“Hey Arnold!” is a show that we personally have a great kinship with. It represented something that many cartoon shows don’t anymore. Was there humor in many of the episodes? Sure, but it came more out of natural character interactions than pop-culture references or humor about bodily functions. There’s a certain timelessness to the show; references to technology and specific headlines are kept to a minimum, and it has a quality that is similar in some ways to a “Peanuts” or even one of our favorite comic books in “Calvin & Hobbes.”
We feel like this timelessness is one of the main reasons why Nickelodeon is reportedly bringing the series back for a TV movie after after so many years off of the air. Adults who watched the show as children or teenagers may watch to show it to kids of their own in order to forge a new bond. Also, it probably brings back many happy memories on its own.
If you are like us, then you’ve probably gone years since you last saw the show; if you’re not like us, the show may be new to you and you’re looking to find good multi-generational programming. Either way, we’ve composed a guide in our latest CarterMatt Extended piece to prepare you for the TV movie, and what could be its subject matter: Arnold’s parents, who have been missing in the present-day since the show’s beginning. These episodes below capture the heart and the humor of the show, and also are relevant story-wise. Some of them are only small stories that constitute half an episode, some are full episodes, and of course we’ve got the movie in there as well.
In addition to Arnold’s parents, we’re also focusing here on his relationship with Helga G. Pataki, the show’s female lead whose love for him is well-documented in shrines, soliloquies, and a locket (among other things).
“Downtown as Fruits” (season 1) – It’s hard to really not include what is technically the show’s first episode on the list. (Note: There was a short that aired before “Harriet the Spy” in theaters, but we feel like this is the proper introduction since it aired on TV.) We feel like this episode does teach you what you need to know about Arnold’s relationship with best friend Gerald, and also Helga’s frustration / simultaneous admiration with him at the same time.
“Arnold’s Christmas” (season 1) – While it may be strange to include a holiday episode in the must-watch list, the boarding house owned by Arnold’s grandparents is in many ways a character on the show in itself. It has such personality, as do many of the people within it. This is mostly the story of Mr. Hyunh and the search for his daughter, and it’s powerful stuff that shows off the humor and heart of these characters effectively.
“Pigeon Man” (season 1) – Just as the boarding house is a character on the show, so is the city itself. “Pigeon Man” is one of many urban-legend stories that “Hey Arnold!” takes on, but we especially enjoy this one because it carries with it a message about how people should be treated, and also how you cannot let others strip you of your identity. Pigeon Man embodies this by flying away in the end.
“What’s Opera, Arnold” (season 2) – We know that this play off of opera and stage musicals is a favorite episode of many from the early seasons, and we think it’s because it captures so many things really well: The writers’ quirky sense of humor, the relationship between many of the characters, and also an interesting device that is a fun projection of how people like Arnold and Helga perceive the world around them.
“Arnold & Lila” (season 3) – It’s probably not the favorite episode out there for Arnold / Helga ‘shippers, since it serves as a foundation for a long-term story regarding Arnold’s love for “Ms. Perfect” Lila. Yet, it’s extremely important. We do think that in some ways it perfectly captures the highs and lows of young love: You have Arnold really only realizing how deeply he cares for Lila until after he lets her go, and at that point it’s too late to have her back. While Ruth was in early seasons his crush, this is what we’d consider his first major heartbreak.
“Helga on the Couch” (season 4) – Really the best episode about Helga’s backstory, her feelings towards Arnold, and her feelings towards her family that you get over the course of the entire series. Also, it takes the running gag about Brainy, Helga’s often-quiet (other than the wheezing) stalker-of-sorts, to another level.
“Parents Day” (season 5) – This episode is really beginning of the story of Arnold’s mom and dad, which is something that we will explain a little bit further late in “The Journal.” We’re not sure watching it for the first time now would have the same sort of “finally” effect that it did in a vacuum years ago, but it provides some important answers.
“Married” (season 5) – What if Arnold and Helga got married? this half-hour episode gave you the event both characters’ perspectives, and is one of those few “what-if” stories that doesn’t quite feel like a waste of time. The imagination of Arnold and Helga is something that is well-documented, so it doesn’t feel out of place to tell this story with dream sequences. Through this, it also in the end opens his eyes to the fact that maybe a life with Helga wouldn’t be that bad.
“Hey Arnold: The Movie” – The timeline of the movie is a little hard to wrangle, given that there were episodes made after it, but none of them really mention its key revelation: Helga confessing her feelings for Arnold. The events of the movie are something that the show, if it comes back for something beyond just a single special, cannot ignore.
“The Journal” (season 5) – While it wasn’t the final episode to air, it was the last episode of the show produced. It sets up the possibility that Arnold’s parents may still be alive in the jungle, and if this TV movie ends up becoming the famed “Jungle Movie” fans have wanted for years, this could be a prelude to it. (For those wondering, we’re putting it sequentially after the movie because there was a new actor voicing Arnold following Spencer Klein’s departure.)
If you want to pick up on some more of the show’s humor, or see more of the supporting characters spotlighted, there are many great options for you: “Eugene Goes Bad,” “Harold the Butcher,” “Rhonda Goes Broke.” There’s really great stuff all around, and the show’s available on Hulu if you want to watch it in full. You can also buy the complete series on Amazon, or at Walmart for under $20 at the time of this writing.
In the end, this is the sort of show worth going back to if you haven’t seen it in some time, or even to check out if you haven’t seen it until now. There’s something comforting about the episodes; maybe it taps into your inner child, or maybe there is something deeply profound in the story’s simplicity.