If I referred to these shows as “Nicktoons,” I would feel even more ludicrous than I already do for writing about them. So that’s why I’m calling them Nickelodeon animated series. Professionalism. Got it.
That said, I grew up in what I contend was the golden age of Nickelodeon. There were bright orange VHS tapes, lavish green slime everywhere you looked, and an ever-proliferating militia of wacky and wholesome animated, live-action, and competition-based television series. All That and more.
There are too many highlights in each genre to compile a fair all-time top-five list; deserving classics would undoubtedly be left out. The same is true even for the animated series alone, though it is certainly more manageable. Therefore, I present to you, my top five Nickelodeon animated series:
1. Hey Arnold!
Nickelodeon hit its animated peak in 1996 with Hey Arnold!. From its sophisticated and jazzy opening theme to its sophisticated and jazzy story-lines and characters, Hey Arnold! is not only the coolest show to grace this network, but also the source of dozens of memorable proverbs (Stoop Kid’s afraid to leave his stoop!), heartfelt moments (saving ol’ Lockjaw the turtle from the ageist aquarium), and nutty but hilarious slapstick humor (Grandma). Indeed, it is the most well-rounded of Nickelodeon’s animated series, comprising both the wacky and the wholesome. Balance is key, and Arnold’s got it.
Doug Funnie clarified to the world that cartoon characters aren’t hygienically inferior human-representations that neglect to ever change their clothes, but tidy perfectionists who possess extensive wardrobes containing identical copies of their trademark outfit. Doug’s high placement on this list is due largely to its cast of unforgettable and superlative characters: Patti Mayonnaise, Roger Klotz, Skeeter, Quailman, Porkchop, and the show’s indisputable ringer Mr. Dink, to name a few. In general, the world of Doug just seems so delightful. Given the opportunity, would you not have a meal at the Honker Burger? Would you not see The Beets live in concert?
3. Spongebob Squarepants (up to season 3)
Unfortunately, Spongebob Squarepants often gets a bad rap as an annoying, one-dimensional cartoon because unfortunately, after three hysterical and imaginative seasons, it became an annoying, one-dimensional cartoon. The original seasons showcase how entertaining children’s humor can be when silly but clever writing is applied. Highlighted by one-liners (“Is Mayonnaise an instrument?”) and side-splitting punchlines (Spongebob: “Wait a minute, Patrick. My mind just hatched an idea! / Patrick [slyly]: “Lay it on me.”), Spongebob is probably the most quotable show on this list, and for that it deserves a slot among the classics.
A show centered around four babies doesn’t sound like it would appeal to an audience of mostly developed children, but somehow it does. The adventures, discoveries, and mispronunciations of these lovable Rugrats entertain even the adults viewing along with their kids. Not to mention the adult characters are portrayed as realistically inane, and it’s always healthy to have a good laugh at yourself (or your Nickelodeon counterpart).
5. The Ren & Stimpy Show
Ren & Stimpy earns its spot on this list only because it is exceptionally bizarre and obscene. In an era before Adventure Time, there was no animation as off-the-walls as this—save for maybe Rocko’s Modern Life—and I feel obligated to give it credit for the creators’ profound imagination and for however it managed to air on children’s network television.
Those are my top five Nickelodeon series, but the greats do not end here. There’s The Angry Beavers, The Wild Thornberrys, Rocko’s Modern Life, and even Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, if that’s your kind of thing. If you find yourself now pining for a simpler time where these shows dominated Nickelodeon, thank Bill Gates (or whoever invented the Internet) and get to it. Hint: Netflix. Now move it, Football Head!