - This show is perhaps one of the most laid back meant for kids. It didn't rely on in your face crappy jokes, or juvenile humor, but rather the subdued tale of a school kid with an imagination. Certainly among the top 3 in terms of character development. The Disney revival sucked, naturally. Even though the "classic" run was a scant 52 episodes (two shorts in each), I always caught every rerun airing.

3. Rocko's Modern Life - This is a great show to look back on today, with a lot of running jokes, fun characters and awesome voiceover work. Another that didn't always appeal to the kid set; among the instances I can remember is an episode where Rocko had to take a job as a phone operator and drolly said "oh baby, oh baby" into the receiver. The musical episode (entitled Zanzibar) was a highlight, as me and my brother can sing the songs from it to this day ("R-E-C-Y-C-L-E, recycle...C-O-N-S-E-R-V-E, conserve...don't you P-O-L-L-U-T-E...").

2. Rugrats - For some who only saw the show as it broke from TV to the big screen, you missed something special. In its heyday, Rugrats was the perfect example of a show that could grab both age groups. As a kid, I could picture being part of their pretending. The adult characters were funny too, and all the subtexts make it easy to watch now. Of course I'm referring mostly to the original batch of episodes produced from '91 to '94. Ratings for reruns gave it a reprieve in 1996, and while the first two seasons worth were fairly close to what you got in the original run, the addition of new brothers and sisters afterward ruined it. The kids suddenly had less of a grasp on English, and things got really bad.

1. Hey Arnold! - I've always drawn a lot of parallels to this show and "The Simpsons." Not withstanding both shows employing the awesome Dan Castelaneta and Tress MacNeille, both had a vast setting with many familiar locations, a core cast of readily identifiable and developed characters, as well as a bevy of supporting ones that sometimes got their own episodes. Plus you can see similarities with running jokes and themes, one-note characters, catchphrases, special guests, etc. Outside of the "Simpsons" stuff, you also had Maurice LaMarche (Pinky of "Pinky and the Brain") and a very real animation style that put things in a cool city setting that was unlike every other kid show out there. I also believe "Hey Arnold" never really lost itself as the show went on. It stayed good 'til the very end.

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