I look back on my '90s childhood with great fondness. It was the era of the Tamagotchi, cheek glitter from Bath & Body Works, and the incredibly fashionable, oh-so-timeless bucket hat. As a child of the '90s I know I'm biased, but I truly believe I had the best possible childhood. If I could give my children an identical one, I'd be thrilled... well, except for one thing. Watching some of my old favorite cartoons now as a 28-year-old, I'm shocked that they were ever considered kid-friendly. These are eight of the '90s cartoons you'd never let your kid watch now, but totally will one day.
I'm all for show creators sneaking in a few jokes for the parents — after all, that makes a lot of children's TV watchable — but some of these shows contain plenty of jokes that aren't fit for anybody. You don't have to be a helicopter parent to prefer your children digest wholesome, meaningful television content. Whether it's gross humor, offensive themes, or generally questionable behavior, I'm going to pause — maybe temporarily, maybe permanently — on showing these particular cartoons to my own future kiddos. Instead, I'll play "As Long As You Love Me" and get hit with a wave of nostalgia.
1. 'The Ren & Stimpy Show'
Even as a child who didn't understand every joke on this show, I got my share of icky feelings whenever Ren & Stimpy came on. The most disturbing scenes were typically those of extreme — and quite frankly, disgusting — acts of violence. This article from Digital Spy, "13 times Ren & Stimpy was in no way appropriate for children," highlights many of the most problematic scenes: Ren yanking nerve endings from his bleeding mouth, beating himself with a hammer to the skull, and discussing how he's going to violently dismember Stimpy.
I won't even go into all of the graphic and questionable sexual scenes. This is one show that I won't be introducing my children to ever.
2. 'Rocko's Modern Life'
OK, was I the only one who didn't notice that Rocko was a phone sex operator? Although technically the sign in his office advertised a "ONE-ON-ONE HOT LINE," the posted reminders behind him ("Be hot, be naughty, be courteous") clear up any confusion you might have. It's no surprise that the rest of the show is filled with sexual innuendo and outright rated-R jokes. I mean... his favorite hobby was jack hammering, which he lovingly referred to as simply "jacking," and he even attends a "Jack-All-U-Want event."
CollegeHumor created a hilarious compilation of "The 40 Dirtiest Jokes from Rocko's Modern Life." Don't worry – if you have little kids in the room, they won't understand the innuendo. I certainly didn't!
I asked a bunch of my friends if there were any creepy shows from the '90s that, upon further reflection, they probably wouldn't want their own kids watching, and several said CatDog without missing a beat. A few pointed to obvious reasons, ("They have no private parts, so how do they go to the bathroom?" and "Why is their body so stretchy?") while others said it was their behavior that gives them the heebie jeebies.
It's been awhile since I've seen an episode, so I needed to brush up on my CatDog trivia. There's an episode where they debate the merits of being separated, and the surgical tool is a rusty razor blade powered by someone on a bicycle. While they don't go through with the surgery, they still spend the rest of the series being generally awful to each other. Why did I like this show so much?
4. 'Johnny Bravo'
This show wouldn't fly in the era of #MeToo. The entire show centers around a buff, less-than-intelligent womanizer whose main (and seemingly only) goal is to convince women to go out with him. While women do often have the last laugh, I highly doubt a Johnny Bravo pitch meeting would be quite as successful nowadays.
One positive aspect about this show is that Johnny's misogynistic and shallow behavior doesn't work out for him. If you do want to share this show with your little ones, it's worth mentioning to them that emulating Johnny will get them nowhere.
5. 'Courage The Cowardly Dog'
This wasn't a cartoon I personally watched as a child, and after doing a bit of research, I don't think I missed much. A mix of animation and rough CGI, this cartoon is described as a "dark comedy," which doesn't exactly scream kid-friendly. According to IMDB, the show follows Courage as he protects his human owners against "all kinds of dangers, paranormal events and menaces that appear around their land." In other words, every episode is nightmare-inducing.
This was my all-time favorite show as a child, and I was shocked when several friends told me their own parents didn't let them watch it. It was a show about innocent little babies — what could possibly be inappropriate about that?!
Yet again, some of the problematic aspects of this show went riiight over my head. There are plenty of adult jokes sprinkled through the series — like Chuckie becoming obsessed with staying in his room and "bopping his Boppo" and Grandpa's various allusions to pornography — but there also several episodes with some very adult moments.
Remember the episode about Angelica's insane need for cookies? ("I just gotta have the cookies! They're part of who I am! Please tell me where they are, please, please, please! I need them, Tommy! I can't live without them!") The entire episode doesn't seem as innocent when I re-watch it after a couple episodes of Intervention. I mean, she makes herself sick eating the cookies out of a bucket of soapy water... she clearly needs help. Plus, I'd rather my children not pick up any of Angelica's habits.
7. 'Hey Arnold!'
Do you remember the secret shrine to Arnold that Helga had in her closet? Well, hopefully you also remember when she grabbed an object shaped like his football head, and breathlessly announced, "Oh Arnold, you make my girlhood tremble!" Nothing about her obsession was healthy, and I'd rather not teach my future daughter phrases like that.
I'll go easy on Helga though, since she was living with a mother who was in the grips of alcoholism. Oh, did you miss that part, too? I thought her mom was simply a space cadet, but re-watching a few episodes of this show was very enlightening. She fell asleep in random places, often talked about "needing a smoothie," and once even mentioned getting her license taken away. Hmmm... OK then.
8. 'Cow And Chicken'
This show was never one of my favorites, and it earned a spot on this list for one big reason: "Buffalo Gals." This was the name of an episode in season 13, which was so problematic that it only aired on television once. In this episode, a gang of lesbian biker chicks terrorize the town by breaking into homes. How do I know they're lesbians, you ask? Because their favorite thing to do during home invasions is munch on the carpet. When Dad is understandably frightened by the scene, Mom makes sure to tell him, "They're not after you." There are plenty of other innuendos in that episode to get the lesbian theme across, and you can find the original episode online if you're so inclined.
We're all aware that cartoons like The Simpsons and South Park aren't appropriate for children, but these are five cartoons specifically created for children. While I watched most of these regularly — and I think I turned out OK — I'm going to steer my children toward shows with less mature themes, sexual innuendo, and extreme violence.