People always think Judge Josh Rode is wearing a kilt too. Common mistake.
Our reviews of Hey Arnold! Season 1 (published September 22nd, 2008), Hey Arnold! Season 2, Part 1 (published April 21st, 2012), and Hey Arnold! The Movie (published January 21st, 2003) are also available.
Move it, Football Head!
You have probably noticed that we already have a review of Hey Arnold! Season 1, written by the estimable and sultry-voiced Judge Clark Douglas. There's a reason for this revisit: back in 2008 this was sold through Amazon.com on DVD-R discs with a less-than-impressive transfer. Now, at long last, Shout! Factory has cleaned them up and re-released them, and this time they look infinitely better. They're presented in their original full frame glory, with no signs of grain or other impediments. The sound is much improved as well; all the voices come through clearly. It's the release the show should have had before, except there still aren't any extras.
Before we talk about the show itself, here are the episodes:
• "Downtown as Fruits"—Arnold and Gerald decide to skip out on a school play.
• "Eugene's Bike"—Clumsy Eugene gets his dream bike.
• "The Little Pink Book"—Helga's book of fixation on Arnold ends up in the wrong hands.
• "Field Trip"—The class takes a field trip to an aquarium.
• "Arnold's Hat"—A gust of wind whisks away Arnold's hat.
• "Stoop Kid"—Arnold tries to help a mean kid who won't leave the confines of his stoop.
• "Helga's Makeover"—Helga tries to be girly.
• "The Old Building"—An old theater is due to be demolished.
• "6th Grade Girls"—Arnold and Gerald try to play it cool with older girls.
• "The Baseball"—Arnold's favorite ballplayer is retiring.
• "Heat"—It's so hot!
• "Snow"—Arnold wants to play in the snow, but first there are chores to do.
• "Operation: Ruthless"—Helga tries to get between Arnold and his crush.
• "The Vacant Lot"—The gang cleans up a vacant lot.
• "The List"—Arnold tries to have the fourth-grader's dream Saturday.
• "Haunted Train"—Grandpa tells a story of a haunted train.
• "Mugged"—Arnold gets mugged, so Grandma teaches him self-defense.
• "Roughin' It"—Grandpa takes Arnold and Gerald camping.
• "Door #16"—Mysterious tenant Mr. Smith gets a package.
• "Arnold as Cupid"—Oskar stays in Arnold's room when he gets booted from his own.
• "Arnold's Christmas"—Arnold needs to find the perfect gift for Mr. Hyunh.
• "Benchwarmer"—The basketball coach's only play: pass the ball to his son.
• "Cool Jerk"—Arnold is befriended by an older boy.
• "Das Subway"—The gang takes the subway and get stranded.
• "Wheezin' Ed"—The gang looks for hidden treasure.
• "Tutoring Torvald"—Arnold tries to tutor the class idiot.
• "Gerald Comes Over"—Gerald wants to meet the odd tenants of Arnold's home.
• "Spelling Bee"—Arnold and Helga both make it to the city spelling bee championship.
• "Pigeon Man"—Arnold befriends a recluse.
• "Olga Comes Home"—Helga's perfect sister comes home from college.
• "Sally's Comet"—Arnold and Gerald want to see Sally's Comet, which only shows up once every 70 years.
• "Abner, Come Home"—Arnold's pig runs away.
• "The Sewer King"—Arnold accidentally drops Grandpa's watch and has to descend into the sewer to get it back.
• "False Alarm"—Someone sets off the fire alarm at school.
• "World Records"—The gang tries to break a world record.
• "Magic Show"—Arnold has a magic show, and Helga has a dream.
• "24 Hours to Live"—Arnold gets in a fight.
• "Arnold's Valentine"—Arnold tries his hand at double-dating.
Arnold is a fourth-grader with an unfortunate football-shaped head who always looks like he's wearing a kilt (it's actually an un-tucked shirt). He is the nicest, most honest guy you'd ever want to meet. He has a lot of friends, from Gerald, the Keeper of the Neighborhood Tales to nemesis Helga, who berates him to his face and then waxes poetic about how wonderful he is when he's not around. Her two-facedness is one of the major plotlines running through the series, so much so that it often overshadows whatever story they're involved with. I would have preferred a little more subtlety, but they wrote for the elementary crowd and made sure every concept is easily graspable.
The same thought process went into the visual aspects of the show. The art and animation are simple and cartoonish; everyone has four fingers and nobody but the aged have chins to speak of. Features and expressions are simple lines, with only basic shading and textures. When someone turns on a flashlight, it emits a solid yellow beam. The only thing they didn't dumb down was the inspired soundtrack, which does not play the same generic tunes over and over, like most cartoons. Every time something happens, the music switches to fit the new scene; Gerald tells the story of Stoop Kid, and an African rhythmic chant backs him up. "The Old Building" features Dean Martin styled music, and the song that ends the episode is a classic.
Hey Arnold! Season 1 is comprised of twenty episodes, but most of them are double-bills, so there are actually thirty-eight individual stories. They run the gamut of school and neighborhood related fare, from bullies to field trips to the inevitable local weirdoes. There's a heart-tugging Christmas episode and another one that honors Halley's Comet, which arrived in the real world's skies during the time of the show's original run. The show's little twists keep it from generic obscurity.
Hey Arnold! represents a bridge of sorts between the straightforward cartoons of yesteryear and the convoluted weirdness that permeates today's pre-teen fare. On its face it is a simple show about a fourth-grade boy and his friends doing the kinds of things fourth-graders do; like play baseball, skateboard, have snowball fights, etc. But dig a little deeper and you'll find a subversive bent. It can be seen in the characters, especially the odd group that live in Arnold's grandparents' boarding house. What other cartoon would depict an emotionally abused wife who is at constant war with her selfish husband? Then there's the script, which usually plays it straight but every so often takes a turn that you'd never see coming. I'm not saying you can draw a straight line between Hey Arnold! and The Regular Show, but the elements of a much stranger series are hiding beneath the surface. And those elements make all the difference.
The original verdict is upheld. Not guilty.
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