The Orange Years: The Nickelodeon Story is a new documentary specifically engineered to trigger the "I remember that fondly" reflex of '80s and '90s kids everywhere. It's nothing but a nostalgia trip, outlining how the titular TV channel grew into a juggernaut of zany sitcoms and messy game shows, and nary a critical word is breathed about precious Nickelodeon.
It's not a compelling piece of journalism, but it still did its job: It got me thinking about my childhood, when Nickelodeon was such a precious commodity that it was essentially a parenting bargaining chip: Don't do your chores, no Nickelodeon. I looked at my favorite Nick programming of yesteryear to see if any of it still holds up.
Doug and Rugrats
Two of the earliest Nicktoons (the third was Ren & Stimpy, which I was not allowed to watch) remain some of the best. Doug follows the world's most naive preteen as he learns a lesson each week, while Rugrats takes on the absurdities of the adult world from a baby's POV. Both series' early episodes are still charming and refreshingly soft-spoken for kids' entertainment.
Nickelodeon's answer to Saturday Night Live, and it even spawned the career of future SNL stalwart Kenan Thompson. It's not nearly as funny to me now as 20 years ago, but it has some appealingly strange recurring characters (including failed presidential candidate Ross Perot) and surprisingly rad musical guests (never forget that TLC recorded the theme song).
This was my favorite Nicktoon as a kid, and I still think it belongs in the pantheon of the channel's best shows. It's got a diverse cast of characters and deals with thorny real world issues in thoughtful ways, and it contains the great unrequited romance between bully Helga and pacifist Arnold.
The Adventures of Pete & Pete
A delightful bit of after-school weirdness about two brothers (both named Pete) and the quirky characters in their small town. The show has so much charm and visual invention, and I now realize it had actual hipster cred: The likes of Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, Michael Stipe and Patty Hearst make cameos, and Polaris' theme song still rips.
Legends of the Hidden Temple
Arguably Nick's best game show, in which pairs of kids compete in physical challenges for the chance to hunt for treasure in an elaborate Mayan temple set. Watching now, I'd forgotten how ridiculously difficult the show was, and it's rare that the final team makes it through the temple. Curse you, Shrine of the Silver Monkey! ♦