The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s my first video about “Daria” and was based on an earlier article I wrote a number of years back. I reworked it a bit to make for a better video. I’m very pleased with how it turned out. Depending on the response, I may make more “Daria” videos. Enjoy!
Tag Archives: 90s Cartoons
Depending on who you ask, we either live in a golden age of television or a deepening dark age. The rise of streaming media and the decline of traditional TV models has completely changed how Hollywood does business. Some say it’s a good thing. Some say it’ll lead to the utter destruction of the entertainment industry, as we know it.
I don’t want to talk about such dire issues.
Instead, I want to talk about “The Animaniacs” reboot.
It’s a relevant topic because this reboot just wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago. It wouldn’t have been possible 5 years ago, either. It’s riding an ongoing wave of reboots and revivals. Many of them are banking on nostalgia from certain eras to attract an audience.
Is it shamelessly desperate in the never-ending fight for more eyeballs and subscribes? Yes, it is.
Is most of it utterly forgettable and completely unfit for the current media landscape? For the most part, it is.
That’s exactly why “The Animaniacs” reboot is such a wonderfully refreshing achievement. It’s doesn’t just bring back a beloved show that many kids in the 90s, myself included, grew up watching. It perfectly captures the spirit of that show while still embracing a modern aesthetic that fits perfectly in 2020.
It helps that this show didn’t try to completely reinvent itself. It brought back the original voice actors for Yakko, Wakko, and Dot. It didn’t significantly change the theme song, the comedic style, or the overall structure of the show. The only noticeable changes were updated animation and a more contemporary setting.
Everything else is as zany, irreverent, and meta as you remember. It’s the same style long-time fans grew to love in the mid-1990s. Remarkably, that style works just as well 22 years later.
A big appeal to that style is just how self-aware the show is of its absurdities. The Warner Brothers, and the Warner Sister, know who and what they are in the grand scheme of things. They gleefully mock, tease, and joke about anything and anyone that crosses their path.
Some of that humor is more mature than a simple pie in the face. Other times, it’s as simple as Dot hitting her brothers with an oversized mallet. Both brands of humor are still funny and cartoonishly over-the-top.
It’s the kind of humor that works for kids and adults alike. That was a big part of what made the original show so popular and endearing. In watching this reboot, I still found myself laughing hysterically at times.
My inner 90s kid and my full-fledged adult delighted in the same jokes and gags. It never felt like my love of the old show was being exploited or mocked. It just felt like a fresh influx of zany comedy that I had missed for 22 years.
Even the Warners acknowledge in the first episode that the world has changed. The type of humor they did in the 90s just won’t land like it once did. That doesn’t stop them from making plenty of 90s reference, but that’s not the sole source of appeal. It’s just a small part of it.
No matter the era, “The Animaniacs” works by sticking to a simple formula. Put Yakko, Wakko, and Dot in a strange situation, be it the gods of Olympus or in search of a donut thief. Then, let them be their zany selves as they encounter various characters and obstacles along the way. The comedy just naturally emerges from there.
This reboot did not radically change that formula, both for the Warners and for Pinky and the Brain. It just updated the dates and settings while not avoiding the many ways the world has changed.
There are hipster douche-bags running donut shops.
There are self-importance CEOs who don’t give a damn about anything other than profits and themselves.
There are assholes who take up way too much space in a movie theater.
Some of these things existed in the 1990s too, but they’re more relevant to current pop culture trends. “The Animaniacs” gleefully and hilariously rides those waves.
That’s not to say that all the jokes land. Not every episode is perfect. Some jokes just don’t land and not every musical number is as memorable as Yakko’s famous countries of the world song. There are still many more hits than misses. I argue their song about reboots is the best of the bunch.
Now, you could say a lot about how relevant “The Animaniacs” is in this current era of adult animation. There’s no doubt the landscape is very different than what it was during the 1990s. This show was part of its own golden era in the 1990s, but that era is long gone.
These days, adult animation is dominated by shows like “Bojack Horseman” and “Rick and Morty.” Those shows still utilize comedy, but their brand of humor is a lot darker, built largely on the increasingly cynical trends that have been unfolding since the early 2000s.
I don’t deny that the kids who grew up watching the original Animaniacs weren’t nearly as jaded as kids today. Even before the awfulness of 2020, generations of kids and adults alike have seen a steady decline in hope for the future. Given that kind of attitude, it’s a lot harder for that zany style of comedy to land.
However, “The Animaniacs” reboot finds a way. It resists the urge to fall into the same dark traps as many other failed reboots. It doesn’t try to be “Bojack Horseman” or “Rick and Morty.” It just tries to be the same Animaniacs we know and love.
That’s what makes it work.
That’s what makes it funny.
That’s what makes it totally insaney, even in a year as insane as this.
That’s exactly why I love it and highly recommend it to anyone with a Hulu subscription.
We live in a strange era of reboots, re-launches, and revivals. It’s brought out a lot of mixed feelings and extreme reactions from fans of all stripes. Some people love it. Some people hate it. Some people are just completely indifferent.
Regardless of how you feel about it, there’s no escaping it. The rise of streaming media and the public’s endless appetite for new content makes it as inevitable as death, taxes, and Thanos. We’ve no one to blame for this trend but ourselves is what I’m saying.
It doesn’t always go well. In fact, there have been more misses than hits. Just as fans of “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” and “Roseanne.” However, some franchises are just more conducive to reboots/revivals more than others. That brings me to the latest revival effort by Hulu for a zany show called “Animaniacs.”
Now, if you were a kid or pre-teen in the 90s, there’s a very good chance you grew up watching this show. It debuted during the apex of 90s era cartoons. Alongside classic Marvel cartoons like “X-Men” and “Spider-Man,” as well as heavy-hitters like “Power Rangers,” this show epitomized wacky, goofy cartoon antics to the utmost.
Personally, I have many fond memories of this show. It was one of my favorite shows to watch when I was a kid. It was even one of those rare cartoons I could still appreciate as I got older. Teenagers could watch this show and still laugh at the jokes, alongside young kids. Some jokes were surprisingly mature.
Just look up the infamous “Finger Prince” joke.
Of all the 90s shows in need of a rivial, “Animaniacs” is probably the best suited. It’s style of comedy and antics might actually work better today than it did in the 90s. When Hulu released a trailer for the upcoming revival, I became even more convinced.
We need this show.
The world needs a little zaniness.
It needs it like it needs an anvil to the head right now.
I’ve watched the trailer at least 100 times and it still puts a smile on my face. Here it is in case you still haven’t seen it.
I couldn’t be more excited about the return of this show. In celebration of the “Animaniacs” comeback, I’d like to share a quick personal story. It involves a real-life zany encounter between me and Rob Paulsen, the voice of Yakko Warner, Pinkie, and about half of every great cartoon character of the past 30 years.
Now, I need to preface this by saying this encounter is one of the high points of my adult life. I had a chance to meet Mr. Paulsen, as well as Jess Harnell and Tess MacNeille, who voiced Wakko and Dot respectively, at New York Comic Con.
Having made many trips to New York Comic Coon, which I’ve documented before, I can attest that getting in line to meet celebrities of this caliber can be harrowing. The voice actors for “Animaniacs” are among the top of the heap in terms of the voice acting hierarchy. Just getting in line to meet them required a significant effort.
That meant getting to the Jacob Javits Convention Center extra early and essentially making a beeline to the celebrity booths as soon as the doors opened. Even then, it still took a while to get to these three amazing human beings.
It was still worth the effort. However, my effort included a zany twist that just made it that much more special.
In an zany fluke of luck, I just happened to get in line in front of this girl who dressed up in this amazing costume of Dot. I wish I could find the picture of it, but I cannot overstate how amazingly adorable it was. I knew as soon as she stood behind me that I was not going to be the center of Mr. Paulsen’s attention.
I was proven correct.
Shortly before the booth opened, Mr. Paulsen himself came walking out to greet the crowd. Jess and Tess were with him. We all cheered, our inner 90s kids going crazy. Then, knowing this girl’s costume was special, I tried pointing her out to Mr. Paulsen as he walked by.
It didn’t take long for him to notice. As soon as he saw this girl’s costume, his face lit up in a way that would’ve made any cartoon character from any era proud. He immediately started talking like Yakko and greeted the girl.
Yes, by the way. He greeted her by saying “Hello Nurse!”
Keep in mind, I’m standing right next to her. Mr. Paulsen is within arm’s reach of me. I came hoping for an autograph and to express my gratitude, but seeing him react to that girl’s costume felt like something so much more. The love he had for the characters and the show really revealed itself.
You just don’t get that from most celebrities, be they athletes, celebrity chefs, or voice actors. Just being there, seeing Mr. Paulsen react to the love of the fans and these characters, was such an experience. I must have smiled for a good hour or so after that.
While that girl was definitely the star of the show, I still managed to get my picture and an autograph from Mr. Paulsen. I tried to put into words how much I appreciated his work. I’m not going to lie. My voice cracked somewhat while talking to him. I probably sounded like an idiot. He still never stopped smiling.
He, Jess, and Tess were just so wonderful on so many levels. They took the time to talk to fans. At one point, Mr. Paulsen even sung his famous countries of the world song with a fan who claimed he could sing it faster. Seeing and hearing that was a spectacle in and of itself. I wish I could put into words how amazing it was. I don’t think I can.
That’s one of the many cherished memories I have of New York Comic Con. Now that “Animaniacs” is coming back, I find myself recalling it regularly. It still brings a smile to my face.
To Mr. Paulsen, as well as Jess and Tess, I doubt he’ll ever read this. I’ll still say it. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Thank you for being so awesome that day.
Thank you for bring so many insaney, zany voices to this world.
Countless kids in the 90s and countless more kids today will be forever grateful for it.
Some shows have one particular episode that you can watch again and again while still enjoying it. Great shows have multiple episodes like that. By that measure, “Daria” is greater than most. Even by the standards of late 90s animation, the show stands out in so many ways. It’s one of those rare shows that has aged remarkably well and feels more relevant now than when it originally aired.
I’ve already praised “Daria” for its unique approach to shedding a critical light on a world full of lies, half-truths, and fake news. I’ve even singled out a single episode for how the show handled a sensitive issue like mental health. These are issues that have only become more relevant since the show went off the air.
In that same spirit, I’d like to highlight another episode from the show that highlights another major issue. It also happens to be my favorite episode and the one I’ve probably re-watched the most. That episode is “Lucky Strike,” the sixth episode of the fifth season. On top of being one of the funniest episodes of the series, it also has some of the shows best moments while still tackling a major issue.
The issue, this time around, is education. It might not be the kind of a hot-button issue that makes for major headlines, but it’s still as relevant as ever, especially if we’re referring to the American education system. It’s not hard to find stories about just how bad it is, especially when compared to how other industrialized countries do it.
It was a big deal in the 90s and early 2000s, as well. Fittingly enough, this episode aired just a few months before the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, which has been the cornerstone of the American education system. While reasonable people can debate how well it has or hasn’t worked, “Daria” has already made one of the most effective arguments about what constitutes good education.
The premise of the episode begins with a teacher strike, an issue that has become distressingly common in recent years. Lawndale High’s notoriously uptight principal, Angela Li, short-changes a group of teachers who are underpaid, under-appreciated, and have to deal with uninterested idiots like Kevin Thompson and Brittney Taylor. By any measure, they have a very good reason to strike.
Never one to concede defeat or express genuine concern for student aptitude, she keeps the school running by hiring substitute teachers, some of which demonstrate limited qualifications at best. One even showed an overtly creepy attraction with one of the female students. This leads to Daria getting roped into teaching a class.
As it just so happens, the class she’s teaching is the same class that her sister and unapologetic popularity whore, Quinn, is in. Given how Quinn has spent almost the entire series denying she’s even related to Daria, it’s a great opportunity to make things awkward. Daria makes more than a few quips about it in her own wonderfully misanthropic way.
However, when it comes to actually teaching the class, Daria does something that sets herself apart from most substitutes. Even if she’s only doing it to mess with her sister, she takes her role seriously. She shows a genuine desire to teach, but she doesn’t use the same approach as the rest of her teachers. She utilizes her own unique way.
It helps that the class is an English class. Daria is a voracious reader. That is established in the first episodes of the series and belabored on multiple occasions. It also helps that the assignment is simple. The class is reading Romeo and Juliet, a story that almost every high school English class reads at some point. In terms of substitute teacher gigs, it’s as standard as it comes.
I remember reading this play in high school as well. I don’t remember it fondly, though. In class, we would just read through each act, do a few assignments in a textbook, and take a test at the end. Most of the time, the test involved multiple choice or short answer. There were only right and wrong answers. That was really all there was to it.
Daria’s approach is different. Daria doesn’t just teach from a textbook. She has the students read the play, but not so they can get the answers for an assignment. She takes the time to help them appreciate it. When one of her air-headed students doesn’t appreciate a particular part, she helps put it into a more relevant context. It doesn’t just work. It makes the story feel like something other than an assignment.
It’s an approach that anyone who loathes standardized tests can appreciate. I’ve made my disdain for standardized tests known before, but it’s not a personal peeve on my part. There is legitimate research that indicates that standardized testing is not a good way to educate kids.
Teaching kids to take a test is not the same as teaching. They’re learning how to memorize answers for a test. That’s not real learning. You can memorize all the answers for a particular test, but not know why those answers are correct. For someone like Daria Morgendorffer, who places a high value on thinking for yourself, this approach just doesn’t work for her.
For everyone else, the test is the only thing that matters. For the always-superficial Quinn, that’s her primary concern. She laments about how her sister might screw her over or worse, undermine her popularity. It’s such a burden that actually reading the play and knowing what it’s about barely registers.
Then, in one of Daria’s finest moments, she further deviates from the traditional educational model and gives her class a simple essay test. There’s no multiple choice or short answer. She just gives them a simple question.
What is Romeo and Juliet about?
That’s it. The only requirement is that they write at least 250 words and support their answer. For those who didn’t care enough to read the play, like Quinn’s equally-superficial posse, the Fashion Club, it’s the worst possible scenario. For Quinn, who actually read the play, it was easy.
In fact, it was because of that test that Quinn also had her finest hour. In one of the few moments of the show in which she’s actually likable, she defends Daria’s approach to teaching to the entire class. Then, in another pivotal moment for the series, she admits that Daria is her sister.
In addition to this critical moment of personal growth, Daria shows that she truly values people who think for themselves. Even when one of her students makes an objectively foolish comment about Romeo and Juliet, she still gives him a good grade because he actually tried to back it up. For her, that’s more valuable than simply knowing the difference between Paris and Tybalt.
Her approach is even appreciated by her students. Keep in mind, these are the same students who show little to no interest in class throughout the show. They are, like most teenagers, not that big on having to be at school for seven hours a day, learning things they don’t want to learn about. Daria understands this and tries to make the class less tedious. It’s something even an air-headed teenager can appreciate.
It’s also a valuable lesson that has real-world applications. Some places have even applied Daria’s approach, to some extent. Countries like Finland have a system that doesn’t rely so heavily on standardized tests. Not surprisingly, Finland’s education ranking is significantly better than the United States and by a significant margin. Daria would’ve actually fit in with that system.
It’s not just because that system eschews standardized tests. It actually emphasizes teaching a student how to think and reason. A test isn’t going to reveal that. On top of that, teachers are better-educated and well-compensated in places like Finland. They would not have had to strike like the teachers in this episode.
In some respects, Daria showed how much better someone could teach a class if they didn’t have to deal with the constraints of the current system. It even helped that the Principal Li was more focused on outwitting the teacher union than she was with teaching students. Without those constraints, Daria managed to teach a class in a way that her students appreciated.
Between that moment and the moment she shared with her sister, “Lucky Strike” accomplishes a great deal. Daria has a chance to shine and makes the most of it. On top of that, she demonstrates that it is possible to educate a room of disinterested teenagers in a way that’s genuinely effective.
There are many other moments in “Daria” where major complications, and the many absurdities they entail, get cut down by the show’s distinct brand of misanthropic humor. Daria rarely sets out to make big statements, be they about the educations system or our flawed understanding of mental health. However, she still finds a way to make her point and never crack a smile.
That’s why Daria is so lovable. It’s also why we need wisdom like hers more than ever.
Some people have a calling in life and they go to great lengths to pursue it. Not everyone has the opportunity or resources, but those who do show a genuine passion for their calling. Their talents, skills, and work ethic reveal themselves and it nicely reflects the kind of person they are.
For Hank Hill of “King of the Hill,” selling propane and propane accessories is definitely his calling. He pursues it with a passion that few can match, regardless of whether they exist in the real world or animated shows from the early 2000s. It’s a big part of his character and I’ve highlighted on multiple occasions how it reflects concepts ranging from noble masculinity to a good work ethic.
Hank is a rare breed among fictional characters. He doesn’t spend all 13 seasons of his show endlessly driving to achieve his dream job. He already has his dream job. He loves what he does and he dedicates himself to doing well. It’s part of what makes him a respectable, engaging character.
While I don’t deny Hank Hill’s passion for propane and propane accessories, I would also make the argument that the same skills with which he does that job so well also makes him perfectly suited for another job, namely that of a pimp. As it just so happens, it’s a job he briefly did in Season 5, Episode 13, “Ho Yeah!”
Granted, he did that job unknowingly, as Hank can be laughably oblivious at times, but that one episode has always been a personal favorite of mine. In watching it multiple times, it convinced me of something. Hank Hill, armed with the same skills that help him sell propane and propane accessories, would make the perfect pimp.
I know the popular image of pimps is mixed, at best. Some that has more to do with the illegality of prostitution, which I’ve talked about before, but it’s the world’s oldest profession for a reason. Where there are prostitutes, there are also people who manage them. Call them what you want. Pimp just happens to be the most comprehensive in a modern context.
Setting aside the legality of prostitution and the less-than-respectable behavior associated with pimps, I contend that Hank would be able to navigate the world of prostitution and pimping better than almost anyone, fictional or otherwise. He would set a gold standard in how to succeed in this lurid industry in all the right ways for all the right reasons.
What follows are six reasons that I believe prove that Hank Hill would make the perfect pimp. Having seen every episode of “King of the Hill” and researched the sex industry, I’ll try to make my points as effectively as possible. In the spirit of Hank’s dedication to getting the job done, I can do no less.
Reason #1: He Makes Customer Satisfaction A Top Priority
In the context of prostitution, customer satisfaction may seem like an afterthought and for good reason. It’s a service that involves providing intimacy and pleasure to a client in one of the most basic ways possible. Aside from connecting prostitutes with clients, how can a pimp affect this?
This is where Hank’s unceasing dedication to customer service comes in. Throughout many episodes in “King of the Hill,” he puts satisfying the customer first. His approach is simple. If the customer is satisfied, then both the products and the business take care of themselves.
This is wonderfully demonstrated in Season 7, Episode 16, “The Miseducation of Bobby Hill” in which Hank’s customer-oriented sales tactics win out over the less scrupulous approach that Bobby tried. As is often the case, Hank emphasizes doing things the right way and not in the way that’s most expedient.
As a pimp, Hank would definitely emphasis this for those working for him. Just as he tried to do with Bobby, he would preach customer satisfaction over money or expediency. He would tell them not to do the bare minimum. He believes in making sure customers are fully satisfied with their service and then some.
That kind of satisfaction breeds customer loyalty. In any industry, including prostitution, a loyal customer base goes a long way towards success. It’s why companies like Apple can get away with charging extra for their products. They’ve earned their consumer’s loyalty. For Hank, that loyalty is often more valuable than money.
Reason #2: He Commands Loyalty For The Right Reasons
This builds directly off the first reason, but it goes beyond just satisfying the customer. For Hank Hill, loyal customers aren’t just an important component of sales. Loyalty from co-workers and superiors is every bit as important. That loyalty isn’t given to him, either. He earns it, even when the people he works with don’t make it easy for him.
A prostitute working for Hank Hill wouldn’t be expected to give their loyalty by default. He would earn that loyalty by demonstrating how hard he’s willing to work. He would set an example for those around him. That means showing up on time, responding to calls or complaints, and resolving conflicts quickly and effectively.
While the propane industry is very different from the sex industry, I would argue the value of loyalty is much greater in prostitution. One of the key responsibilities of a pimp or manager is to ensure that those around them feel safe, secured, and valued. At no point in any episode of “King of the Hill” does he ever see his fellow employees as cogs in a machine.
He calls people by their first name. He treats them with the same respect that he seeks. For prostitutes, who are more likely to deal with difficult customers than propane salesmen, this kind of dedication is invaluable. They would feel safe and comfortable going to Hank with their issues and feel confident that he could resolve them.
If satisfying the customer is the top priority, then earning the loyalty of employees is a close second. Hank dedicates himself to both. It helped Strickland Propane succeed over the course of 13 seasons. It would serve him well as a pimp.
Reason #3: He Sets High Standards For Employees, Products, And Services
You could accuse Hank Hill a lot of things. He can be uptight, dense, and exceedingly set in his ways. He’ll even get upset when his favorite mower is revamped. However, nobody will ever accuse him of having low standards.
When it comes to his job, Hank sets the bar high for everything. Whether it’s the quality of the grill or the safety of a propane tank, he will never settle for anything sub-standard. Maintaining that quality for both products and services are critical in every industry. Prostitution is no exception.
Hank would not be the kind of pimp who encourages his prostitutes to do the bare minimum. Anyone could get a customer off. He would set his sights higher for both his customers and his prostitutes. He would expect them to go the extra mile with respect to serving the customer and presenting themselves as a competent employee.
He wouldn’t just bark orders, though. In multiple episodes, Hank is shown doing everything from polishing propane tanks to arranging the grills. For his prostitutes, he would make sure that their clothes, their makeup, and whatever accessories they might use are of the highest quality. He would not settle for trashy or dirty. That would be like selling a rusty propane tank.
I imagine some of the prostitutes would be annoyed by such standards, but those who take it seriously would reap the benefits. Those who don’t abide by those standards would either be let go or would never work with him in the first place. Hank is not one to just tell people the right way to do things. He lets the results speak for themselves and most of the time, they prove him right.
Reason #4: He Dedicated Himself To His Work And Maintains A Working Knowledge Of Everything It Involves
To succeed in any industry, it helps to have in-depth knowledge of it. When it comes to propane, you won’t find many people who are as knowledgeable or informed as Hank Hill. He knows propane and propane accessories. It’s not just facts and details, either. His face lights up whenever people talk about it. When something happens in the propane world, he knows about it.
That kind of dedication is just as important in sex work. Most people know how sex works in the same way they know how a grill works. However, only someone as knowledgeable as Hank understands the nuts and bolts to it all. Imagine if someone had the same working knowledge of sex work as Hank does with propane. That kind of expertise would go a long way.
As a pimp truly dedicated to his craft, Hank would understand the workings of successful sex work the same way he does with grills. He would know the difference between an effective tool and a trendy gimmick. For the prostitutes and the clients they serve, it would maintain those high standards he sets.
Beyond just knowing his trade, Hank would go out of his way to educate others. In the show, he never misses an opportunity to tell someone about propane. As a pimp, he would never hesitate to tell an aspiring prostitute how to do their job well. Like any profession, people may think they know what it entails, but someone like Hank would be able to help them see the forest from the trees.
Reason #5: He Treats His Employees Fairly And Goes Out Of His Way To Support Them
Throughout the course of “King of the Hill,” the employees of Strickland Propane rarely change. While most of them are background characters, some distinguish themselves more than others. Some episodes focus entirely on Hank helping them deal with their issues, even when it doesn’t involve their work.
That’s because, as I noted earlier, Hank doesn’t see his employees as cogs in a machine. He treats them like human beings. If they have an issue, he’ll help them as best he can. He’s always honest, transparent, and genuine with them.
Those practices are even more effective as a pimp. Prostitution is an intimate business, in more ways than one. They’re selling more than just a product. They’re selling an experience. Having someone like Hank, who supports them and treats them fairly, would go a long way towards helping them deliver that experience.
Beyond just being there for them, Hank is also someone who understands that work life is work life and personal life is none of his business. He’s not the kind of person who micromanages his employees when they’re off the clock. In fact, he sets clear and unambiguous boundaries about what constitutes work and what constitutes personal affairs.
In an industry where pimps have been known to micromanage prostitutes to an egregious extent, Hank Hill would offer the perfect balance. He would give prostitutes an ability to separate their life as a sex worker from the personal life they’re trying to build. For those looking for a job and not wanting it to define them, this would set Hank apart from other pimps in the best possible way.
Reason #6: He’s Willing To Kick An Ass When It Needs To Be Kicked
I don’t think I need to make an elaborate argument for this reason. Hank Hill’s ability and willingness to kick ass is well documented throughout the show. Generally, he avoids confrontations, but he will kick an ass when it needs to be kicked. He even proved that in “Ho Yeah!” when he took on another pimp who dared to challenge him. Needlessly to say, Hank won.
As dedicated as Hank is to serving customers and helping employees, he has a limit to how much bullshit he’ll endure. If someone dares cross a certain threshold, he won’t hesitate to respond. If someone disrespects one of his prostitutes or even his loyal customers, he won’t hold back. He’ll kick all the asses that need kicking.
For his prostitutes, it only deepens that loyalty he so values. Even other clients could appreciate that. Hank Hill may be uptight and uncompromising, but he doesn’t give a pass to people who cross lines that shouldn’t be crossed. He will kick ass and he’ll make sure he kicks the right ones.
There are probably many other reasons why Hank Hill would make a great pimp. If you have a few I didn’t mention, please share them in the comments. Hank is a great character and “King of the Hill” did plenty to show why he’s so compelling.
Even though his pimping potential may never be realized, but even Tammi, the secret prostitute at the center of the “Ho Yeah!” episode, told him outright that he would be a great pimp. I just don’t think she realized how right she was.
I was lucky to be a kid in the 1990s. Talk to most people my age and they’ll agree. The 1990s was a golden age for cartoons. That may seem somewhat egocentric, but I’ve yet to hear a convincing counter-argument. This was the era that brought us the animated classes for “X-Men,” “Batman,” “Daria,” “Animaniacs,” and so much more.
As a kid during that era, there were many great shows that I still hold dear to my heart. I’ve mentioned a few of them in the past. A few of these shows hold up, even by today’s standards. I contend that the “Batman” animated series only gets better with age. One show, however, has taken on a very different meaning over the years the air and, being an aspiring romance writer, it still resonates with me.
That show is “Hey Arnold!” and for most cartoon-loving kids in the 1990s, this was one of the best shows that didn’t involve talking babies. It was a unique show that followed a diverse cast of characters, each with their own unique connection to the titular Arnold. By almost any measure, Arnold was a lovable, relateable idealist who you just can’t help but root for.
He’s loyal, altruistic, friendly, compassionate, and empathetic. Even as a 4th grader, he’s the kind of kid you want to be friends with. He’ll go to bat for you. He’ll stand by you when the chips are down. When the whole world around him is wrong, he’ll stand for what’s right. Whether it’s the 90s or today, there’s a lot to like about a character like that.
However, the best part of “Hey Arnold!” isn’t how inherently likable Arnold is. In fact, one of the most endearing sub-plots of the show is built around a character who, on paper, couldn’t be more different. That character is Helga Pataki, the short-tempered, overly hostile, overly dramatic girl who often threatens others with her fists.
She’s also secretly in love with Arnold. It’s not just a childish crush, either. She’s really in love with Arnold.
When I watched this show as a kid, I thought that crush was kind of odd. It’s not that I didn’t care for romantic sub-plots. Even as a kid, I enjoyed romance, even in cartoons. It was one of the reasons I loved the 90s Marvel cartoons so much. I just didn’t understand the romance in “Hey Arnold!” Then, when I watched it with a more refined perspective, it gained a whole new context.
In essence, the love story of Helga and Arnold is built around tragedy, but somehow manages to feel sincere and genuine. It’s a love story that initially comes off as obsessive and unhealthy. However, as we learn more about each character, they gain more complexity. With each subsequent refinement, it becomes clear just how much these two complement each other.
It’s worth reiterating that this is a kids show from the 1990s. Things like tragedy, romance, and chemistry are things that usually don’t fit into a show within the pre-Spongebob Nickelodeon era. Even within those limitations, the complicated love story between Helga and Arnold is surprisingly mature.
To appreciate the depth of that story, it’s necessary to understand some of Helga’s story. Even by the skewed standards of a kids cartoon, it’s pretty sad. Helga does not come from a nurturing, supportive environment. Her parents are a wreck. Her father is a self-centered blowhard who cares more about his business than his family. Her mother is a dazed alcoholic who always seems hung over.
Then, there’s her older sister, Olga. She’s basically the perfect daughter who sucks up all the attention in her family. She’s sweet, successful, kind, and an overachiever. She sets the bar so high that Helga has no chance of ever matching it, so she doesn’t even try. As such, her parents barely notice her. Her father often forgets her name. Most of the time, she just calls her “the girl.”
This is not a happy home life for anyone, let a lone a 4th grade kid. Nobody pays attention to her. Nobody shows her any semblance of affection or love. Nobody is even nice to her. Then, she meets Arnold. He’s the first person to show her real, sincere kindness. It’s not out of pity, either. That’s just the kind of person Arnold is. Naturally, it makes an impression.
It’s a tragic foundation for any love story, but it’s one that isn’t fully fleshed out until later seasons. If there’s one episode that defines Helga’s character, it’s Season 4, Episode 78, entitled “Helga on the Couch.” This is the episode that lays bare just how tragic her life was and still is. It also puts all the obsessive feelings she has for Arnold into a larger context.
It’s almost disturbing how sad things were for her. As early as pre-school, we see just how neglected she was. We also see just how big an influence Arnold was for her at that moment.
Again, it’s worth reiterating that this is a kids show. If there were a story about a pre-school kid who was that neglected by her family, it would make headlines and stir plenty of outrage on social media. However, “Hey Arnold!” managed to make this distressing story feel genuine and heartfelt.
The romance isn’t entirely one-sided, either. In the early seasons of the show, Arnold mostly saw Helga as his bully. He rarely saw her as anything more than that. However, as the show went on, he starts noticing her complexities. He even manages to get through her tough, hostile exterior on a few occasions.
While there are more than a few occasions when she comes close to confessing her feelings for him, it’s not until the series finale/movie that they actually become an item, at least as much as a couple of 4th graders can be. The way they go about is part of what makes the romance feel genuine.
It doesn’t just revolve around Helga finally coming clean. Without getting too heavy into spoilers, Arnold gets to see first-hand just how far Helga is willing to go for him. She shows him with her actions how much she cares. It’s not something she could ever put into words and not just because she’s a kid. Remember, she comes from a home where she never got a shred of affection from anyone.
This moment, which was a culmination of many hints and sub-plots that developed over many seasons, is incredibly cathartic. Even my inner 90s kid could appreciate it. It effectively completed a journey that started with the first episode. Helga starts off as this obsessive, stalker-like bully. Then, over time, we understand why she feels the way she does and why Arnold reacts to it so strongly.
It’s still tragic on many levels. As a foundation for romance, Helga and Arnold don’t start off on the right foot. This is a relationship that could’ve easily become a one-sided affair that quickly devolved into stalking. Somehow, “Hey Arnold!” managed to make it work. It even managed to make it feel sweet.
The fact that such a complicated, yet genuine romance could manifest in a kids show is further evidence that the 1990s truly was a golden age for cartoons. For that reason, and many others, “Hey Arnold!” and the unique love story it told will have a special place in my heart.
How does anyone stay sane in this day and age? Between fake news, outrage culture, alternative facts, and the everyday struggle to survive in an economy being subsumed by tech companies, I don’t blame anyone for being a bit uptight. I envy anyone who can step back, see the bigger picture, and retain their sanity.
For some, it takes a special kind of strength, perspective, and mental toughness to deal with the totality of the absurdities in this world. Then, there’s Daria Morgendorffer from her remarkably-ahead-of-its-time TV show, “Daria.” When it comes to maintaining a level head while surrounded by the insanities of the modern world, she’s in a league of her own.
I’ve made my love for “Daria” known before. I’ve even shared my excitement on the prospect of a new series. Every time I make the mistake of watching the news for more than two minutes, I find myself wishing I had her nuanced perspective. It’s part of what makes her character so enduring. She’ll see things for what they are, tell it like it is, and offer revealing insights along the way.
Earlier this year, research from Clinical Psychological Science indicated that mental health issues are on the rise among young people. Every day, it seems, a new mental ailment emerges from the evolving media landscape. While mental health issues can be serious, they can also be subject to plenty of absurdities.
As it just so happens, one of my favorite episodes of “Daria” tackled this issue in a way that’s more relevant now than it was back in the early 2000s when it first aired. The title of the episode is called “Psycho Therapy” and the lessons it offers are worth learning.
The synopsis of the episode is fairly basic. Daria’s mother, Helen, is up for a promotion. However, before the law firm she works at can consider her, she and her family are sent to a psychiatric center for personality evaluations. Hilarity ensue, but it’s Daria who ends up making the most astute observations, more so than the doctors on hand.
When Daria and her family first arrive, the staff is most concerned about Daria. Considering how she answered her survey with her trademark sarcasm, that’s understandable. However, when the doctors start to evaluate her and her family, they learn something remarkable.
Compared to everyone else in her family, she’s the most mentally stable. Even if you’ve only seen a few episodes of “Daria,” that should be pretty jarring. That’s not to say that she’s the picture of mental health, but according to the doctors in the episode, she’s the most well-adjusted. These are the exact words of Dr. Jean-Michael to Daria.
Dr. Jean-Michael: Daria, I was afraid you had some rather deep-seated problems. But I must say, you’re remarkably well adjusted considering…
Quinn: You’d think someone would’ve invented eye liner before me.
But no, I, Cleopatra, have to come up with all my beauty products on my own.
Oh, what a hard life.
In Quinn’s defense, she was hypnotized when she went on that incoherent ramble. Then again, Quinn Morgandorffer is probably the least defensive character in the show and would probably benefit from a healthy bit of therapy.
What makes this assessment more revealing is just how much Daria is surrounded by intense personalities, so to speak. I won’t go so far as to say these personalities are on par with mental illness, but they certainly walk the line. While that’s part of what makes these characters interesting, it also highlights an important concept that Daria Morgandorffer embodies.
At her core, Daria is a hardcore realist. She’s not a nihilist, a social constructionist, or an existentialist. She’s someone who sees both the surface and the forces just below that surface. From there, she makes a cold, calculated assessment that is devoid of needless emotional breadth, unless you count the sarcasm.
This is how she’s able to effectively break down the mental quirks of her parents, Jake and Helen Morgandorffer. Throughout the series, their relationship goes through a lot of atypical stresses. Just check out Season 3, Episode 10, entitled “Speedtrapped” for a clear depiction of those stresses.
On top of that, they both have some fairly eccentric personality quirks. Her mother is an incredibly high-strung, career-obsessed woman who constantly worries about how “normal” both her daughters are. Her father is an overly-dense, exceedingly histrionic man who always seems like he’s in the middle of a mid-life crisis.
Even a professional would have trouble making sense of their mental state. Daria does it in just a few short sentences.
Daria: Mom’s resentful that she has to work so hard, which obscures her guilt about actually wanting to work so hard. Dad’s guilty about being less driven than Mom, but thinks it’s wrong to feel that way. So, he hides behind a smokescreen of cluelessness.
Behind the heavy monotone and light sarcasm, this shows that Daria knows her parents. Given how they behave throughout the episode, she demonstrates that she actually knows them better than they know themselves. There’s even a scene towards the end of the episode where they try to mimic one another. It ends up getting pretty dramatic for everyone, except for Daria.
Helen: I mean Dammit! I lost another client! I can’t understand why! Dammit! Nobody likes poor old Jake. Should I think about the reason? Oh, must be my father’s fault. Where’s the newspaper, dammit!
Jake: Let me bring home the pizza. I have to be the one doing everything so everyone will thank me and tell me what a big superwoman I am. I’m very, very important and very, very stressed and I don’t have time to actually do anything for anyone else, but I can pretend I care, can’t I?
This is some pretty brutal honesty, even by “Daria” standards. They reveal some pretty unhealthy sentiments that probably need more than just advice and therapy. They reflect many of the quirks and side-plots that Daria’s parents experience throughout the show with Helen constantly obsessing over her career and Jake obsessing over whatever is stressing him out at the moment.
Daria’s ability to sift through all that and make a clear, honest assessment is both remarkable and refreshing. Even though these are her parents, she doesn’t pull any punches. Moreover, she doesn’t make any value judgments either. She doesn’t take sides or show scorn. She’s just tells it like it is. She says what the audience feels and does it in that lovable, monotone sort of way.
Her being able to make that assessment is profound. Doing so while maintaining mental stability is just as amazing. The fact she can maintain this perspective around personalities that range from ditzy cheerleader types like Brittney Taylor and touchy-feely teachers like Timothy O’Neill show why Daria is the emotional anchor of the show.
Back in the early 2000s, Daria’s knack for being level-headed while surrounded by so many bizarre characters made for great entertainment. Today, it acts as a radical departure from how we make sense of a world where every news clip, viral video, and hashtag is measured by the emotional outburst it triggers.
What Daria does in “Psycho Therapy” is something that has become far less common with each passing year. She makes a clear, concise assessment of other peoples’ behaviors and attitudes without casting judgement. She doesn’t whine about other peoples’ shortcomings or bemoan misguided efforts to treat them. She just points out the cold, hard facts and lets them stand on their own merit.
Contrast that with how every comment about someone, whether it’s in person or online, is laced with value judgments. You say you like video games and immediately, you’re judged as this angry fanboy who rages whenever someone dares to significantly change a particular aspect of your game. You say you’re a feminist and immediately, you’re judged as a man-hating bitch who blames men for every single ill on the planet.
It’s not enough to just have an opinion. It’s not even enough to have personal likes or dislikes. Everything you do and why you do it has to be an indictment on your politics, your identity, and the society around you. That’s not just misguided and judgmental. It’s mentally exhausting.
Being constantly judged, online and offline, every hour of every day is sure to be stressful. It’s no wonder why it seems as though more young people are development mental health issues. Daria may seem like the most unhappy person in her show, but compared to what some people deal with in the real world, she’s a picture of sanity.
At the end of the episode, it’s not Daria’s choices that lead to the resolution. All she does is provide commentary. It’s Helen and Jake, her emotionally convoluted parents, who chart their own path. That kind of lesson wasn’t as necessary in June 2000 when this episode first aired, but it’s one worth re-learning today.
Last year, I wrote an article about how the classic 90s MTV show, “Daria,” is more relevant today than it was back when it debuted in 1997. That special brand of misanthropic monotone conveyed a harsh, uncompromising honesty of the world in a way that felt both genuine and endearing.
Well, it appears I’m not the only one who felt that way because according to The Hollywood Reporter, the newly-minted MTV Studios is looking to reboot the show as part of a push to reinvigorate the MTV brand that seemed to fade along with the appeal of boy bands. While I’m skeptical that MTV can ever become relevant again, I couldn’t be more thrilled at the prospect of Daria returning to TV.
I think I speak for many who watched that show back in the late 90s when I say that this world needs her. Specifically, it needs her critical insights into a world awash in fake news, alternative facts, and political correctness. There’s an entire generation emerging whose reality is shaped by their news feed on social media. It feels as though no one is even capable of seeking the truth anymore.
Daria doesn’t just tell the truth like she sees it. She says it in a way that is apolitical, unbiased, and relatable. She doesn’t criticize. She doesn’t have an agenda, either. She sees something she thinks is a farce and she points it out. At a time when every character needs to be an icon for something or someone, that’s nothing short of refreshing. For a character from the late 90s, that says a lot about our current state of affairs.
There’s a lot more I could say about “Daria,” both as a character and as a TV show. For now, I want to create a wish list, of sorts, for what I’d like to see in a “Daria” reboot. I know that’s a bit premature since MTV Studios is in the very early stages of making this happen, but I think the prospect of more “Daria” at this particular point in our history is exciting.
I know excitement is the last trait anyone would associate with Daria Morgendorffer, but I’m willing channel my inner Quinn to entertain the possibilities. What follows are five things I want from a new “Daria” show. I know any rebooted show is subject to reinvention, sometimes for the worse, but I believe if the new “Daria” delivers on these critical elements, it’ll be a success. It might even get Daria herself to crack a smile.
Wish #1: Build Daria’s Agenda Around Exposing Other Agendas
Let’s face it. Today, everyone seems to have an agenda and social media has given people a platform to pursue that agenda, even when they’re dangerous, damaging, and downright hurtful. In the late 90s, media outlets like MTV got a lot of flak for pushing bloated consumerism around bubblegum pop music and reality shows. Today, social media has created countless outlets for countless agendas of varying absurdity.
Daria Morgendorffer can set herself apart in this chaotic landscape by building her agenda around exposing other agendas. She could see right-wing talking points as just excuses to pay fewer taxes and be a dick to poor people. She could see left-wing talking points as utopian fantasies mixed with a pathological need to be outraged over something. With Daria, no agenda is safe.
In any show that would have her take part in the current climate, it needs to give her opportunities to see all this social masquerading for what it really is. As I’ve noted before, people have a frustrating tendency to believe they’re the hero of their own story. In Daria’s world, there are no heroes. There are no villains. There are just people.
That’s a harsh reality, but one Daria refuses to ignore. Her reminding people of that reality in any show would be both refreshing and cathartic, especially to anyone who is sick of people building their agendas around professional trolling.
Wish #2: Continue Daria’s (Unique) Growth From The Show
Throughout five memorable seasons and two made-for-TV movies, Daria’s character remained remarkably consistent. However, she did undergo her share of growth during that time. It was subtle, much more so than that of characters like Jane, Quinn, Helen, and Tom. However, that’s exactly what made it meaningful.
At the beginning of the show, Daria is already her anti-social, misanthropic self. She’s a teenager and a high school student, though. Teenagers go through changes. Even Daria isn’t immune to that. She developed her first crush, had her first serious boyfriend, and even improved her relationship with Quinn, a character who might have been the least likable person on the show.
The show ended with Daria graduating high school and going to college, culminating in one of the most memorable graduation speeches ever made. However, college is rarely the endpoint for anyone who survived high school, even someone as jaded as Daria. Any new show that expands her story should also follow that evolution.
Whether it takes place in college or shortly after, Daria always expressed a desire to get out of Lawndale and do something with her life that she wouldn’t hate. That’s a process a lot of people go through, but few could endure it with the same attitude or crass as Daria. That’s exactly why that story is worth telling.
Wish #3: Keep Her Apolitical And Unbiased
No matter how much she grew over the course of the show or what she encountered, Daria Morgendorffer may very well be the only character in the show, or in real life, who can call themselves truly unbiased. She doesn’t have a political affiliation. She doesn’t identify with one group or the other. She’s just Daria. Her opinions and leanings are her own.
That’s an important facet to preserve in any new “Daria” show. That may prove challenging, though. If you go by current stereotypes, Daria’s age and education levels put her in line with the kind of left-leaning archetypes that Fox News whines about every half-second. However, in terms of her overall worldview, Daria would be just as cynical about the MSNBC crowd.
The core of Daria’s politics is that all politics are stupid. Politics is just one big exercise in people gathering around others who think like they do so that they can rely on someone else to do the thinking for them. That is not Daria’s style. She believes in thinking for herself. Anything beyond that is a waste of time.
Moreover, her worldview is as simple as it is plain. The real world doesn’t care about your beliefs, your principles, or how hard you fight for them. The real world is harsh and whining about it doesn’t change anything. That would put her at odds with liberals, conservatives, and everyone in between. The idea of her getting into debates with some of the politically-minded trolls in the world would certainly be worth watching.
Wish #4: Give Her Supporting Cast A Chance To Support Her
Like any great character, animated or otherwise, a big part of what made “Daria” such a great show was its diverse cast of colorful characters. From her annoying younger sister to her uptight mother to her charismatic classmates, Daria was surrounded by a lot of memorable individuals who helped highlight just what a unique persona she was.
Daria’s closest relationships were with her friend, Jane Lane, and her family that could never understand her. To maximize the strength of her persona, those relationships should definitely be part of a new show. There can also be room for new relationships that put her in entirely new situations.
That may already be in the works. Within the announcement surrounding the possible reboot of the show, there’s a mention of giving Jodie Landon a significant role in the show. That has a lot of potential because Jodie was a great character who didn’t get a chance to develop until the last two seasons of the show. A new show could give both her and Daria new opportunities in a world full of new controversies.
Within the existing cast, there’s also potential for Daria to forge connections with characters other than Jane. There’s also potential to form new romantic entanglements. She does have the capacity for affection, despite what her demeanor may imply. In an age where romantic entanglements are fraught with complications, that could bring out the best in her and the worst in everyone else.
Wish #5: Put Her In The Middle Of Controversial Issues (And Let Her Work Her Magic)
The original “Daria” was a great show in that it didn’t take sides in a controversy or preach to the audience. In fact, those kinds of public service announcements would’ve been antithetical to Daria’s persona. She doesn’t think that it’s the job of other people, be they animated or otherwise, to tell you how to feel about an issue. That’s something you’re supposed to figure out for yourself.
At the same time, however, I felt as though “Daria” avoided too many major issues that could’ve helped make the show even more relevant. While it lightly touched on issues of teen sex and out-of-control consumerism, it didn’t get too deep into the kinds of topics that inspire hashtags and hate mail.
I think that worked well for “Daria” in the late 90s. I don’t think it’ll work as well in today’s hyper-political climate where a new outrage is just a click away. A new “Daria” show won’t succeed if it avoids hot-button issues like the anti-harassment movement, gender inequality, and an emerging generation that may end up being the most nihilistic of all time.
I’m not saying the show has to be built around those kinds of serious topics every other episode. Shows like “South Park” already do that. The biggest appeal to this show would be Daria offering her misanthropic take on those issues to help expose them for what they are.
I believe that there’s definitely a market for that kind of nuance in our current political climate. I also think there’s a growing need for a voice who can sift through the endless shit storms that get kicked up every day for one reason or another. Whether it’s something the President tweets or some dumb comment a celebrity makes, we all need a harsh, but sincere voice to speak the honest truth.
Daria can be that voice. I would still argue we need that voice now more than we did in the late 90s and early 2000s. I hope that this show, assuming it gets made, provides that voice. “Daria” was ahead of its time, as a how and as a character. It’s time we finally catch up with one another.
This past Halloween was extra sweet for a certain group of comic book fans, one that I just happen to be part of. Even if you’re not a comic book fan and were just a kid of the 90s, growing up on a steady diet of Saturday morning cartoons, this year marked a special milestone for one of the best shows of that era.
Yes, it involves superheroes. Yes, it involves X-men, which I often go out of my way to discuss. Yes, it involves this iconic theme music that has since become my ring tone.
That insanely catchy guitar rift that got stuck in the heads of millions of fans is from “X-men: The Animated Series.” On October 31st, 1992, this series debuted on Fox Kids and countless childhoods were forged from that day forward, including my own.
That was 25 years ago and while that thought makes me feel way older than I care to feel, it still brings back fond memories. One of my favorite parts of the day, as a kid, was rushing home from school, turning on the TV, and watching my favorite shows. “X-men: The Animated Series,” along with shows like “Spider-Man” and “Power Rangers,” were a big part of my carton diet.
I largely credit this show and “Spider-Man” for getting me into comic books, superheroes, and everything that came with it. I also credit those shows with giving me an early understanding of character development, romance, and storytelling, which would go onto help me write my sexy novels.
For that reason, and many others, “X-men: The Animated Series” has a special place in my heart. I imagine many X-men fans feel the same way because it was this show that helped the X-men really peak in the 90s. What the Avengers are today, the X-men were in the 90s. They were very much the alpha and omega of all things involving superheroes.
While this 25th anniversary gives me time to reflect fondly over how much this show enriched my childhood, my life as an adult has only further expanded my perspective. When I look back on “X-men: The Animated Series,” I’m somewhat amazed by how relevant it still is in terms of theme, drama, and story.
It’s easy to forget that this series came out at a time when most cartoons followed a simple, predictable formula, regardless of whether or not superheroes were involved. There was evil. The heroes found out about said evil. They fought it. Then, the credits roll. “X-men: The Animated Series” dared to think bigger.
While the animation and voice acting might be somewhat dated, this show dared to speak up about social issues. It dared to explore ideas of hate, bigotry, and discrimination. At a time when parents were still fighting mortal crusades over rock music, this show tried to be relevant in a new way.
Now, as I look back on this series that lasted for five years and 76 glorious episodes, I realize just how progressive and insightful this show truly was for its time. As more and more forms of media, including comics, push for greater diversity, “X-men: The Animated Series” found a way to pull that off 25 years ahead of schedule.
In a sense, the X-men have always been about progressive themes like inclusion, diversity, and justice. Even though some of those words have become toxic today, they embodied the best of it, going back to its earliest days of drawing parallels with the Civil Rights movement. This show just captured it at a time when it a new form of progressive concepts were taking hold.
So, in honor of the 25th anniversary of this show, I’d like to highlight five reasons why “X-men: The Animated Series” was even more progressive than you remember. Even if you’re not a fan of X-men or comics, it’s amazing to think that a show from 25 years ago achieved so much of what others are trying to accomplish today.
“Genuine bigotry and hatred was depicted in ordinary people.”
To X-men fans, it seems obvious. Bigotry and hatred are very much a part of the X-men’s DNA, going all the way back to their early days in the 60s. However, for a kids cartoon, this was akin to Miley Cyrus flashing her tits on an episode of “Hannah Montana.”
“X-men: The Animated Series” did not water down the themes of blind hatred and bigotry espoused in the comics. If anything, they took it a step further by giving a voice, putting that blind hatred on display through characters like Graydon Creed.
This especially played out in the second season where hate groups like the Friends of Humanity formed. They’re the anti-mutant equivalent of the KKK. Their hate was so blind and deep that when one character, Jubilee, asked them why they hated her so much, Creed said simply, “You were born!”
That kind of hatred is harsh in real life, let alone a kids show. The fact that this show gave the X-men more than just monsters, tyrants, and aliens to fight showed an uncanny, if that’s not too fitting a term, willingness to scrutinize these painfully real issues.
As a kid, I barely understood it. As an adult, I’ve come to appreciate it even more. I like to think that exposing that kind of hate in a cartoon showed an entire generation of kids what true assholes look and sound like. Given the amount of assholes in this world, those lessons were invaluable. Plus, it was way more entertaining than “Sesame Street.”
“The characters were diverse and had vastly different personalities.”
Here’s a quick question that should trigger some unpleasant conversations on message boards, as if there are any others. Look at the cast of the Avengers movie. Aside from talking raccoons and androids, what do you notice? They’re mostly men, they’re mostly white, and they mostly have the same avenging personality.
Now, look at the X-men. You’ve got an uptight white guy, a burly Canadian, a sexy southern woman, an African goddess, a smooth-talking Cajun, a giddy teenage girl, and a guy in a wheelchair. Even by today’s absurd diversity standards, the X-men check a lot of boxes. They’ve been checking those boxes since long before diversity was even an annoying buzzword.
It’s not just that the cast of “X-men: The Animated Series” was diverse on the surface. It’s not just that they disagreed with each other, as the Avengers frequently do. They had such wildly different personalities that didn’t always mesh. Cyclops and Wolverine alone had all sorts of clashes and not just over wanting to sleep with the same redhead.
That kind of diversity of thought and personality is something modern cartoons, TV shows, and movies still struggle to achieve. “X-men: The Animated Series” managed to achieve that at a time when Hillary Clinton was still likable. It was a big accomplishment at the time and one that only gets more impressive as the years go by and people still fight about diversity in media.
“The show did feminism and strong female characters RIGHT.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it in future posts. Talking about feminism is dangerous, divisive, and frustrating, especially in wake of recent scandals. Nobody seems to know how to even handle feminism or strong female characters who aren’t Wonder Woman. Long before the “Wonder Woman” movie raised the bar, though, “X-men: The Animated Series” made sure it set that bar pretty damn high.
Even by modern standards, “X-men: The Animated Series” found a way to do feminism right. Unlike other cartoons, the female characters weren’t part of the supporting cast or relegated to roles of a love interest. They actually participated on the same level as the male characters.
They didn’t have to create new female characters or force a female character into a male role. “X-men: The Animated Series” simply took characters like Storm, Rogue, Jubilee, and Jean Grey and maximized their strengths. They gave them personalities, power, and individual stories. They didn’t have to show up their male teammates. They could stand on their own and thrive as women.
In terms of feminism, “X-men: The Animated Series” was at omega-level standards long before it became a priority. At a time when we’re still struggling to make solid female characters, it’s remarkable and refreshing to see how well it was done.
“The show didn’t shy away from harsh, dramatic moments.”
People used to make a big deal about cartoon violence. The big worry was that kids would see a cartoon duck fighting with a cartoon rabbit and think that playing with double-barreled shotguns were toys. It was a very different, very strange time, to say the least.
“X-men: The Animated Series” basically gave a big, adamantium finger to this debate, at least to the extent that they could get around the network censors. This show did not shy away from the harsh, dramatic moments that had played out in the comics. In fact, in the second episode of the series, one of the characters dies.
Keep in mind, this is a kids show where characters are not allowed to curse or show blood. The fact that this show killed a character in an early episode, and referenced death on more than one occasions, showed a remarkable willingness to portray real struggles with real stakes. Sure, it probably upset a few parents, but it sent a powerful message about the real world.
“X-men: The Animated Series” dealt with real issues of bigotry, hatred, and intolerance. As such, it couldn’t water down the harshness and the pain it incurred. These are issues that people are still reluctant to talk about today and this show brought it up during the Clinton Administration. That shows both guts and foresight.
“The villains, heroes, and themes had layers of complexity.”
Watch any cartoon made before 1992 and chances are the characters you see will be pretty basic. You have your evil, mustache-twirling villains. You have your generic good guy/hero types. You have exaggerated violence and shameless toy promotions. There’s not a whole lot of depth there.
“X-men: The Animated Series” once again dared to do more. It dared to let its characters grow and evolve over the course of five seasons. It’s an approach that worked so well that others, like the “Spider-Man” cartoon that debuted two years later, went onto adopt it. These characters had all sorts of layers and depth in the comics. The show chose not to simplify it for a young audience and embrace that complexity.
Sure, characters like Magneto, Sinister, and Apocalypse came off as generic bad guys at first, but they developed more and more depth as the series went on. There were even times when Magneto came off as genuinely sympathetic. For a kids show, these moments were pretty heavy and something you just wouldn’t get with the Ninja Turtles.
Today, everyone is trying to give their characters that Walter White style of complexity. Everyone is trying to create a series with a sense of progression. Well, “X-men: The Animated Series” were already doing that in the days of dial-up internet.
The fact this show succeeded to the extent that it did, while being as progressive as it was, even by modern standards, is nothing short of uncanny. After 25 years, the show still has a special place in the hearts of X-men fans. Sure, the animation and dialogue may be dated, but those progressive themes have never been more relevant.