It is time for the penultimate segment of our pre-2000 Nickelodeon theme song countdown, unless the This Was Television overlords decide to split the final portion into two halves to spread out the clicks. Go check out which theme songs ranked 40-33, 32-25, and 24-16, so you don’t think I just forgot about Little Bear. Let’s get to part 4; are you ready kids?
15. SpongeBob SquarePants (1999-)
The SpongeBob theme is at once both endlessly silly and lyrically clever. The line “absorbent and yellow and porous is he” is almost Sondheim-esque in its rapid wordiness, and it is sandwiched in between kids shouting out the name of the show. It is visually fascinating, as the animation is combined with live action hands in one scene, and the human mouth speaking for the animated pirate. It is remarkably catchy; I have seen maybe a handful of episodes of SpongeBob, but I could recite almost every lyric of this theme song. Aye, aye captain!
14. Are You Afraid of the Dark? (1990-96; 1999-2000)
The Are You Afraid of the Dark theme song is not really special, but it just perfectly fits this show that frightened me to the point I could not watch it when I was a kid. The combination of spooky, creepy, and yet slightly silly (you could see how this would scare a child, but could never make it to a really horror film), sets the tone brilliantly for what this anthology series is. The eerie music, paired with sound effects like the creaky swings and the children’s laughter could scare someone before the story of the week even began.
13. Hey Arnold! (1996-2004)
The Hey Arnold! theme has only 6 words, and if you ignore Helga saying “move it football head,” we are left with only a repeated recitation of the title. And even if the kids marching down the street does not really make any sense, showing the streets of New York where the series takes place. The tune is incredibly catchy. Perhaps the only flaw of this theme is the lack of emphasis of Gerald, who was really the second male lead, over any of the other supporting characters. When I think of Hey Arnold!, I think of Arnold, Helga, and Gerald before anyone else, but here he is almost equal to the other characters.
12. Rugrats (1991-2004)
An interesting note: second theme song, with the same music played in a slightly different style, and more characters (Susie! Kimi! Dil!) started airing in season 7. While I can not find the original version of this online, here it is at double speed:
The Rugrats theme is one of the most recognizable no-lyric theme songs around, and so it is hard to disassociate the music from the show. Once you do, however, the music is really just a random tune. It’s playfulness fits well with the babies of Rugrats, but it could probably work well with many of these shows. The visuals of the original opening are extremely flawed- Phil and Lil are only in the background (confirming my thoughts from our Rugrats discussion late last month.)
The later theme gives more time to supporting characters, including the always awesome Susie. Unfortunately it treats Dil and Tommy as equals, an utterly ridiculous idea. It also misses Tommy’s signature bottle squirt at the end, as Angelica’s dive at the cookies does not have quite the same effect. A combination of these two might have cracked the top ten, but as it is the Rugrats theme is just a touch behind the elites.
11. Space Cases (1996-97)
There is no doubt, the Space Cases theme song leaves you as knowledgeable about the characters as any theme we have covered. Without the depth of 100 Deeds for Eddie McDowd‘s theme song back story, Space Cases spends half its time on back story, before touching on characterization for eight different characters. Including a pre-Firefly Jewel Staite, something presumably only Cameron White knew about. Nobody is going to confuse the graphics here with any Joss Whedon series, but for a mid-90s Nick show, it is not bad.
10. Doug (1991-94)
The Doug theme is visually interesting, and like the Rugrats tune, the music has become integrated with the show. The blank sheet of paper with one continuous line is a fascinating conceit that is a good introduction to Doug’s role as a diary writer, his form of narration. So what makes this theme number ten while the visually similar Clarissa Explains It All is (SPOILER ALERT!!!) ranked higher? Unlike Clarissa, the Doug theme is not very clear as to who the characters, outside of the title character, are. This, in fact, is a way, and perhaps the only way, that the inferior theme song for the far inferior Disney’s Doug improves on the original, as more of the side characters are seen and their relationship to Doug is more explicit, with Doug appearing on-screen with each character.
9. You Can’t Do That on Television (1981-90)
The music is not the point here. The William Tell Overture, probably one of the most famous pieces of music ever, will never be tied to You Can’t Do That on Television the way most of these tunes are linked with their show.
At the same time, the visuals for this theme are probably the best on this entire list. It is a unique style of animation, and the flow of the scenes works very well. This sequence, known as “The Children’s Television Sausage Factory,” goes perfectly from the machine cranking out children, to the cast members exiting the bus, to adult cast member Les Lye’s face being stamped into puzzle pieces. Because this opening was so well made (and because we included it in our Roundtable Reviews), I had to break my rule about the show debuting on Nickelodeon (this debuted in Canada) to add it to the list. Still, for this creative forty seconds, it is necessary.
Next time: Giant rocks, species confusion, polliwogs, and 8-1