Welcome back to Millennial Misremembers, where we travel back into the past and see how much of our old favorite shows we’ve forgotten over the years. It’s an excellent way for me to track how old I am getting. Hey Arnold! debuted on October 7, 1996, on Nickelodeon. The “lost” pilot, however, was created in 1994. But we’ll rewatch that first 1996 episode, “Downtown As Fruits.”
What I (Mis)Remember
This was, hands down, one of my favorites. We watched it whenever it was on.
I would have been eight when it came out, so roughly the age of the characters. I significantly identified explicitly with Helga (Francesca Marie Smith). With that unibrow and her bullying, she just read as an angry baby queer because she didn’t fit in. I know she was in love with Arnold (Toran Caudell), but her character has so much more complexity than that. Beyond that, their teacher, Mr. Simmons (Dan Butler), was totally gay.
This series made me want to move to NYC (though their city isn’t specific). I liked seeing this diverse city and this tight-knit community of kids and people living in the boarding house.
Hey Arnold! opens directly with the theme song.
“Downtown As Fruits” starts with Arnold surfing amidst dinosaurs. This is obviously a daydream. Yeah. He’s rehearsing for a school play, and he’s onstage when he shouldn’t be. Helga shoos him off.
The bell rings, and the kids expect to run off, but Helga, the Tyrant Director, makes them stay because she wants to know what’s in their food-playing souls. She calls them in 30 minutes early the following day.
Gerald (Jamil Walker Smith) meets Arnold the next day at his house. Gerald is dressed as a strawberry, and Arnold is a banana. They catch the bus but don’t fit so well, literally or figuratively. They cannot believe there’s nothing they can do about it. But Gerald has an idea: Why don’t they just not get off the bus? They’ll skip the play.
They zoom past school while Helga is inside, harassing her cast about the motivation of legumes. Then she notices the fruits aren’t there.
Gerald and Arnold hit the end of the line earlier than they’d like. Gerald, quoting a movie about the journey being the destination, had thought the bus would turn around when it reached the end of the line. But nope, it just went to the depot.
Gerald suggests they call his parents, but unfortunately, the payphone is broken. So now the two are stuck downtown, dressed as fruits, with no money. Just then, a guy drives by and throws a paper bag at them. What’s in the paper bag? Tons of money. Just after they leave, another two guys dressed as a strawberry and a banana appear, waiting for money that will never come.
Our boys go and buy themselves new duds and buy souvlaki. They do not care whether souvlaki is one of the four food groups.
Speaking of the four food groups, the play has begun. The meat is singing (Ham: “If you keep kosher, I’m not in your routine.”) Backstage, Helga is in her milk carton costume, fuming. She has prepared for this role for weeks, eating nothing but dairy!
If she ever gets her hands on Arnold, she’ll … do romantic things to him. Cause she’s got a big ole crush on the boy. (Yet she also hates him. It’s complicated.) Behind her, a mouth-breathing boy appears, and she punches him so hard his glasses break.
Our no-longer-fruity duo is still downtown, at Ernie’s pool hall. They overhear the other banana and strawberry there, questioning the man who incorrectly dispatched the money. Gerald and Arnold scram. Or, try to. But since Arnold’s still wearing his banana shoes, they get recognized.
The two run into the “psychic” shop of Zamboni Jones (John Mariano). Have they wronged someone? Arnold’s guilty conscience about the play finally catches up to him, and they run out of the “psychic” shop as quickly as they entered. Without paying.
They hail a cab. Montage! The boys grab their costumes from the trash, see the other banana and strawberry get arrested, and donate their money to a family with a broken-down car. Phew. That’s a lot!
Meanwhile, Helga’s crying that her playwriting career is over. The audience boos the meat offstage, and just as Helga’s about to cancel the rest of the play, Arnold and Gerald show up to save the day.
Does It Live Up to the Nostalgia?
Hmm. Granted, this was the pilot, but I wasn’t impressed. I remembered Hey Arnold! as something sweet, which this was not. And I certainly didn’t remember Arnold himself as such a brat. As mentioned in previous articles, my mom was picky about what we watched. She had no objections to this show, so it must have gotten less rude.
All in all, I don’t really see the edutainment value here. Arnold and Gerald get away with their shenanigans. Sure, maybe Arnold feels a little bad about it. Gerald doesn’t at all. Not a great look, in any case. And Helga’s just an awful bully. And it’s not even funny? 🤷 That’s a pass on more rewatches from me.
Anyhoo, did you like Hey Arnold? What should we misremember and pick apart next time?