11 Other Old-School Nick Shows That Should Get Netflix MoviesWatch These Movies Before ‘Dora and the Lost City of Gold’ Stay on target Early ’90s Nickelodeon had a lot of great live-action TV shows, but their animated efforts really made the network special. In 1991, Nickelodeon commissioned its first three original cartoons. There was Rugrats, the cartoon about talking babies. There was Ren and Stimpy, which always felt like you were getting away with something by watching it. And then there was Doug. Doug was arguably the simplest of the three first Nicktoons, but that’s what made it so special. Doug was a thoroughly average kid, dealing with thoroughly average kid problems. Many cartoons have aped that formula since Doug, but none have quite matched the show’s sincerity.At that time, Doug was the kind of show that could only happen on Nickelodeon. Where most other cartoons of the day were glorified half-hour toy commercials, Nick was uniquely focused on producing good television for kids. Whether that meant absurdist comedy like Ren and Stimpy or The Adventures of Pete and Pete, or more down-to-Earth stuff like Doug, Nickelodeon appeared to prize quality and originality above all else. Sure, Nicktoons toys were eventually produced, and probably made the network a lot of money. They just weren’t the sole purpose of the show, like for example Transformers or G.I. Joe. (via Nickelodeon)Each episode of Doug was designed as an 11-minute morality play. According to a 2014 article by Huffington Post, the writing process for each episode started by asking what issue it was addressing. Creator Jim Jinkins wanted the series to have a “moral foundation.” It was a comedy to be certain, but it was really important that the show have a solid ethical message. The importance of honesty was a prominent theme on the show. Multiple episodes centered on Doug’s struggle with honesty in a town that valued it. In one episode, Doug broke his mother’s vase, and agreed to become his older sister’s slave so she’d keep it a secret. The truth literally set him free in that one. In another, Doug debated returning a wallet full of money to an old woman. As a reward, he received a stick of gum. The report says that outcome was the subject of a huge disagreement among the writers. In the end, it was important to Jinkins that Doug does something completely selfless and not get anything real for it. It was about teaching kids to do the right thing because it’s the right thing, not out of a desire to be rewarded. At the time, it was a gutsy move and a valuable moral for young kids.Another common message the show tried to get across was to focus on your strengths, and what makes you unique. Doug was, in most respects, a thoroughly average kid. He wasn’t the brightest in class; he wasn’t the coolest kid, he didn’t even know how to dance. Even his name was chosen because it sounded perfectly blank. When Jinkins first started drawing the character, he referred to the kid as “Brian.” He later changed it to “Doug” because “Brian” sounded too interesting. But even though Doug was designed to be the most average young adolescent boy possible, he wasn’t boring. He had hobbies and skills that made him stand out. He was a great writer, constantly scribbling in his journal. He was a cartoonist as well, blowing his everyday problems out into superheroic proportions in Quailman’s comic adventures. And he played the banjo.(Via Nickelodeon)Those skills and passions made Doug stand out, and that’s how Jinkins taught kids to embrace what makes them unique. One episode had Doug expending all his energy and money on a mail-in puzzle competition. He spends all his money on something that, even to a young kid, seems an obvious scam, and gets nothing for it. In the end, it’s his writing talents that pay off. Judy submits a poem he wrote to a writing competition, and he wins a small amount of money. It’s not as much as the puzzle scam promised, but he earned it by doing something he enjoyed and was good at. Not only did this episode encourage kids to follow their passions and practice what they’re good at, but it also let them know exactly what a contest scam looks like. I never bothered entering those too-good-to-be-true “Win every console” sweepstakes in the back of video game magazines because they looked so much like the puzzles from Doug. Probably saved myself (and my parents) a few bucks that way. Thanks, Jim Jinkins!Doug wasn’t just a vehicle for life lessons about honesty and being yourself. As valuable as that aspect was, it never felt like it was talking down to kids. As far as we were concerned, each 11-minute episode was just a fun story. Doug was average enough that we could see ourselves in him, but we all knew that he tended to blow his troubles way out of proportion. Even as kids, we recognized that his imagination took him to ridiculous extremes, and that was funny. Doug really wasn’t the brightest kid in Bluffington, and that’s what made him fun to watch. He overreacted to the smallest of problems, and while there was usually a lesson at the end of it, most of his fretting was played for laughs. The comedy and occasional slapstick from his dog Porkchop (the best character on the show) made us let our guard down. As a result, we were more receptive to whatever lesson Jinkins wanted to impart.(Via Nickelodeon)Doug’s fantasy personas were a huge part of how fun the show was to watch. It’s impressive that more than 20 years later, we remember his made up superhero and favorite movie action hero just as much as we remember Doug himself. Sometimes, he emulated his favorite action hero and James Bond parody, Smash Adams. Other times, he took his real-life troubles to comical extremes as Quailman. Those were always my favorite. Most of Doug’s fantasies were waking nightmares, where he imagined the worst possible outcome for whatever situation he was in. As Quailman, he could triumph over his enemies in ways the real world wouldn’t allow him to. It was fun seeing him imagine school bully Roger Klotz as a mad scientist. Or drawing Vice Principal Bone as a totalitarian supervillain/emotionless robot. These episodes were great superhero cartoons in their own right, but they also pointed Doug towards a real solution. Through Quailman, Doug learned to compromise, to make valid and logical arguments, and to investigate situations further before assuming the worst.One aspect of the show that gets brought up a lot is the way Jinkins chose to color the people of Bluffington. Skeeter is blue. Roger and Connie are both green. The Dinks are purple. Though Nickelodeon once used the colors of the characters to make an anti-prejudice PSA, Jinkins says he never intended to code any of the characters as a specific race. When he sat down and started sketching the greater town of Bluffington, he realized that he was creating his own new world. And in that world, people could look however he wanted them to. He didn’t have to be constrained to the same brown-to-peach flesh tones of every other cartoon. He could color the citizens of Bluffington any hue he wanted. The reason he gives for the Funnie family looking white? He designed them before the rest of the town. Had Doug not been the starting point for the whole series, he might have had some non-human skin tone as well. Of course, it’s also possible that since Doug is in many ways a surrogate for Jinkins’s childhood self, he modeled certain aspects of the character after his own.(Via Nickelodeon)Jinkins says the literal rainbow of skin tones in Bluffington eventually represented the irrelevance of race. It just isn’t something anyone in town cares about. Yes, the whole “I don’t see color” argument is laughable and obvious B.S. in the real world, but in a silly children’s cartoon like this, it works. Jinkins was aware of the importance of not associating any traits with any particular color. Roger is Doug’s bully, and is based off a real-life bully Jinkins faced as a kid. He’s green, but Jinkins didn’t want to imply that all green people in Bluffington were bad. That’s why the nice, occasionally insecure Connie is also green. So is Doug’s kind, encouraging teacher Ms. Wingo. The only character outside of Doug’s family that has a human skin tone is his crush, Patty Mayonnaise. Even her race is left ambiguous. She had yellow hair and dark tan skin. Jinkins says he put a lot of thought into the way she was portrayed. He wanted her to have darker skin, but didn’t want to go more specific than that. Whether her skin tone points to a specific ethnicity or not is entirely up to the viewer.Doug transferred from Nickelodeon to Disney in 1996, and that switch brought a lot of changes. Most of them were not well-received by fans. The episode length was increased to a full half hour, rather than two 11-minute stories. That would have been OK, but it made for less variation in the kinds of stories Doug could tell. It didn’t help that Jinkins had to start over with a completely new team just when everyone at Nickelodeon had gotten to the point where they knew the characters and the world back and forth. The most noticeable change was Doug’s voice. Billy West had become much too expensive for Disney to consider, and the new actor didn’t have the same connection to the character that West did.(Via Nickelodeon)The music suffered. The Nickelodeon series had a lot of a capella background music that gave the series a cool, beatnik sound unlike anything else on TV. After the change, there were a lot more instrumentals and a lot less magic. The new series also unnecessarily broke up The Beets, the greatest fictional band of all time. Maybe the point of it was to teach kids that life throws changes at you and you just have to accept them. Instead, it felt like Disney had taken something special and made it more like everything else.The worst change was what the Disney series did with Roger Klotz. They made him rich. On the Nickelodeon show, characters always had more going on underneath the surface. Yes, Roger was a bully, but the Nickelodeon show was unafraid to explore why. He was probably the poorest kid in town. He lived in a trailer, and it’s not hard to imagine that his insecurities about his family’s poverty led him to lash out at other kids. He also wasn’t entirely a bad guy. Roger recognized that as much as he picked on Doug, he was the only person Roger could really trust. That’s why he asked Doug to look after his cat while he was out of town. That’s why, when he found Doug’s lost journal, he didn’t read it. That’s why he confided in Doug about how scared he was to go to Junior High at the end of the Nickelodeon series. Roger may have been obnoxious, but he was a normal kid at heart. Disney made him an out-and-out bad guy. Suddenly, he was rich and used his newfound wealth to lord over Doug and become a worse bully than before. Where there used to be a complex, troubled character, there was now a one-dimensional bully stereotype.(Via Nickelodeon)It’s a shame Doug had to go out the way it did. It was one of the first cartoons on Nickelodeon, and it was easily one of the best. Where Rugrats had larger-than-life baby hijinks and Ren and Stimpy had absurdist gross-out humor, Doug gave us a world that was much more recognizable. It gave us a character we could see ourselves in and aspire to be like. A character who made mistakes and learned from them. A character who wasn’t the coolest or the smartest, but he knew it, which is exactly what made him cool. He also gave us a ton of laughs and a surprisingly fun superhero, all of which taught us lessons that proved invaluable later in life. It was the rare educational show that didn’t feel like it was teaching you something. You were just watching a normal kid stumble through life, dreaming of something bigger. There have been plenty of imitators since. A lot of shows try to emulate its pre-teen slice-of-life humor mixed with valuable morals. None of them do it quite as well as Doug. Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.