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  • Writer's picturePierre Eustache

#TBT — 'Doug'

Courtesy of Nickelodeon

#TBT is my biweekly column where I revisit my favorite media as a kid and see how well they hold up today.

When I think about how I felt about myself during my childhood, I remember feeling like I didn’t fit in. I would imagine that most kids felt that way, perhaps just as much as we feel the same as adults. However, I think that feeling manifests itself in various ways. For me, it had to do with a crush. By the time I turned seven years old in the summer of ‘91, I had then been infatuated with one of my classmates for a couple of years, through kindergarten and first grade. To this day, I cannot articulate why I did—I just knew that I did. I would just look at her and like her, without even knowing what exactly to do with those emotions. I didn’t know anyone my age who understood that feeling; the consensus I gathered from the other boys in my class were that girls were icky and to be made fun of, and I just couldn’t relate. So, when I look back and recall those feelings, it seems pretty clear why I was very drawn to a new TV show featuring a young, affable cartoon boy with a penchant for daydreaming…and, of course, his very own crush.

Doug premiered on August 11, 1991. Immediately followed by Rugrats and The Ren & Stimpy Show, it was one of the three original Nickelodeon animated series, which they dubbed “Nicktoons.” Doug told the story of an 11-year-old boy whose family moves to a new town; he worries about starting life anew and fitting in, but soon he meets a cast of characters that he befriends, as he details all of his life’s events in his daily journal. Doug ran on Nickelodeon for 53 episodes until 1994, when the network declined to renew it, citing expensive production. Disney acquired the rights in 1996 and began airing a revamped version; the series would last for three more years and expanded to include a musical stage version and a feature film.

Series creator Jim Jinkins intentionally designed the Doug character to be a kind of “everyman,” the plain sort of boy that any kid could see themselves in. So, it doesn’t shock me that I instantly felt so attached to him when I started watching the show. He was constantly worrying about trying to fit in, being accepted, and doing the right thing. His big daily “adventures” included getting new shoes and haircuts, dealing with his pretentious older sister, and failing math. He was a perfect guy to latch on to. Of course, as I’ve mentioned, nothing struck me more than his instant love for the figurative girl next door: Patti Mayonnaise. For Doug, it was love at first sight, as he swooned with giant heart eyes the size of an emoji. He didn’t need a reason to like her; he just did. That seems pretty basic from the perspective of an adult, but for a seven-year-old like I was, it was all I needed to feel heard.

Doug’s crush on Patti wasn’t the entirety of the show, and there was plenty to love aside from it. For me, one of the most memorable aspects was the music, which easily stood out among other cartoons airing around that time. Fred Newman, who was responsible for sound and music in the show, said, “I wanted it to sound like a kid made the music.” That style is evident in the upbeat theme song that starts every show. In lieu of musical instruments, Newman used his experience as a foley artist to incorporate a combination of various household objects and his own mouth noises, including the signature scatting that he employed throughout the episodes as well. Doug himself was musically inclined as well; one of my favorite episodes involved him writing a song for Patti on his banjo. Perhaps the most influential and memorable musical aspect of the series came in the form of Doug’s favorite band, The Beets. An obvious homage to a certain “Fab Four,” the fictional rock ensemble pumped out the absolute catchiest songs to ever come out of a children’s show.

If the crush on Patti and the iconic music were two pieces of my Doug Triforce, the third would be his penchant for creating characters. At his core, Doug was a creative mind, often daydreaming of solutions to his everyday problems. When the situations were particularly tricky, Doug had a number of alter egos at his mental disposal: When Doug wanted to stop a doodle from falling into the wrong hands, he imagined sneaking into a building as Smash Adams, a suave super-spy not unlike James Bond; when he was worried about being blamed for a destructive science project, he pictured going on the lam as Jack Bandit, a charming, Zorro-like vigilante. There were a few other characters as well, but none made more appearances than his primary alter ego—Quailman, a superhero donning a red (towel) cape and a belt on his head, possessing the powers of flight, intelligence, and the “Quail Eye,” which left opponents feeling helpless and stupefied. Quailman was the ultimate hero for kids: He didn’t rely on punching the villains into submissions, but instead outwitted them. The hero proved to be so influential to me, I even dressed as him for Halloween—tidy whities and all:

Doug was just the cartoon I needed in my childhood. Everything I went through, he went through it too. If I felt too weird in my hobbies or likes, Doug understood me. I had great friends in real life, but I’m not ashamed to say that Doug was kind of the best friend I could have in those years. And if any young kid today feels like a loner, I’m glad to know that thanks to Internet streaming, Doug is there for them too.

The first four seasons of Doug are available to watch on Hulu; the Disney seasons, along with Doug’s 1st Movie, are available to watch on Disney+.

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