If you weren’t a total square in the 1990s, then chances are you spent a lot of your time stuck in front of a television watching cartoons. There was a lot of choices, though most of them were repeats of the 1980s classics you’d watched as a kid. Then – like an angry skinhead kicking in the front door – along came Nickelodeon with its irreverent Nicktoons and your mind was blown wide open.
It was here that a whole generation kissed goodbye to He-Man and GI Joe, and instead joined in with Ren & Stimpy as they sang about logs, or chuckled at the fact that there was a show with beaver in the title. The music scene may have had grunge, but there was a movement happening in kids TV as well – and our heroes were named Arnold, Chucky, and Krumm.
But which Nicktoon was your favourite? Not an easy decision, right? Well, let us help you decide as we rank every original 90s Nicktoon from worst to best.
THE BROTHERS FLUB (1999-2000)
We’re willing to bet that a lot of you reading this are sat scratching your brains trying to remember exactly what The Brothers Flub was all about. Well for those of you either too young or too short-memoried to recall, the show followed the misadventures of two alien brothers who found trouble wherever they went as part of their jobs as space couriers. Sadly this was one of Nickelodeon’s few real failings and was critically panned by almost everyone who watched it. It was cancelled a year after it started, after only 22 episodes.
ANGRY BEAVERS (1997-2001)
Angry Beavers personified everything we loved in the 1990s – being angry and beavers. Unfortunately, the show failed to live up to our expectations, although it did run for 4 years before we were all put out of our misery.
ROCKET POWER (1999-2004)
Rocket Power only makes it onto the list by the skin of its teeth as it didn’t premiere on Nickelodeon until mid-August 1999. It was a show about people doing things outdoors like extreme sports which quite frankly didn’t really appeal to the generation of kids (and teens) growing up in the 90s who would rather sit in their room and play on their Nintendo’s.
The show was created by the iconic Arlene Klasky and Gábor Csupó, so you’d expect it to be great, but unfortunately, it fell into a decade of much better-animated offerings. If this was a list of the Nicktoons from the year 2000 and beyond it would probably have ranked higher.
KaBlam! was a fun anthology series that was more famous for the shows it spawned than as its own entity. Over the course of 4 short seasons, KaBlam! launched the bizarrely brilliant Angela Anaconda to prominence, as well as the hilarious Action League Now, a stop-motion animation about a misfit bunch of superhero toys.
THE WILD THORNBERRYS (1998 – 2004)
Growing up in the 1990s we were on the hunt for degenerate television to satisfy our angst-riddle brains, so having shows like Rocko’s Modern Life, or Duckman was perfect for us. So it came as a huge surprise when we discovered The Wild Thornberrys, which at face value held nothing in it that could appeal to us, other than being a Nicktoon. But we were wrong. The Wild Thornberrys was action-packed and funny enough that you didn’t need to be 10 years old to enjoy it. It was also unexpectedly deep at times and packed a powerful punch with its messages about conservation. It might not be the first Nicktoon that springs to mind, but it deserves to be recognised for what it was.
There was also a talking monkey. You can’t go wrong with a talking monkey – unless it was the talking Gorilla in Congo. That monkey sucked.
You’ve got to hand it to Nickelodeon. When it comes to making completely messed up kids TV shows, nobody – not even Cartoon Network – does it better. During a decade of totally bonkers cartoons (Cow & Chicken, Ren & Stimpy) it took a lot to stand out from the crowd, but hats of to Peter Hannan for coming up with CatDog, a show so f***ed in the head that if you were to imagine it as a real thing you’d probably be sick.
CatDog was like a cartoon version of The Human Centipede; a dog and a cat are born from some kind of presumably interspecies liaison as a conjoined, two-headed monstrosity with no genitals or worse, no means to poop. Yup, that’s right, for the entire seven-year run of CatDog the only constant thought between audience members was how the heck does this thing take a dump? Does one head act as an ass? Does one of them cry pee? There are just too many questions relating to the premise, but the execution was never strong enough for this to be a true Nicktoons classic.
AAAH!!! REAL MONSTERS (1994-1997)
Imagine if your childhood was directed by Tim Burton, but instead of being zany he actually wanted to scare you. That’s pretty much how we’d sum up the insanely dark but excellent Aaah!! Real Monsters series.
Looking much like any other Klasky Csupo production from its style, Aaah!! Real Monsters was tonally much darker than anything on Nickelodeon at the time – and with the exception of maybe Are You Afraid of the Dark? it is the darkest show in the channels long history, not surprising when you think it was inspired by films like Brazil and Blade Runner!
Set in the stinky tunnels beneath our feet, the show followed 3 monsters who are stuck in a creepy monster school but spend most of their time above surface scaring the bejeezus out of us humans, because that’s just what monsters do.
A movie was in the pipeline but someone axed it as it was described as being “much too dark for children”. That’s all the evidence we need to surmise that children spoil everything. Hmph!
THE REN & STIMPY SHOW (1991-1995)
If you love how weird Nicktoons got in the 1990s then you have The Ren & Stimpy Show to thank. In fact, if it wasn’t for John Kricfalusi’s irreverent creation there wouldn’t be any of your favourite toons. It was the most unapologetically crude, brash and insane television programme we’d ever seen and kids and adults alike flocked to their television sets whenever the jazzy intro kicked in.
Episodes about peeing on electric fences, superheroes with magical nipples, and masquerading as – ahem – weiner inspectors were just some of the highlights of this hilarious, glorious, magnificent show.
Shamefully, Nickelodeon tried to tone down The Ren & Stimpy Show by giving Kricfalusi the heave-ho and replacing him with their own handpicked writers, which would ultimately be the downfall of the show. By giving in to miserable mums and dads all over the United States, Nick killed off its greatest commodity and lost the one show that truly set it apart from every other children’s television network.
SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS (1999-PRESENT)
When you think of Nicktoons it is easy to overlook SpongeBob SquarePants because it’s become so huge that it feels like its own separate entity. But nonetheless, the late great Stephen Hillenburg’s bizarro creation about a child-like sponge who works in a fast-food joint at the bottom of the ocean does indeed fall under the umbrella of Nickelodeon, though it has far outperformed everything that came before or since.
SpongeBob SquarePants has a mass appeal that both kids and adults will love. It’s brightly coloured and funny enough to hold the attention of even the youngest rugrat, while there’s enough thinly veiled adult humour thrown into the mix that there’s absolutely no shame in watching it alone at 3 am after a heavy session at your local.
Doug was like nothing else on Nickelodeon at the time. It was a laid back, easy-going look at the life of its titular character as he finds true love, and lives out his fantasies as an underpants-wearing superhero, all with his best buddy Porkchop the dog by his side.
Some people still think Doug was boring, but those people are wrong. It was as good as any coming of age teen drama on television, except it was a cartoon. It holds up with shows like The Wonder Years or My So-Called Life, it was just far less angsty and with way more references to tofu.
In many ways, Doug Funny was a Charlie Brown for a whole new generation. He was a dreamer, an average joe, but completely relatable. Just like Snoopy, Porkchop would often bring the comic relief in the background while Doug secretly lusted after his first love – Patty Mayonaise.
We loved Doug because it was like a liferaft of the ordinary in the chaotic waters that were the Nicktoons universe.
There’s nothing quite like a show about the world’s most hideous babies to tug at the heartstrings of the world, but that’s exactly what these dirty diaper-wearing bundles of joy did – and boy are we glad about it?!
If it wasn’t for Rugrats then Klasky Csupo may never have become the giant it became, and we wouldn’t have half the shows on this list. It is also the eighth longest-running American animated series, a spot it holds with King of the Hill, and as legend has it, the one show the creators of The Simpsons were really worried about back in the early to mid-1990s.
HEY ARNOLD! (1996-2004)
“Move it, Football head!”. That familiar taunt was just one of the many names the titular Arnold went by during his eight-year run on Nickelodeon, as one of the channel’s most underrated but truly great Nicktoons.
The show was like Doug if Doug Funny moved to a poorer neighbourhood and developed a tragic facial deformity. Whereas Doug was laid back, easy-going fun, Hey Arnold! was edgier but never crossing the boundary into being a show for older kids. In fact, Hey Arnold! appealed to everyone, much like so many of the other Nicktoons of the time.
As the show went on we grew to love the characters, and genuinely cared about what happened to them – why did Arnold have to live with his grandfather? Would Helga ever feel the warm embrace of Arnold’s reciprocated love? What the Hell is a stoop? Why is everyone in the show so ugly?. It’s no wonder why we cried tears of joy when an all-new animated movie was announced in 2018. Finally, all those loose ends could be tied up at last.
ROCKO’S MODERN LIFE (1993-1996)
If there’s one phrase that sums up what Rocko’s Modern Life was truly like, it’s barely contained chaos. You only have to watch the opening credits to realise that this is going to be a bonkers experience, unlike any other animated series you’ve ever seen before – and when the credits finish things only get weirder.
Rocko is a young, single wallaby who moves to the big city and befriends a gluttonous steer named Heffer and a nerdy turtle named Filburt. He also has a dimwitted pooch named Spunky, and two giant-headed frog neighbours named the Bigheads. It quickly becomes apparent that for all of Rocko’s flaws, he is the only sane person in the entire city, with almost everyone he meets on his adventures suffering from some kind of deep-rooted psychological issues.
In many ways, Rocko’s Modern Life picks up where the original run of Ren & Stimpy left off, but perhaps even takes it further. You only have to watch the show as an adult to realise just how much smut and innuendo there really was in what was essentially a show for kids. Fortunately, most parents hated it so it all went undetected until the kids of the 90s grew up to the be the parents of now – and let’s be honest, we sure as Hell ain’t complaining.
For us, Rocko’s Modern Life is the ultimate Nicktoon. There will be many of you that would place Rugrats in this top-spot but we’d argue that as good as Rugrats and Doug and Hey Arnold! all were, it is the little wallaby from O-Town that personifies what Nickelodeon was looking to create back in those wild days of the original Nicktoons.
Which Nicktoon was your favourite? Do you agree with our ranking or are we way off? Don’t just moan about it, TELL US ABOUT IT! That’s what the comments section is for folks! Also, be sure to like our Facebook and Twitter pages, and let us know what you think using #TBGNicktoons – Thanks!