As a kid, Nickelodeon held a special place in my heart. Almost every night from around second to sixth grade, I had a strict, self-enforced routine where I would watch “The Fairly Oddparents” at 7 p.m. and “The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron” at 7:30 p.m. If I was lucky enough, I could sneak in an episode of “Spongebob Squarepants,” “Danny Phantom,” “Avatar: The Last Airbender” or whatever Nick show was playing at eight before my mom would eventually tell me to go to bed.
I’m not sure why I found Nickelodeon so alluring and why I preferred it over Disney Channel and Cartoon Network. I would watch television shows on these networks too — I absolutely loved “That’s So Raven,” “Even Stevens,” “Teen Titans” and “Ben 10” — but to me, the lineup of Nickelodeon shows was in much higher quality at the time.
Let’s be honest: I was obsessed, practically addicted, to watching Nickelodeon. I lived off watching re-runs of “Hey Arnold,” “Rocket Power,” “The Wild Thornberrys,” “Rugrats” and “CatDog.” I would watch the network’s low-key shows too, like the sharp spy family comedy “The X’s,” the exemplary sci-fi series “My Life As a Teenage Robot,” the trippy-as-hell “Chalkzone” and the ill-fated superhero cartoon “El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera.” I would even force myself to watch the network’s crappier efforts, like the absurdly gross “Mr. Meaty” and the dumbfounding, poorly animated “Tak and the Power of Juju.”
But out of everything that Nickelodeon offered, one of the greatest aspects about the network was its accessibility to young, fresh-faced viewers. Watching the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards was also a huge thrill for me, despite its overt silliness and excessive celebrity appearances. One of the greatest nights of my young life was watching the KCAs in 2006, hosted by a still-manic Jack Black. My best friend Brandon and I had a sleepover that night and watched the entire broadcast of the show, eating mac ‘n’ cheese and chocolate chip cookies in between commercial breaks. I don’t remember any specific moments from the 2006 KCAs, but I recall a sense of overwhelming happiness washing over me throughout that night. I wanted so badly to win a trophy in the shape of an orange blimp and deep down, I still kind of hope to someday.
There was just something about Nickelodeon that made it stand out among the other kids programming networks. In particular, “The Fairly Oddparents” and “The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron” gave me a reason to keep watching Nickelodeon, with their zany plot lines, animation, relatable characters, intelligent storytelling and witty humor. I identified with Timmy Turner and Jimmy Neutron, both of whom were social outcasts but possessed the care-free innocence that fulfilled all my childhood fantasies. I yearned to have fairy godparents like Cosmo and Wanda who could grant my every wish and to live in a place like Retroville and invent time machines and rocket ships as a hobby. That being said, the two have noticeably imperfect qualities, which were put on full display in the incredible, criminally underrated crossover trilogy “Jimmy Timmy Power Hour.”
Timmy was a whiny, needy 10-year-old, who would never think about the consequences of his wishes and how they would affect those around him. Jimmy was a smug know-it-all, whose intellect often overshadowed and alienated his best friends, the neurotic Carl Wheezer and the hyperactive Sheen Estevez. Something I always admired about these characters was their ability to learn from their mistakes, with Timmy following Cosmo and Wanda’s guidance to being a more ethical human being and Jimmy not letting his ego get the better of him when his inventions threatened his loved ones. Sure, most episodes followed that formula in order for Jimmy and Timmy to achieve some form of character development. But subconsciously, these episodes helped shape my own understanding of the trials and tribulations of life and how to deal with challenging situations.
When I entered adolescence, I began watching the live-action Nick shows like “Zoey 101,” “Drake & Josh,” “Unfabulous,” “The Naked Brothers Band” and “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide.” And as I grew older, each of these shows continued to provide me with the necessary tools for living through one of the biggest transitional periods in my life. “Ned’s Declassified” was especially influential for me, preparing me for the hellish black hole that was middle school with helpful tips about procrastination, bullies, failure and homework. All the while, it also managed to tell a funny, compelling story about three best friends navigating through the awkwardness of the middle school experience.
Looking back on all those Nickelodeon shows, I find myself feeling strangely nostalgic and somewhat sad that the network’s plethora of captivating, original content no longer resonates in its current lineup. Since I last watched it in 2010, “Spongebob” has downgraded tremendously, trading in its hilariously surreal sequences and meta overtones for episodes that are unfunny, bizarre and mean-spirited. “The Fairly Oddparents” replaced its iconic theme song with a horrid new one and introduced two characters — Cosmo and Wanda’s child Poof and some girl named Chloe — who seem to only exist to keep the show from going kaputt. “Jimmy Neutron” ended after three remarkable seasons, but the producers created an unnecessary spin-off that put Jimmy’s best friend Sheen as the protagonist for some reason.
These Nickelodeon shows, in addition to other old ones, are now immortalized through the postmodern vortex of memes. New animated shows have taken over and ever since “iCarly” and “Victorious,” the live-action programs have become garish and underwhelming.
Still, I’m optimistic about the prospects of kids television programming. Having watched Nickelodeon for a number of years, I still have hope that someday, a young boy or girl will be inspired to write about the shows that completed their childhood.