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If you grew up in the 1990s, one channel dominated your TV diet more than any other: Nickelodeon. In the ’90s, Nickelodeon’s original animated series – or Nicktoons – launched the channel into the collective consciousness of kids across the nation, and established the network as a mainstay in children’s entertainment. Today, we’re taking a look back at three of the cartoons that made Nickelodeon so special.


During its initial run, Rugrats was the show to see. (You don’t get three movies and a spin-off series for nothing.) The premise is simple – Rugrats follows babies Tommy, Chuckie, twins Phil and Lil, and Tommy’s older cousin Angelica on their many adventures of everyday life. The show finds much of its charm and humor by offering insights into a baby’s imaginative perspective of their immediate surroundings. Rugrats has so many iconic elements, from Angelica’s doll Cynthia (a nightmare-inducing parody of Barbie) to Tommy’s favorite character Reptar (a Godzilla spoof) to the dopey family dog Spike. And who could forget that incredible opening theme, written by Mark Mothersbaugh.

Rocko’s Modern Life

Your parents were the “cool” parents if they let you watch this show. Your friends would come over and take out the Pokémon cards they had to hide from their families after school until Rocko’s Modern Life came on. Sipping your Capri Sun, you’d laugh at all the innuendo that went way over your head, and marvel at the sheer inventiveness of the series’ loony animation – reminiscent of old Warner Bros. cartoons. They just don’t make ’em like they used to. If you somehow missed it, Rocko had a recent revival with the movie Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling released on Netflix in 2019.

SpongeBob SquarePants

Before the memes, before the merchandise, before the nod from President Obama, there was just an anthropomorphic sponge living in a pineapple under the sea. SpongeBob Squarepants did not seem like an obvious hit to Nickelodeon executives – who was going to watch this weird show with surreal humor, oddball songs, and a sponge as its star? But we all know how the story goes. SpongeBob became a pop culture icon, and now it’s hard to imagine a world without him. The early seasons in particular still hold up remarkably well, thanks in large part to its memorable characters, from the naive, sweet-natured title character, to his dimwitted BFF Patrick, to his cantankerous neighbor Squidward, who hilariously is not at all amused by SpongeBob and his antics. The underwater city Bikini Bottom feels fully realized thanks to its cast and many memorable locales – it’s pure fun to lose yourself in its world, again and again.

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