Growing up, I didn’t watch much TV. I had a lot of energy and a freakishly active imagination- I generally filled my time assigning complex backstories to my dolls, building forts, and bossing around other neighborhood children. That said, there were a few shows that I loved and couldn’t miss. I gravitated towards the more bizarre childrens’ entertainment, a seeming abundance of which was found on both network and cable TV in the ’80s and early ’90s. Are kids’ shows today as strange and creative as these?
Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, CBS, 1986-1991
If some of your earliest memories involve watching a bowtie-clad manchild utter the phrase, “I know you are, but what am I?” you must have grown up in the 1980s. Every Saturday morning, starting in kindergarten, I was transported into this richly imagined fantasy world of sassy household appliances, screamed secret words, and giant underpants. And I think I’m all the better for it. (Photo above, callalillie.)
Ramona, CBC/PBS, 1988-1989
The books in Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series were always some of my favorites growing up. I related to the smart but perpetually misunderstood titular character a little more than I cared to admit, so I was thrilled when it was made into a (Canadian) TV series. Unfortunately, it only lasted a season, but it still remains one of the shows I loved the most as a kid. Now, if they had only made a TV show based on my other favorite book mini-series, the “Fudge/Superfudge” books by Judy Blume, I would have been in heaven.
The Adventures of Pete & Pete, Nickelodeon, 1991-1996
This show perfectly captures the nostalgia associated with those hazy, end-of-childhood/beginning-of-adolescence days. It reminds me of sunny afternoons, riding bikes through sprinklers, inside jokes, and secret crushes. In short, it reminds me of being eleven. This show has iconic characters, an indie-rock soundtrack, smart humor, and surreal, yet universal plot themes. It’s as if David Lynch directed a show aimed at children. A few years ago, one of my best friends bought me Season One on DVD for my birthday, and I was able to relive those lovely days. I mean, how can you go wrong with a show in which Michael Stipe appears as a character called Captain Scrummy? (Look for him early on in this video, selling sludgecicles. Mmm.)
Ren and Stimpy, Nickelodeon, 1991-1996: How demented, sick, and wrong was this cartoon? More than often than not, its content was wildly inappropriate for its supposed audience of children- to the point where one had to wonder if they were really the target audience at all. In my class at school, I was one of the few girls who enjoyed this show, as most nice, normal females found it disgusting (my mother included, made doubly so because I used to watch it on Sunday mornings before church…). Side note: I was recently informed that I have a rather “masculine” sense of humor, whatever that may mean. Compliment? or “Ugh, what is wrong with you?” But if knowing all the words to “The Log Song” and “Happy Happy Joy Joy” is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.
Another early ’90s Nickelodeon favorite: Clarissa Explains It All (1991-1994). For better or for worse, Melissa Joan Hart’s character was my style icon as a pre-teen. Leggings! Oh, how she inspired my love of brightly-colored leggings. Every picture of me in fifth grade involves some variation on a theme: oversized, bright, monochrome t-shirt, crazy, color-splattered leggings, two pairs of different-colored socks, Keds, and probably a headband. She also taught me it was okay to not always match, to wear as many layers as I wanted, and that your best friend could be a boy. Sweet.