It’s all Clarissa Darling’s fault. Remember her? That svelte, sunny blonde with the leggings who was supposed to “explain it all” Saturday nights on Nick? Yeah, that one. That lying, deceitful wench. She explained nothing. Why was there a boy climbing into her window every day? Why was that theme song of hers so absurdly catchy? And, most importantly, why does any of this matter?
It matters because “Clarissa Explains It All” was on TV. That’s all. Nothing more, nothing less. If pressed for any details regarding the show’s content, I couldn’t provide much. I don’t recall much about the Darling household besides the beige blanket that was their living room and Clarissa’s mysteriously ginger brother. Everything else seems a blur of babydoll dresses and neon scrunchies. And, yet, somehow that show remains with me, invading my consciousness with that incessant chorus of “na na na na.”
It’s quite possible I’m insane (Clarissa certainly was. She wore overalls.) but it’s more likely that I’m a TV viewer just like you. And this is what happens when you glue your eyes to that mythical, glowing rectangle called television — the shows become a part of you. And if you were like me, a kid growing up in the ’90s, those shows were on Nickelodeon. This was the golden age where dinosaurs could dance on ice and have their own cereal, where a melancholy schlub of a boy could charm a girl despite his rapid balding and where a football-head could be a hero.
This was a place of magic, of strange green slime, and eccentricity where young minds were molded into thinking it was perfectly normal for a wallaby to wear shoes and hawaiian shirts. ’90s Nick was unique. Unlike Disney, Nickelodeon didn’t peddle fresh-faced teens singing insipid songs or animated duck dictators (I’m talking to you, Scrooge McDuck!). No. Nickelodeon was better than that. They had not one animal, but two! A dog and a cat! Combined! And for an impressionable shut-in like me at age eight (the shut-in part hasn’t changed), this was a level of oddity and absurdity I couldn’t help but connect to.
I was nebbish like Chuckie, I was a smart-ass like Helga (minus the caterpillar eyebrows) and, though I hesitate to admit it, I was a rampant know-it-all like the egregiously irritating Eliza Thornberry. There seemed to be a character for each facet of my ever-evolving personality — from the meditative moods of Doug to the impulsive and adventurous Tommy Pickles.
Nickelodeon was a channel that fostered individualism, where creativity and character were paramount. Sure, as with any children’s programming, there were lessons built in. “Hey Arnold!” taught me to be kind to others, “Rocket Power” taught me never to get involved in sports and “Rugrats” taught me that parents should pay more attention to their toddlers so their kids aren’t left abandoned in giant toy stores. But, what made Nickelodeon novel were its characters’ flaws.
I wasn’t a perfect kid. I was abrasive, short and at times, a loner. And yet, I was content. I had television, and more to the point, I had the comfort and company of the characters on Nickelodeon. Helga was loud and Arnold was short. They certainly weren’t perfect, despite Arnold’s infallible moral compass, and they were on TV. So, they must be special. And if they could be on television, with their chaotic mood swings and physical deformities, I’d be fine as a wise-ass with few friends.
It’s 2011 now. Seven years have passed since “Hey Arnold” ended and 17 since Clarissa finished expounding her wisdom. I have more friends now. Don’t you worry about that. I’m a confident, young college student. But, those shows and those characters, with their idiosyncrasies and insecurities, have become integrated into my identity perhaps more than any of those friends. This summer, TeenNick started airing “Clarissa Explains it All,” along with other classics from the ’90s, and the Facebook statuses starting erupting with excitement. It became clear these characters were beloved by everyone, not just me. And with this column, I will attempt to explain where Clarissa failed, why TV is essential.