Almost every '90s kid remembers Hey Arnold! as an entertaining series about growing up and the power of friendship. However, there were some grim Hey Arnold! episodes that revealed how downright depressing the series really was.
You may be thinking: “Hey Arnold! is depressing? No way!” Way, argumentative hypothetical person. Way. In fact, there are plenty of dark Hey Arnold! moments you might have not even noticed.
Have you ever realized how many of your favorite childhood cartoons had darker meanings or hidden innuendos? It’s true; numerous animated series often included hidden layers of adult content that were way too mature for your puny kid mind to grasp. If you still can’t recall any sad or dark moments from Hey Arnold!, then it's time to discover the truth about everyone's favorite football-headed boy and the city he lived in.
Miriam Pataki is a stay-at-home housewife and the mother of Helga and Olga. Throughout the series, it’s astoundingly clear that Miriam is an alcoholic. Seriously, this one is pretty much right out in the open. She appears in many episodes to be making "smoothies” (see: daiquiris) and mostly shuffles aimlessly around her house, listless and slurring her speech. There are even times she passes out on the couch and is unaware of where she is when she wakes up.
She also casually talks to her 9-year-old daughter about her depression, so clearly she's not doing so hot. It's easy to believe that she is using alcohol to drown out her sorrows. Also, during an episode titled "The Beeper Queen," there's even a hint dropped that Miriam has had her license suspended. That has to be the result of a DUI, right?
In the episode titled "Ms. Perfect," Arnold and his friends meet a new classmate named Lila. She's smart, fashionable, pretty, and almost instantly popular. Helga and the other girls in class become jealous of Lila and play a mean-spirited prank to humiliate her (because kids are the worst), causing her to skip school and plunge into depression. Hold to to your horses, that's not the dark part.
The girls soon learn that Lila and her father are living well below the poverty line. The home they are living in is shabby and falling apart, and it's located in one of the city's worst neighborhoods. Apparently, they're in such bad shape that they can barely afford groceries.
This episode is heart-wrenching because it depicts the struggle of poverty in a shockingly real way. This means, of course, that there is no real solution to Lila's struggle. She remains in poverty for the rest of the series. Yeah, Hey Arnold! really didn't pull any punches.
In "Arnold’s Christmas," Arnold is faced with the task of getting a gift for Mr. Hyunh, a Vietnamese tenant in his grandparent's boarding house/amazing country singer. When he confronts Mr. Hyunh about his lack of enthusiasm for the holiday, he's exposed to a pretty staggering truth.
As it turns out, in the past, Hyunh was caught in the middle of what it pretty clearly the Vietnam War. He was forced to give up his infant daughter to the U.S. military so that she could have a better life. Bruh.
Although the thought of Hyunh losing his daughter is sad, the entire war scene depicted in the episode is even more depressing. The scene shows the darkness of warfare and the destruction, fear, and sorrow that plague the parties involved. The episode is a stern reminder of the brutality and pain caused by war. And it probably aired next to, like, a commercial for Sketchers or cereal or whatever.
"Chocolate Boy" is one of the series' darkest episodes. It's seriously jacked up. See, Chocolate Boy is a young child who... loves chocolate. He's not very creatively named. In his eponymous episode, Chocolate Boy asks Arnold for help breaking his chocolate addiction (first because of a bet, but then for real). Throughout the episode, it's pretty strongly implied that Chocolate Boy is addicted to chocolate in the same way some people are addicted to crack cocaine.
Chocolate Boy humiliates and degrades himself for chocolate, dancing for the ol' sweet bad brown when cajoled by some fifth graders. At one point, he even goes rooting through a dumpster looking for more chocolate.
After he goes cold turkey, he starts going through heroin-like withdrawal. He sweats, he gets the shakes, and all he can think about is chocolate. Arnold even tries to get him on carob (basically methadone for chocolate), but Chocolate Boy has a severe allergic reaction.
While he eventually kicks his addiction to chocolate, he then seems to get hooked on radishes. Kind of like giving up heroin and picking up smoking cigarettes. By the time of Hey Arnold! The Movie, he's suffered a complete relapse. Chocolate Boy is clearly an allegory for drug addicts in our own society and the terrifying and stark realities of their existence.