Officially launched in 1979, Nickelodeon sought to be a channel that appealed strictly to children, both young and headed towards the adolescent age (pre-teens or “tweens”). Piggybacking on the success of Canadian import You Can’t Do That on Television (starring a very young and less angry Alanis Morrisette), it continued its expansion to more homes through out the '80s. By the beginning of the '90s, over 50 million homes had the channel, but something seemed to be missing — original animation.
It seems like a no-brainer now, but it wasn’t until 1990 that Nickelodeon began the process of creating original cartoon series. They opened Nickelodeon Studios in Florida and began work on what would later be known as “Nicktoons.”
In August of 1991, the fruits of their labor debuted to a rousing success, changing the fortunes of the station and making them a legitimate player in the lucrative animation market. Shows like Ren and Stimpy and Rugrats captivated children of all ages — and they were good, don’t get me wrong. This is not about them though. This is about the third in the original Nicktoons 3 known as Doug.
Created by Jim Jenkins, Doug followed the life of Doug Funnie, a grade schooler who has recently moved with his family (father Phil, mother Theda, his quirky artsy sister Judy, and his dog Porkchop) to the fictional town of Bluffington from a fictional town called Bloatsburg. The show chronicles Doug’s life in the form of a first person narration. Doug Funnie, a blogger before blogging was cool, chronicles his life in a journal and every episode began with the signature line “Dear Journal…” Each episode would comprise two different stories.
Doug’s main dealings occur with his friends and authority figures. His best friend Skeeter Valentine was a loopy dude with a penchant for skateboards and honking at random intervals. Roger Klotz, a trailer park kid, was a notorious bully with a very secret heart of gold. Vice Principal Bone was the authoritarian of the show, regularly doling out punishment except for a brief period of amnesia that regressed him back to being 11 again. Mr. Dink, Doug’s next door neighbor, was a kooky fellow who loved showing off his latest gadgets. The most important character in Doug was Patty Mayonnaise. From the instant Doug lays eyes on her, he is in love and his attempts to win her heart form the crux of the story.
Why is Doug the best out of the original three? It was its relatability to the demographic. Rugrats was good at reminding you of how fun it was to be an infant and have that sense of wonder, Ren and Stimpy was good at, well, being absolutely insane, but Doug felt like the more real and the more grounded. Every guy growing up has a Patty Mayonnaise, that unrequited love that you would do stupid stuff for in hopes of impressing her. Yet, you could never actually tell her how you felt, even as it tore you up from the inside. Everyone has had a crazy friend like Skeeter (I myself knew a lot of skater guys growing up, but they didn’t honk randomly… suffice it to say that’s the reason our friendship ended), and we’ve all had to deal with bullies like Roger or complete snobs like B.B. Bluff (the daughter of the eccentric Mayor Bluff).
Even when it came to music, Doug had it right on the nose. As we grow, we begin to discover music and let’s face it — bands affect us when we’re younger way more than they do in our 20s. Doug and company’s obsession with The Beets (an obvious play on The Beatles, whoever they are) mirrors how kids will latch onto a particular band; their songs, their look, everything. And for anyone who’s ever heard “Killer Tofu,” you realize that if you lived in Bluffington, you’d probably be obsessed too.
My personal favorite moments in Doug took place within his imaginary world. Many times, Doug’s personal problems would manifest themselves into an adventure featuring his superhero alter-ego known as “Quailman.” Quailman looked just like Doug save for a Q on his green vest, a belt on his head, and his tighty whities worn over his khaki shorts. Whatever Doug’s real-life issue was that episode (for example, having to stand up to Roger), the Quailman part would mirror that in a more outlandish way (Roger would become the gigantic dinosaur Klotzilla… who would still wear his sweet leather jacket). As Doug would succeed in real life, he would also succeed in the superhero world, and I love the metaphor brought on by that; although the way Doug dealt with the problem may have been small to others, in his mind it took a superhero effort to overcome those obstacles. As a man who was once 11, I can definitely vouch for this because the small hurdles I overcame at the time felt like I was Superman slapping Lex Luthor with a whip made out of knives (SUPER knives, mind you).
In 1994, Doug ended its run on Nickelodeon and I was more than sad to see it go. Re-runs would keep it in the minds of children, and in 1996 it was picked up by Disney for its “One Saturday Morning” lineup (another staple of my childhood). This is where the Doug divide begins; most people who grew up watching the old show completely hated it. Me? I actually dug it.
Disney’s Doug did feel different and in retrospect, you can tell that a completely different creative team was behind it. Old school fans, my friends in particular, were venomous towards this because everything changed. But you see, that’s why I liked it, because once again, the show mirrored real life.
Take the series premiere for example. The show moved Doug and friends up a few years and into the middle school setting and it deals with all the changes in their lives. The Honker Burger, their old hangout, has been bought out and changed into a snooty French restaurant. Roger’s mom won the lottery and he became rich, much to the chagrin of B.B. Other changes were afoot as well; Patty cut her hair (yes, that’s a big change, and one that sparked a debate years later on whether she was a lesbian or not) and started only going to school half-time, spending the other half being home-schooled. Connie, one of Patty’s friends, lost a bunch of weight. The twin nerds even began to separate as one stayed nerdy and the other became “cool” (which resulted in a really sweet episode where the moral is “no matter how your brother changes, he is still your brother and you still have a bond”). Mr. Dink’s wife became the new Mayor, and former Mayor Bluff became the principal of the new middle school (built in the image of his daughter B.B. and called “B.B. Bluff Middle School”).
I absolutely loved that, and will defend Disney’s Doug. Even if these changes were just supposed to distinguish the two versions from one another, they accidentally mirrored real life again; people change, locations change, and the things you loved in your youth will eventually change as well (The Beets break up). Doug Funnie and his pals continued to be the most realistic animated show, even on a different network.
Disney’s Doug concluded in 1999 and a movie was even released in theaters. However, the show is now officially a memory as no re-runs on either network currently air (although DVDs do exist). Still, for people like me who grew up in the '90s, Doug will always have significance and a special place in my heart. Jim Jenkins created a show that, even to this day, resonates with the people lucky enough to have grown up with it. In my humble (and AWESOME) opinion, Doug should hold a place in great “coming of age shows” like The Wonder Years and Square Pegs. Doug Funnie, I salute you. Honk, honk.