Everyone has the television shows they loved as a child. They create fond memories and echo through the things we like as adults. We compare them to the shows we watch now and our feelings of nostalgia can often be far stronger than the actual quality of the shows. But are they really as good as we remember?
Today, I look at the five shows that were my favorites as a kid (mostly before age 10, sorry Seinfeld) and do a little reevaluation. Let me know your own personal favorites and whether you still love them today.
5. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Why Did I Like It Then? There were so many formulaic sitcoms on television back in the early ‘90s. But there was something about The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air that felt a little different. More attitude, more relatable, less lame humor, and more likeable characters. Throw in a couple “very special episodes” (Will got shot!) and this is a quintessential ‘90s show. Will Smith was everybody’s hero, Carlton was a hilarious dork (the dance will live on forever), Uncle Phil was stern but lovable, Hilary was sassy, and Geoffrey was the perfect stuffy butler. And it was always fun watching Uncle Phil throw Jazz out the front door.
How Is It Now? This thing is crazy dated. Those neon clothes, all those references to Naomi Campbell, and so many bizarre catchphrases. But it’s still fun, both as a throwback and just by itself. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but it’s still so fun watching an episode. Sometimes I wish Will Smith would just go back to being The Fresh Prince, instead of being in so-so movies.
Why Did I Like It Then? This was the epitome of good, clean fun. PBS shows were the ones you could watch and then afterward tell your parents what you learned. In the case of Arthur, it was always about being a better friend, son, or brother. But it was always so enjoyable! I liked Arthur, wanted to be friends with Buster, and wouldn’t have minded if Binky was my school’s bully. There were also great running gags (“Did someone say cake?”) and fun little changes to the formula (Jekyll, Jekyll Hyde!) to keep it fresh.
How Is It Now? Arthur is a very well done show. Like all great PBS cartoons, it’s kind of timeless. It’s very much aimed at kids by teaching lessons and encouraging healthy childhood activities. So it isn’t exactly something I would pick up and watch at any time today. But I would be overjoyed if my own children would one day become as big of Arthur fans as I once was.
3. Beast Wars
Why Did I Like It Then? This was the most badass show of all time when I was a kid! The serialized story formatting made me rush home from school every weekday to find out what was going to happen next and all those cliffhangers definitely kept me coming back for more. It also helped that the CGI animation was unlike anything else that I was seeing on TV at the time. There were some great characters too, with Rattrap being my personal favorite. And even though some story developments made me really angry (Kill off Dinobot? Are you kidding me???), I was hooked for all three seasons.
How Is It Now? Surprisingly, it’s not the animation that has aged the worst. Instead, it’s some of the clunky storylines. There are still some great ones, but the dialogue and pacing are beginning to show their age. There are as many cheer-worthy moments (Optimus Primal’s return as a transmetal is fantastic) as there are truly dumb story choices (Tigerhawk’s extremely short life). So you can never quite be sure when an episode is going to hit a narrative-rattling speed bump. Nevertheless, it still holds many fond memories. And all these years later, Rattrap is still the best.
2. The Simpsons
Why Did I Like It Then? Luckily, my childhood lined up perfectly with the heyday of The Simpsons. These were the episodes that are still considered classics. It’s strange to think that by the time I was in high school, the show was already past its prime. But all those episodes that I couldn’t quite appreciate during my single digits became much funnier as time went by. The mix of gross-out gags, clever humor, and classic characters made The Simpsons an instant favorite, even though I was banned from watching it for many years. Apparently, Bart Simpson is a bad influence.
How Is It Now? The Simpsons is infinitely quotable and has countless scenes burned into my memory. Those great episodes are still legitimately great, even after so many views. But it’s also easier to see where the show started to go downhill. The episodes I appreciated blindly because it was The Simpons are now obviously subpar. But there are so many amazing episodes from so many seasons, “Last Exit to Springfield,” “The Curse of the Flying Hellfish,” “22 Short Films About Springfield,” and so many more are fantastic episodes in and of themselves. The Simpsons will have a special place for me many years from now.
1. Batman: The Animated Series
Why Did I Like It Then? It was Batman, it was action packed, and it had some of the craziest villains I ever saw in my early years. When you’re a kid, storytelling nuance and mood aren’t exactly what appeals to you. You’re more into crazy action scenes and cool characters. Well, this series had both and so much more.
There are so many moments that were preserved in my mind from childhood (Batman almost getting suffocated inside Clayface, the many versions of our hero in “Legends of the Dark Knight,” Batman’s defeat of Mr. Freeze), as well as entire classic episodes, like “Heart of Ice,” “Almost Got ‘Im,” “A Bullet for Bullock,” and many more. This is the show that made me a Batman fanatic and created versions of characters that I still love. I had toys (all those strange versions of Batman that were never in the show) and all types of merchandise. Easily the show that made the biggest impression on me as a kid.
How Is It Now? All those elements that went over my head as a child are now very apparent. The emotions instilled in different episodes and character relationships are more important now than the action scenes. The artistic style and storytelling devices are top notch. Batman: The Animated Seriesmay be more enjoyable as an adult than as a kid. This is still my favorite television show of all time, bar none.
Honorable Mentions: Pinky and The Brain, Animaniacs, Superman, Doug, Magic School Bus, Legends of the Hidden Temple, Darkwing Duck, Freakazoid, Wishbone, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Boy Meets World
Have your own favorites? Have you recently rewatched your childhood loves, only to have a rude awakening? Let me know!