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TV Rewind

Maija Gustin | Wednesday, April 25, 2012

As part of AnTostal 2012, the Student Union Board will sponsor a screening of five favorite ’90s Nicktoons tonight at 8 p.m. The Third Eye Blind concert and the continuing popularity of Fruit Roll-Ups as a topic of conversation prove that Notre Dame students still love the ’90s, and Nickelodeon’s cartoons remain one of the best parts of the decade.

In case you’ve forgotten just why you loved being a kid in the ’90s, Scene is here to remind you about some of your favorite childhood shows.

“Rugrats”

Long before Stewie Griffin became the most quotable baby in town, the precocious tots on “Rugrats” were having adventures we could only dream of. From finding an Indiana Jones-like cave in the backyard to defeating “The Meanie of Hanukkah,” the “Rugrats” taught us to ask questions, protect our friends and explore the world. Tommy was the bravest kid in town, Chuckie an unexpected hero and Phil and Lil determined though sometimes clueless – and they were all still in diapers. Let’s also not forget the great debt Sue Sylvester of “Glee” owes to Angelica Pickles.

“CatDog”

Conjoined half-dog, half-cat twins Cat and Dog were outcasts in their own city, but their optimism and friendship gave us a model for staying true to oneself even in the face of adversity. Cat and Dog were often in complete opposition – with Dog wanting to chase cars and Cat wanting to sit at home and read – but their brotherhood never wavers for long. Fiercely loyal, “CatDog” proved that some bonds can withstand any resistance.

“The Amanda Show”

The star of “She’s the Man,” “What a Girl Wants” and a recent mugshot got her start on Nickelodeon. Amanda Bynes’s success as a cast member of Nickelodeon sketch comedy show “All That” propelled her to starring in a self-titled comedy show, “The Amanda Show.” In it, Bynes stars as a host of quirky characters in recurring sketches, lampooning everything from girls’ bathrooms to “Dawson’s Creek.” “The Amanda Show” launched the careers of fellow Nick stars Drake Bell and Josh Peck as well as current “Saturday Night Live” cast member Taran Killam, who many remember fondly as Spalding on “Moody’s Point.”

“Hey Arnold!”

Arnold, otherwise known as “football head,” was a wise-beyond-his-years fourth-grader dealing with growing up in a hybrid city reminiscent of many of our own. “Hey Arnold” dealt with topics ranging from heat waves to bullying, social outcasts to imprisoned wild animals, always providing lessons for children and their parents alike. The endlessly funny show also taught many that sometimes, kids are mean because they like you – and that even kids can enjoy jazz.

“Rocko’s Modern Life”

One of the first in a new string of “edgy” cartoons on Nickelodeon, “Rocko’s Modern Life” was only the network’s fourth original show, and remains one of the most beloved. Following the antics of Australian ex-pat wallaby Rocko, his cow of a best friend Heffer, a phobic turtle named Filburt and loyal dog Spunky, “Rocko’s Modern Life” again aimed to enchant both kids and their parents. Dealing with the problems of everyday life, the animation was delightful and the stories both comedic and poignant. 

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The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.

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TV Rewind

Kevin Noonan | Wednesday, April 18, 2012

President Obama called it his favorite television show. Many have called it the greatest television show of all time. Grantland, Bill Simmon’s entertainment-sports blog, named one its central characters as the greatest in television history.

HBO’s “The Wire” is a mastery of entertainment, social criticism and the illustration of reality rarely seen in any storytelling medium, not just television. And on top of all that, it’s awesome.

This is not some Shakespearean drama, with dull and boring episodes aimed only at higher meaning and subtext. The show, at least in its inception, is a police drama, with a body count to rival any of the most action-packed and violent shows on television.

What separates “The Wire” from most run-of-the-mill police dramas, however, is its determination to tell the story of a city and its people above all else.

The show is set in Baltimore, and each of the five seasons of the show focuses on a different aspect of the city. The first is an in-depth look at the drug-trade in the inner city, the second looks at the illegal smuggling in the city’s port, the third examines the political system, the fourth explores the Baltimore school system and the fifth and final season sheds light on the media.

The consistently broadening scope of the show meant that as the show went on, more and more characters entered the story, and some characters that were main players one season found their roles diminished in the next, and vice versa.

But every character, no matter how big or small they seem in the show, has their own unique background. It makes for fascinating television, because every second of the show features a character that seems like a real person. That in turn makes the show feel very real, as if Detective McNulty (Dominic West) and Omar Little (Michael Kenneth Williams) – the aforementioned winner of the Grantland contest – were real people that you could run into if you took a wrong turn while visiting Baltimore. Of course, if it’s Omar, that’s one hell of a wrong turn.

The show was created in 2002 by author and former Baltimore police reporter David Simon. Many of the events in the show draw their inspiration from the experiences of Simon and his writing partner Ed Burns, a former Baltimore homicide detective and public school teacher.

Simon calls the show a visual novel, with the storytelling aimed at longer arcs and therefore a larger payoff in the end, instead of the common formula approach of a one-story-per-show seen in many television dramas.

Another aspect of the realism in the show is the casting. The show has no high-profile stars, which has a few effects on the audience perception of the show. First, with no recognizable faces, viewers have no preconceived notions about the character because of the actor.

Second, a bit more morbidly, with no stars in the show, the audience knows any character could die at any time, and the producers don’t have to commit to a character because of the actor playing him or her.

“The Wire” didn’t win any major awards during the course of its run, and for the most part, the actors have not used the show as a trampoline to bigger success. But it is still without a doubt one of the greatest television shows of our generation.

Unfortunately, it’s not currently on Netflix Instant streaming, meaning in order to be seen, it must be rented or ordered by mail for Netflix or even, God forbid, purchased.

But it’s worth the money. If for no other reason, you’ll appreciate the respect and fear writers like Bill Simmons and Jason Whitlock have for Omar and his whistling way.

Contact Kevin Noonan at knoonan2@nd.edu