Alex has been an online sports and pop culture writer for five years. When he's not writing about sports, Alex is an aspiring screenwriter.
Doug Originally on Nickelodeon
Anyone who grew up on Nickelodeon in the 90’s probably has fond memories of Doug. It was a show about a painfully average pre-teen who dealt with problems such as putting on weight, having his first pimple, and asking out his crush. But it was emphasized with a sort of flexible reality. The fact that the characters were green, blue, and purple no doubt left a lasting impression on people.
After four seasons on Nickelodeon, the show was purchased by Disney. And people seem to have less fond memories of this one. It’s hard to articulate what problems people have with the Disney iteration of the show, but it’s generally agreed that their version was a step down in quality. But was it bad? Was there anything good about the Disney version?
A Window Into Adolescent Anxiety
Doug itself has gotten some mixed reactions in recent years. In broad sweeps, people speak fondly of it. But I do occasionally hear criticisms like “Doug was just White People Problems: The Show.” I see where people are coming from, but I’d like to offer a counterpoint: Doug captured the neurotic side of being a kid—what it was like to have such an active imagination that one could imagine the absolute best and absolute worst outcome of every situation.
Plus, Doug is such a good comfort show. Like wouldn’t it be nice if all these disparate cliques got along? Wouldn’t it be nice if the bad actors in our life were only as bad as Roger Klotz? Yeah, Hey Arnold mostly did Doug better than Doug, but Doug is still a solid show. On that note, one could say Disney actually made a good Doug show. They just called it Pepper Ann. But Disney's Doug is the subject for today.
Disney Introduces Changes
When the show made the leap from Nickelodeon to Disney, there were big changes. In fact, the first episode was all about that: Many characters had design changes, Roger was rich, Mr. Swirly replaced the Honker Burger (which became a fancy French restaurant?) as the hangout spot, among others.
For budget reasons, voice-over legend Billy West did not return to voice Doug and Roger. The replacements were okay but sounded more like someone doing impressions compared to West’s performance—the first ding.
There were definitely other problems. Doug’s humor could be described as quirky. Disney's Doug feels like it was trying way too hard to double down on this. In Disney’s defense, more jokes work than I remembered. In "Doug’s Secret Christmas" (a solid episode by the way), there’s a song about Santa that is too weird and good to give away. There were also really funny spoofs of Devo in an episode about a battle of the bands. So, humor could be hit and miss, but there were hits.
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Bizarre Morality Streak
One of the biggest problems was the morals. On Nickelodeon, Doug was a moral show, and the morals were sensible: Face your fears, don’t lie, don’t fall for Ponzi schemes. And more importantly, they were never sanctimonious or in your face. But the morals on Disney's Doug ranged from badly delivered to bizarre.
One episode sees Judy apply to a performing arts college, but is turned down—shattering because she never applied anywhere else. But she eventually earns a second chance and proves the haters wrong. The idea of not letting one review dictate your life and career is admirable. But the episode justifies Judy’s INSANE decision to put all her eggs in one basket.
Another episode shows the kids switching houses and finding out how hard everyone’s life is. I have no idea why pampered Bebe would think anyone has it easy. But the moral should have been Doug learning that Patty has it hard because of her handicapped father. However, that message is muddled by everyone seeing “how hard” everyone has it—and honestly, everyone’s “hard lives,” aside from Patty and Skeeter, feel beyond forced.
Morality Undermines Episodes
The most baffling example of Disney's bizarre morality may be an episode where Doug gives away a bowl worth a fortune because… he doesn’t want to be a collector? Yeah, I don’t get it. Why not give the money to charity or something? Some of these baffling morals undermine even the good episodes.
Disney's Doug Not Without Charms
Even with those problems, Disney Doug had its strengths. Episodes were expanded from two 10-minute segments to single 20-minute episodes. This did not always work, but it did give the show a chance to expand many of the side characters (Again, Hey Arnold did it better, but bear with me).
Easily, the MVP of the Disney iteration was Patti Mayonaise. From Doug’s likable crush with the memorable twang, Patti became a character who dealt with her mother passing away and the hardships of a father bound to a wheelchair. “Patti’s Dad Dilemma” and “Doug’s Marriage Madness” are two episodes with some actual pathos.
Better Than Its Reputation
Overall, Disney’s Doug isn’t AS bad as its reputation suggests. Yes, it has problems, but there are some highlights, funny episodes, and charming moments. Anyone who dismissed it entirely has missed a few good episodes. Even if this show isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, it doesn’t quite deserve the reputation of best-forgotten artifact.
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© 2022 Alex deCourville