For those who grew up in the decade between 1985 and 1995, there was no cooler destination in TV Land than Nickelodeon. Free of the artificial constraints of edutainment, the network delivered just what kids wanted: crass, silly shows bathed in torrents of slime. Unlike the safe, sanitized territory of Disney, Nickelodeon's early days were marked by a grungy, rebellious aesthetic that thrived in the era of latchkey living. Mathew Klickstein's new book Slimed: An Oral History of Nickelodeon's Golden Age, which he'll read and sign Wednesday, October 16 at Innisfree Poetry Bookstore and Cafe in Boulder, takes you behind the scenes of those early days. And that prompted us to look back at our own childhood memories of the network, and profile five of its greatest hits.
You Can't Do That on Television One of Nickelodeon's first big hits was You Can't Do That on Television, a kids' sketch comedy/variety show that was actually a Canadian import. Besides being the first place to introduce the talents of Alanis Morissette to the world, it was also a bastion of gross-out humor, from its liberal use of green slime to its crass, boundary-pushing skits -- like those featuring the world's least sanitary burger shop. In other words, it was full of the kind of stuff that kids love and parents hate. No wonder it was a hit.
Double Dare The green slime made famous by You Can't Do That on Television was also a big part of Double Dare, the network's flagship kids' game show. At its heart, it was basically a trivia program: answer questions, win cash. The fun -- and most of the appeal for its target audience -- came in the form of the show's physical challenges, which frequently involved doing something ridiculous, gross or both at the same time. Not only did TV Guide name it one of the top fifty games shows of all time, Double Dare was one of the few places to see someone trying to catch catapult-launched pies in their pants, which is never not funny.
The Ren & Stimpy Show There are two kinds of people in this world -- those who acknowledge that The Ren & Stimpy Show is one of the greatest cartoons of all time, and those who don't know shit about cartoons. Creator John Kricfalusi's dark, disgusting and hilarious look at a co-dependent cat and chihuahua made the network a mint and drove it nuts at the same time, due in no small part to Kricfalusi's steadfast refusal to play by Nickelodeon's rules, respect the boundaries of good taste or children's programming, or pretend to give a shit about anything but bringing his idiosyncratic vision to life. Before he was fired from his own show, he managed to create an all-too-short but unimpeachable collection of the grossest, funniest and most gleefully insane cartoons ever made.
The Adventures of Pete and Pete Lots of shows try to capture the joy, sorrow and strangeness of being a kid. Most of them fail, in part because they're aimed at adults who remember all that through the lens of nostalgia. Not The Adventures of Pete and Pete, which aimed its story of two brothers named Pete at kids and hit on all those counts without ever having to dumb things down. The show nails the experience of childhood in all its complex and goofy glory, and like actual childhood, it's damn fun.
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Are You Afraid of the Dark? Horror for kids is a tricky thing to pull off, but Are You Afraid of the Dark? managed to do a damn fine job of introducing the macabre to the tween set. The anthology-horror series brought classic horror tropes like vampires, ghosts and curses to kid-friendly -- but still spooky -- stories, connected by the framing device of the Midnight Society, the group of kids who would tell their tales around a campfire. For a generation of kids with overprotective parents, Are You Afraid of the Dark? was the best -- if not only -- place to get their fix of scary stuff without getting in trouble.