Inevitably, a television series goes through a feeling out process at the beginning. When it comes to an animated sitcom, many of the voice actors play around with their characters as they attempt to find a comfort zone. Certainly, a show like Family Guy has a night and day resemblance from season one to even a few years into things. Chris and Stewie, for example, start with a certain, almost endearing awkwardness, which both turn into crisper and more defined voices.
Surprisingly, a show centered around nine-year-old fourth graders has less of a feeling out process than many of its similar counterparts. In Hey Arnold’s pilot episode, ‘Downtown As Fruits’, Arnold, Gerald, and Helga, three of the biggest characters, all sound pretty much how I think of them when remembering the show. It doesn’t take the voice actors any time at all to settle into a role, as Helga follows the opening surfing with dinosaurs dream sequence (these weird dream sequences were a staple in a few early episodes) by yelling and bullying her cast. Less than two minutes into the show, we are already introduced to “Old Betsy and the Five Avengers” as Helga continues to threaten every kid within reach.
One of the things that I love about Hey Arnold is that it really isn’t all over the place. As crazy as these episodes get, and this pilot episode is a perfect example of insanity, the focus rarely strays from Arnold and Gerald, and the play. The initial scene of the students practicing the play is quickly followed by Arnold and Gerald boarding a bus, dressed as a banana and strawberry respectively, heading to the actual performance. After awkwardly making their way onto the bus, it doesn’t take long for the two friends to complain about both the play and Helga.
When Gerald makes the suggestion to skip the play by remaining on the bus, we are first exposed to Arnold’s character. Though he is just nine, Arnold certainly goes down as one of the biggest heroes in 90′s cartoons, with a combination of good morals and leadership abilities. Arnold eventually gives into his best friend’s pleadings, but not before going through a major mental dilemma. Our main character grows throughout the series, and this first episode gives him room to do so, as his good instincts are not acted upon.
Gerald’s master plan of eventually just riding the bus back to their destination (after the play is over) is derailed when it stops for the night at the end of the line. The two boys find themselves in a bad neighborhood, evidenced when an attempted phone call results in a phone that has been cut from its line. This also brings on a hint of nostalgia, reminding us of a time when elementary school kids didn’t have the luxuries of a cell phone.
Unknowingly, Arnold and Gerald intercept a bag of money, intended for two thugs (who recur throughout the series) somehow dressed in the same outfit. Of course, the boys ditch their costumes (except for Arnold’s happenin’ banana shoes) and proceed to live it up.
One Hey Arnold theme that is quickly visited in the pilot is the maturity motif. Arnold and Gerald, though kids, routinely act much older than their ages. They show this in ‘Downtown As Fruits’ when they take over a pool hall, winning games and buying a round of soda for everybody. Where most nine-year-olds have to beg their parents to let them cross the street on their own, Arnold and Gerald have a bar crowd eating out of their hands.
It’s at the bar that the whole plot comes to a head, and the thugs find out what happened. A chase scene ensues and Arnold and Gerald’s visit to Zamboni Jones’ psychic shop is one of the more humorous bits of the night. The fraud psychic does trigger the resolution, as the boys realize the harm they are doing to Helga and their friends. While Gerald shakes this off, Arnold yanks the two out of the room and starts their journey back home. They watch the thugs get arrested, and end up giving the bag of money to a poor family trying to fix a car. This is another example of maturity, as the average nine-year-old would not think to give up that kind of cash.
Hey Arnold is known for the happy ending, and we get that right away. Arnold and Gerald return to save the day just in time, and the play ends with a standing ovation. Helga’s feelings for Arnold are revealed in the first episode, as she talks to her heart shaped locket after shouting her anger. Helga’s “love him, hate him” internal debate is great foreshadowing for the entire series, as she continuously struggles to come to grips with her own feelings.
- “Do vegetables have souls?” – Curly
- “Zamboni Jones does not guess, he knows!”
- Gerald’s nostril stretch at Helga is both intimidating and impressive.
- I know everybody else heard “Monkey Man” a couple of minutes into the episode.
- “Legumes? I thought we were beans!”
- The ham/kosher line that Eugene sings is pretty hilarious and a quick hint that not all humor in Hey Arnold will be childish.
(Floor is open for discussion)