Back in the day, before streaming made on-demand-viewing the norm, I remember rushing home from school to catch the last couple of minutes of Ed, Edd n Eddy, followed by Toonami, Cartoon Network’s programming block that aired the Japanese anime series Pokemon and Beyblade. Just like our parents would say, we had it hard back then. But there was also a certain charm to the idea of you and all your friends glued to your TV screens every day, watching the same cartoon shows at the same time.
Recently, Adult Swim announced their new programming block Checkered Past (a reference to Cartoon Network’s old logo) during which they will air old shows such as Courage The Cowardly Dog, The Grim Adventures of Bill & Mandy and Dexter’s Laboratory. Just looking at these names evoked such a deep sense of nostalgia and in no time we were binge-watching all the old shows on Cartoon Network’s YouTube channel once again. While it was a refreshing blast from the past, we also noticed that a lot of these shows, which are meant for kids, had subtly hidden themes for adults to enjoy as well. So here we are, with a list of all the childhood shows that you can re-watch as jaded adults who are facing the harsh realities of life one day at a time.
Courage The Cowardly Dog
This was probably every 2000s kid’s foray into the horror genre. Set in the fictional town of Nowhere, Kansas, the show chronicled the life of abandoned pup Courage and his newly adopted parents Muriel and Eustace Baggae. Every episode featured encounters with Cronenberg-style monsters, zombies, aliens or other paranormal creatures. The writers of the show often paid homage to old-school horror tropes. As an adult, you pick up on the fact that the scary beings were often acting out of distress, anger, desperation and depression—the real monsters of society. One of the most unnerving and eerie episodes from the show’s run was The Spirit of the Harvest Moon, featuring a terrifying floating head with no eyes, telling the family to “get out”.
Ed, Edd N Eddy
As a school kid, Ed, Edd N Eddy’s slapstick humour was its big selling point. The three scheming boys, Ed, Edd and Eddy (duh), came up with elaborate plans to dupe other kids from their cul-de-sac neighbourhood out of their money, so they could buy the most sought-after candy, Jawbreakers. It was a lot of mischief and mayhem, with a distinct animation style that gave the show its inherent charm. Now, when we looked back at the series we couldn’t help but notice some incredibly sneaky adult jokes and double entendres. You’ve got to keep an eye out, because they are not glaringly obvious. It is a kid’s show after all.
The Regular Show
Cartoon Network’s Emmy award-winning The Regular Show was clearly made for people of all ages. The show’s creator J. G. Quintel managed to rope in young fans with the vibrant visuals and each episode’s lunatic plot-lines, always high on energy. But if you zoom in just a little, you’ll notice that the show also sneaks in plenty of retro references and innuendo that flew right past their little heads, aimed at the adults in the room. Mordecai and Rigby’s shenanigans appealed to people across various demographics, but there’s also a tinge of sadness and melancholy to the dialogues and their self-destructive lifestyle. A good portion of the show’s conflict arises from their poor decision-making skills, which nudges them from “hilarious goofball” stature to “pathetic losers”, if you will, sending adults down a spiral of “what are we doing with our lives?”
The Powerpuff Girls
The sugar, spice and everything nice was for the kids enjoying the adventures of Bubbles, Blossom and Buttercup. That certain Chemical X, though, was for the adults supervising them. This includes sneaky sex jokes and visual gags such as Big Lebowski’s The Dude standing at a street corner. There’s no way an eight-year-old is going to get that reference. Unless they abide. The show also included copious amounts of violence, an androgynous antagonist named Him, and was responsible for subtly introducing feminist ideas to young children. The show handled the three protagonists’ different personalities with great tact and nuance, never showing Bubbles’ emotion as a hindrance or pushing Buttercup to be more ‘feminine’.
The Grim Adventures Of Billy & Mandy
Cartoon Network had never shied away from exploring absurd premises with dark comedy at its core. The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy is a testament to that commitment. The show follows two young kids who live in the town of Endsville and their life-long friendship with the… get this… Grim Reaper. His dry, grumpy personality clashes directly with Billy’s youthful curiosity and Mandy’s early-onset teenage angst. The show also features its fair share of body horror and nihilism, making it a worthwhile re-watch.
If I had to describe Adventure Time in one word it would be “trippy”. I would be lying if I said I haven’t watched this show at least one hundred times while… enjoying sandwiches (anybody get the How I Met Your Mother reference?). The show’s liberal use of rainbows and unicorns gives it an unmistakable Candy-land feel but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find a dark underbelly of dystopia and loneliness. As Finn and Jake the Dog accompany their friends to different planets, they witness the hellish future that awaits mankind. As a kid, you don’t pay much heed to the visions of apocalypse, because you’re too enamoured by the visual eye-candy. But as an adult, you’ll almost see it is an animated Black Mirror.