Roundtable Review: Hey Arnold, “Longest Monday” / “Eugene’s Pet” and The Wild Thornberrys, “Dances with Dingoes”

By Whitney McIntosh, Andrew Rabin, and Anthony Strand

Hey Arnold!
Season 2, Episode 4: “Longest Monday” / “Eugene’s Pet”
Original airdate: October 12, 1997

Andrew R.: Hey Arnold! was an easy show to relate to for anyone age 26 or younger. Because of its never aging characters and its eight year running time (albeit with a fifth season that spanned four calendar years), many of us writing about it will have been in the fourth grade at some point while Arnold, Helga, Gerald, Eugene, and the rest were. For me, that happened to line up with season 2, where this episode aired. But really, the episodes are timeless.

That timelessness does come into question in “Longest Monday,” however. As we mentioned in our discussion of You Can’t Do That on Television, bullying has become much more of a hot topic in the last, say, 5 years. While the 16 year-old “Longest Monday” is not quite as tone deaf as the 31 year-old “Bullying,” it still does not seem like it would air on Nickelodeon today. The complete lack of presence of adults is baffling; awareness cannot be an issue, since this has been allegedly happening for years.

But “Eugene’s Pet” is something else, and its fairly dark, non-resolution of an ending is sort of shocking. It can be played for laughs, but it is also the second death for one of Eugene’s pets in a relatively short span. Ending the episode like this shows growth for Nick toons in general; it is impossible to see the the first generation series like Doug or Rugrats ending an episode without a positive resolution to the plot.

Anthony: I was obsessed with Hey Arnold! in middle school, and I’ve been delighted to see as an adult that it holds up really well. Arnold was often similar to Pete & Pete in the way it captured childhood by exaggerating it – the outlandish version of universal experiences. Here, they accomplish that by making the story into a horror movie.

I’m no fan of hazing rituals in real life (or in media, most of the time. I never saw Dazed & Confused until a year ago, and I found it to be thoroughly unpleasant), but I love “Longest Monday.” In real life, I’d absolutely want adults to step in and stop the Longest Monday from happening. But the show alleviates those concerns by making it the stuff of legend.

When Gerald (introduced by Sid, always one of my favorite touches on the show) tells the story of the Longest Monday, he isn’t talking about 5th graders dumping 4th graders in trash cans. He’s talking about all-out war. The entire story is infused with this amazing sense of terror, and a culpable feeling of relief when they find Park’s safehouse. That seriousness, in turn, makes everything that happens even funnier. (In that way, reminds me a lot of “Modern Warfare” from Community.) It’s a difficult tone for a kids’ show to pull off. I’m amazed they got away with it.

(Also, I should note that Wolfgang is voiced by Toran Caudell, who played Arnold in the first season. The show went through four Arnolds by the end. The one heard here – Philip Van Dyke – also returned as Ludwig, a rival 5th grade bully.)

“Eugene’s Pet” never left as much of an impression on me, and that was true for this viewing as well. The dark humor of the opening (and that final gag) works pretty well. The falling mace, the dramatic organ playing during the first attempt at fish funeral, and Gerald’s eulogy (and the incredibly oversized grave) at the second all made me laugh.

But the rest of the episode is less interesting. The sequence devoted to variations on Eugene getting injured/humiliated by potential pets is mostly off-putting, and the imaginary hippo story is pretty dull. Maybe it just suffers in comparison to “Longest Monday,” but I got very impatient during the middle section.

Whitney: I was always a fan of Hey Arnold! when I was younger and both of these episodes hold up pretty well for all of the time that has passed. I’m in agreement that “Longest Monday” was the better of the two, and I particularly enjoyed the send up of many movie tropes and other television cliches. Gerald passing down his knowledge of the legend of Trash Day, the safe house that is discovered when everyone finally feels secure, the great escape plan that winds through the streets of New York City, and even the double crossing at the hands of a “weasel” named Mickey are all things that have been used to great extent elsewhere in pop culture by Hey Arnold makes them fresh by adapting them smartly to the plight of this group of 4th graders. 

I particularly found the ways each 4th grader reacted to being canned hilarious. Gerald’s obviously outlandish details in the story so horrified each kid (like possibly smelling like a burrito for the next four years of your life) that the begging and screaming as each was caught by an elder bully made the entire thing seem like a war story rather than one less-than-joyful day in the lives of elementary schoolers. It is completely ridiculous that Gerald and Arnold would choose to climb through disgusting sewer pipes rather than just give in to being thrown in a can once, but the logic of Arnold was never the selling point, so that’s not really an issue when watching.

The second half of the episode wasn’t boring, per say, but I did find myself becoming more and more frustrated with the way the show was clearly struggling to give Eugene a reasonable and character building storyline (as much as a contributing character in a Nick show can have a character building arc). A lot of the times during the show Eugene is the sad sack of the group, not dissimilar to Gerry on Parks and Recreation as he is usually the butt of a joke or chastised for not understanding something. So it was pleasing to see Arnold and Gerald supporting him in his quest for a pet to love, even if the repetitiveness of him searching for animals was only slightly lessened by the couple of laughs it provided.

The Wild Thornberrys
Season 2, Episode 18: “Dances with Dingoes”
Original airdate: September 16, 1999

 Andrew R.: The series finales of The Wild Thornberrys and Hey Arnold! aired on the same day (along with the series finale of Rugrats), but Thornberrys feels like a much newer show to me, despite debuting just two years after Arnold. This would fit with right around the time I would have phased out of watching Nickelodeon as a kid, and for that reason I have little memory of watching much of Eliza Thornberry and her average family. That said, it was definitely a series my sister watched, and I certainly know the basic premise.

Which brings me to an interesting question for those of you who have seen more of this series. How often in the run of Wild Thornberrys did Eliza come close to somebody discovering her secret? I found this plot, with Debbie hearing Eliza talk to the animals (and us as an audience getting to hear Eliza talking to animals from an outside perspective), to be fascinating. Yet if Eliza was dealing with hiding this power on a week to week basis (basically the plot of The Secret World of Alex Mack, without any outside incentive to discover this secret), I could see this story getting old.

Whitney: This episode was a standout for me because instead of dealing with someone from the outside world coming close to discovering her abilities, the threat came from someone close to her that she interacts with everyday and loves very much. Debbie and Eliza never get along, as this episode makes clear, but the fact that Eliza is staring down the barrel of a possible betrayal from her own blood hurts that much more and puts her in a much more desperate position. The family bonds that the Thornberrys share are strong and in this situation it is scarier that those might be put in jeopardy than it is that her secret comes out.

The best part of The Wild Thornberrys is that it serves as an educational program, mirroring the educational program that Marianne and Nigel film in a different country every episode. Balancing an actual plot with some meat on it and educational information that suitably fits the age group watching is no easy feat and each episode gave kids at least a few pieces of knowledge in order for them to expand their view of the world, such as a look at what type of animal a Dingo is or an introduction to aboriginal people and The Outback of Australian. I would argue that because of this Thornberrys was one of Nickelodeon’s most progressive shows. Not many children’s shows attempt to give young people such an inclusive and positive look of the entire world every half hour while also being entertaining, and The Wild Thornberrys did so with ease.

%d bloggers like this: