Some of my favorite sitcoms from my childhood were Nickelodeon cartoons such as Spongebob Squarepants, Hey Arnold!, The Angry Beavers, Ah! Real Monsters, and CatDog. The advent of streaming services has made nostalgic re-viewings a fun past-time; any time I want to return to my childhood Saturday mornings, I can pour myself a bowl of cereal and queue up the toons. However, watching these cartoons as an adult tends to be a much different experience. There are so many hidden jokes for adults throughout these kids’ shows that went over my head the first time around!
Spongebob Squarepants has a ton of hidden references – interestingly, the creator of Spongbob cites the rock band Ween as an inspiration for the creation of the show. Ween is very much an adult band whose songs are littered with profanity, but also have very much a whimsical aura to their work that is similar to the weirdness of Spongebob. There are many sexual and adult jokes in Spongebob – a villain named “the Tickler” who is a walking French stereotype (the French Tickler), when Spongebob says “Ooooh we shouldn’t say anything bad about Tex-ASS?” and shakes his butt, and a frankly graphic and scary scene where Squidward appears depressed, takes a long rope, ties a noose….and hangs a birdcage.
I do remember as a kid catching one adult joke on Hey Arnold! Arnold says to his grandpa, “You’re not too old, Grandpa. And you’ve still got plenty of brain cells.” Grandpa replies, “No….not since Woodstock.” One episode of Rugrats about watching Reptar movies includes this line when the family gets home from the movie store: Grandpa Lou rents some movies: Reptar Come Home, Reptar Redux, and: “My personal favorite… Lonely Space Vixens! That’s for after you go to bed.” Funny jokes like thse are subtle enough that children won’t know what they mean, while parents who have to watch kids’ shows with their kids can have at least something to keep them entertained. There are many articles dedicated to “ruining” the innocence of childhood TV shows by focusing on dirty jokes that may have slipped by the first time. People seem to relate to this discovery of the loss of innocence, things you experienced as a child, appear much different in retrospect when you are an adult. TV shows are just one of those phenomena. Can you think of any other examples of shows that appear much different as an adult to you?