Tag Archives: 90s Cartoons

Understanding And Appreciating The Work Ethic Of Hank Hill

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As kids, we don’t always appreciate the deeper messages of certain TV shows, movies, or songs. I imagine most kids who saw “Jurassic Park” in 1993 didn’t care that much about the larger points Ian Malcom made about tampering with nature. They just loved seeing dinosaurs eat cowardly lawyers off toilets.

That’s why re-watching shows you loved in your youth can be insightful. Sometimes, it can be a little distressing, seeing themes that aren’t quite in line with today’s taboos and social norms. However, I don’t want to focus on those unpleasant instances. Instead, I want to focus on insights that we appreciate more as adults than we do as kids.

This brings me to a show that, even by today’s standards, has uncanny appeal. That show is “King of the Hill,” a show I’ve already singled out as home to Hank Hill, a strong example of noble masculinity. After rediscovering the show, thanks to Hulu, I’ve found myself appreciating the less obvious messages of the show.

One clear message that seems to come up several times over the course of the show’s 13 seasons is the value of a work ethic, especially when contrasted to those who have none. It’s a value few kids and teenagers appreciate. That’s understandable because in the innocence of youth, most go out of their way to avoid hard work or laborious tasks.

What makes “King of the Hill” stand out, more so to adults than to kids, is how it portrays work and the way people go about it. One of Hank Hill’s core traits is his dedication to his job. Among his most memorable and oft-repeated quotes is that he sells propane and propane accessories. That’s not just his job, though. It’s part of his identity.

Hank, unlike many male protagonists in animated sitcoms, actually loves his job. It’s not just something he does to pay the bills and provide for his family. He genuinely loves selling propane and propane accessories. That love is played up in plenty of comedic ways. In one episode, “Hank’s Back,” even doctors had a hard time believing that anyone would avoid a worker’s comp settlement.

What makes that comedy work is the common expectation that few people actually like their jobs. If they do, it’s only because they’re rich and it affords them all sorts of fancy perks. However, Hank is not rich. One episode even goes out of its way to show that, even by middle class standards, he’s not that well off. He’s no Al Bundy, but he’s not Charlie Harper, either.

That doesn’t matter to Hank because his is not entirely about money or even the opportunity to make more money. It’s about doing something he loves and deriving real meaning from it. His job selling propane and propane accessories gives him a unique sense of fulfillment that can’t be quantified with money.

This sort of approach to work isn’t just unique among sitcom dads. It reflects an approach to work that is rarely emphasized, even in a world where work is changing due to automation. Growing up, the nature of work and careers is presented in a certain way. It’s not always through the media or movies like “Office Space,” either.

When kids and teenagers are encouraged to think about future careers, it’s almost always framed as a means to an end. First and foremost, a career provides money and resources with which to build a life, whether it’s a family or just a home in general. It’s part of a much larger process of becoming a productive member of society.

Most counselors and teachers will encourage kids to find a career they actually like. That’s the ideal. However, it’s a poorly-kept secret that few people ever land their “dream job.” Just as few people end up working jobs that are related to their college major. On top of that, many of these people who graduate college are underemployed, which put them in a similar position to Hank.

To some extent, Hank Hill is in an ideal career because he’s doing something he loves and he’s getting paid for it. That alone sets him apart from many career-seekers, both in the real and fictional world. However, the love he has for his work and his career actually runs deeper than that.

To him, his job isn’t just a means to an end. It is the end. The work itself is the reward. The money he makes is only ever secondary. For Hank Hill, the best moment of his job isn’t when he gets his paycheck. It’s when he sees the look on a satisfied customer’s face when he sells them a new grill or helps them refill their propane tank.

That kind of fulfillment isn’t just rare in an animated sitcom that includes a self-professed conspiracy theorist who never realizes that his wife cheated on him for years. It’s a rare and unique state of being, having a job in which the work feels so rewarding. Even in the real world, this sort of mindset is rare, which is part of what helps set Hank Hill apart.

For most of human history, people didn’t have careers. They just had things they had to do to survive another day, whether it involved hunting and gathering or growing crops. In modern times, a new host of jobs gave people a variety of ways to earn a living, but the nature of the work was rarely fulfilling and often laborious.

The idea of having a job that you actually like and feeling fulfilled in the work you do is akin to a modern nirvana, of sorts. It takes the very idea of work and turns it into something other than that stuff people have to do in order to make money. Hank isn’t just lucky in that he has that kind of job. He’s got the perfect attitude for it.

That attitude of seeing work as something inherently fulfilling often puts him at odds with other characters and sub-plots throughout the show. On many occasions, Hank’s approach to work often clashes with other characters who go out of their way to avoid hard work or seek to make as much money as they can for as little effort as possible.

His son, Bobby Hill, often embodies that sentiment and not just because he’s terrible in gym class. In multiple episodes, Bobby’s fondness of laziness is not very subtle. When faced with the prospect of having to work hard, he usually does what he can to avoid it. More often than not, trying to avoid the work backfires or ends up being more laborious than the work itself.

He’s not the only one who harbors this attitude. Hank’s loud-mouthed neighbor, Kahn Souphanousinphone, attempts more than one get-rich-quick-scheme throughout the show. To him, work is always a means to an end. Even though his job affords him more money and better material assets, or so he claims, he rarely comes off as fulfilled as Hank.

Even when money isn’t the endgame, others still approach work with a different end in mind. Hank’s wife, Peggy, approaches her job as a substitute teacher with more passion and purpose than most. For her, though, the work she does is less about the money and more about feeding her inflated ego. In some cases, it borders on outright narcissism.

Regardless of intent or goal, “King of the Hill” often comes back to the same theme with respect to work. Hank, for all his faults and shortcomings, has the right attitude when it comes to work. It’s not just about having your dream job and doing what you love for a living. It’s about seeing work as inherently fulfilling, regardless of money or material aspirations.

At a time when the future of work will likely change what it means to have a career, Hank Hill may very well be ahead of his time. Even in the current work climate, his has major value. It’s a perspective that most kids and teenagers don’t appreciate. For some, it may not even be an idea they’ve ever contemplated, the notion that a job could be so inherently fulfilling.

It may still seem like an impossible ideal for many, but Hank Hill shows that it’s not that impossible. Selling propane and propane accessories isn’t one of those jobs that requires a rare set of skills or talents. It requires only basic people skills, salesmanship, and a working knowledge of propane.

Hank didn’t go to college and he didn’t go through some rigorous training to achieve what he achieved. He simply took a simple job selling propane and propane accessories and made it part of his passion. Even in an animated world where impossible things can happen, Hank makes his approach to his job feel attainable, even in the real world.

Appreciating Hank’s work ethic was not the first thing that appealed to me when I watched “King of the Hill” when it was still on the air. However, as I get older and see people wrestle with their careers, I see more and more merit to Hank’s approach to work.

I don’t deny that hard work can be tedious, at times. I also don’t deny that every job, even so-called dream jobs, have bad days every now and then. Even Hank has a few bad days at Strickland Propane throughout the course of the show. That still never discourages him from doing his job as well as he does it and getting genuine fulfillment from it.

There are plenty of lesson in “King of the Hill” that are as relevant now as they were when the show first aired. It’s possible for people of all ages to appreciate those lessons and the comedy that comes with it. That’s part of what made the show so successful for so many years.

When it comes to work ethic and approaching a career, Hank Hill stands out more than most. He sells propane and propane accessories better than anyone has or probably ever will, but that’s not the point. For him, the work itself is the greatest reward. Whether you appreciate his many other quirks or not, that’s a sentiment worth respecting.

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Lessons In Mental Health And Outrage Culture From “Daria”

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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 “Dariaknown 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.

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Five Things I Want From The “Daria” Reboot

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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.

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

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Five Reasons Why “X-men: The Animated Series” Was More Progressive Than You Think

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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 Seriesdared 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.”

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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.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, X-men