Founded in 1977, Nickelodeon has been the go-to television network for children ever since. While older programs like Doug and Invader Zim brought popularity to the network, newer hits like SpongeBob SquarePants and The Fairly OddParents have helped to keep it relevant today.
Nickelodeon has had moderate success outside its target market, with teenagers and adults often tuning in to watch their content. While this could be have solely been for nostalgic reasons, there are others who tune in just to see what new animated and live-action shows the channel has to offer. Nickelodeon’s diverse viewership indicates that it has no intention of fading away.
Despite continuing to produce quality programming, some Nickelodeon viewers look to the network for re-runs of some of its older, at times, more controversial programming. In the past, adult themes like violence, alcohol, and everything in between have found their way on to a network primarily made for younger viewers. While many of these programs were censored during their initial airing, DVD and Blu-Ray releases of shows like The Ren & Stimpy Show and Rocko’s Modern Life have ensured that these risqué moments are never forgotten.
Here are the 15 Controversial Characters From Nickelodeon Shows That Would Never Be Allowed Today.
One of the more common recurring characters on the 1991 cartoon The Ren & Stimpy Show, was Mr. Horse. The anthropomorphic horse was often brought in as the straight-edged character opposing the titular chihuahua and cat.
Mr. Horse occupied many roles throughout the show, including Ren and Stimpy’s neighbour, a spokesperson for the United Nations, and a judge for dog shows. As is quite common throughout The Ren & Stimpy Show, Mr. Horse’s appearances are often on the questionable side of things.
These instances can be relatively tame, as in the episode "Stimpy's Big Day/The Big Shot," where the character was out to prove that a brand of cat litter could withstand “horse use.” However, the character’s cynical outlook and unpleasant demeanor made him a less-than-appropriate role model.
Rocko’s Modern Life followed the adventures of the titular cartoon wallaby as he tried to navigate various mundane aspects of everyday life. As was the case with other Nickelodeon programs like SpongeBob SquarePants, Rocko’s Modern Life was a hit amongst teenage and adult viewers for its controversial humour.
One of these controversial moments involved the character Doctor Bendova, a psychotic rat who posed as Rocko’s doctor after escaping a mental health ward. In the episode “Flu-In-U-Enza," Rocko falls victim to the rat’s charade, and gives Rocko a prostate exam before being he was found out to be a fraud.
Society’s current understanding of the stigmas surrounding mental health leaves a character like Doctor Bendova feeling especially inappropriate for younger viewers.
The product of parental neglect and a serious lack of discipline, Angelica Pickles was a brat. One of the oldest children on Rugrats, Angelica got her way by manipulating younger characters like Tommy and Chuckie.
Some of her objectionable actions include stealing one of the baby’s teeth for money from the Tooth Fairy and trying to convince them that one of their friends is an alien.
One of the worst schemes Angelica orchestrated on Rugrats was when she tried to turn the twins, Phil and Lil, against one another. After feeling left out of Phil and Lil’s activities, she claimed to know which of the twins was the adults' favorite.
While Angelica has a few moments of compassion throughout the show, she was a literal baby bully that would never appear on a children's show now.
While many think of Nickelodeon as being devoted solely to cartoons, the network has aired several live-action shows. One of which was the 1992 show The Adventures of Pete & Pete, which centered around two brothers with the same name, and their unique take on relatively plain day-to-day events. The show dealt with family road trips, being trapped in their school overnight, and everything in between.
One of Little Pete’s most troublesome qualities was his habit of making extremely rash decisions. An avid hater of nearly all things related to authority, the character often engaged in risky behaviour to defy his family's expectations of him. These shenanigans included selling his family’s home after a simple misunderstanding and faking severe illnesses for attention.
The fact that Little Pete would successfully be rewarded for his mischief is why parents wouldn’t want their children looking up to the character.
Aaahh!!! Real Monsters was another Nickelodeon show that seemed geared toward an older audience. The 1994 cartoon centered around a group of monster students, whose homework assignments were largely based on frightening unsuspecting humans.
Their school was located underneath a garbage dump where the monsters used toe nails as currency. The three main characters, Ickis, Oblina, and Krumm, often found themselves in relatively graphic and, for many younger viewers, terrifying situations.
Oblina was considered by her headmaster, The Gromble, to be one of the school's best students, and for good reason. Her methods for scaring humans included inducing nightmares by touching people and pulling her organs out of her body to put them on display. Oblina was definitely not the role model that parents were hoping for.
CatDog was exactly what it sounded like: a half-dog, half-cat hybrid. The 1998 cartoon surrounding this bizarre creature struck a chord with audiences for the “opposites attract” chemistry between the two conjoined animals. The fun-loving dog and the practical-minded cat found themselves in many weird situations regarding dating, harassing the mail courier, and learning how two minds can share one body.
Throughout their adventures, CatDog encounters a group called the Greaser Dogs. Essentially a gang of bullies, the Greaser Dogs are led by Cliff Feltbottom, who has a picture of a dead cat stitched to his leather jacket.
After a misunderstanding with the rest of the Greaser Dogs, Cliff started to understand that his actions had deep consequences on others, before reverting back to his old ways. His stubborn nature and general bad attitude, along with his portrayal of gang culture, probably aren’t going to find their way to Nickelodeon screens again any time soon.
George Liquor provided most of the political commentary that existed on The Ren and Stimpy Show. A staunch conservative, George had a strong hate for anything that even came close to resembling the political left. This old-school way of thinking has been the cause of much real-life animosity in recent years.
One of George's main goals during his brief period on the show was to teach his nephew, Jimmy the Idiot Boy, to be a "real man." Given the character's close-minded political ideas, it's doubtful that Jimmy had progressed very far. Considering Nickelodeon's dislike for George Liquor at the time of his introduction, you can bet we won't be seeing anyone like the character in the near future.
Caitlin's Way is another show that, at least by today's standards, seems out of place on Nickelodeon. A live-action teen drama that ran from 2000 to 2002, Caitlin's Way followed the titular character as she moved from the bustling streets of Philadelphia to a remote ranch in Montana.
The bulk of the show revolved around Caitlin realizing the extensive damage that her mother's death caused, seeing as Caitlin was only eight at the time, and learning how to accept it.
The whole premise is quite heavy by modern Nickelodeon standards, reflecting a time when the network tried to also market to a slightly more mature audience. While Caitlin's transformation was a positive one, you simply aren't going to see another character like her on the network.
Bev Bighead and her husband Ed were the toads who lived next door to Rocko throughout the series. They were often responsible for dragging the titular character into their dysfunctional marriage. While Bev is typically portrayed in a caring light, her behavior went off the rails multiple times.
One of the most notable instances of Bev's inappropriate behavior was during the controversial episode "Leap Frogs." Feeling unloved by Ed, Bev decided to bring Rocko over to fix a few things around the house and then attempted to seduce the unsuspecting wallaby.
Given that the episode was pulled by Nickelodeon from their rotation after only two airings, we're unlikely to see another character like Bev Bighead in future shows.
First airing in 1997, The Angry Beavers seems in line with much of the network’s other '90s programming. The Angry Beavers followed brothers Dag and Norb as they moved out of their family home to live together as cool, young bachelors. The two beavers faced a number of challenges that came with living on their own for the first time, and they struggled with their newfound freedom.
For the most part, Dag lets this get to his head to a much greater extent than Norb. Dag was known for making extremely rash decisions based on his mood throughout much of The Angry Beavers.
Dag's manic behavior, love for name-calling, and problem with seemingly everything he encountered made him an all-around pessimistic character, more suited for teens and adults than for Nickelodeon’s core market.
Mr. Meaty was another of Nickelodeon’s live-action TV shows, if you can call it that, and first aired in 2005. Featuring an all-puppet cast, the sitcom felt a little more at home on the network than a show like Caitlin’s Way. The main characters of Josh and Parker were just trying to get a handle on their hectic, teenage lives.
The show was mostly set inside the restaurant called Mr. Meaty, a fast food joint where Josh and Parker work. The place was run by the manager Mr. Wink and an eccentric chain owner in Edward R. Carney.
Carney was loosely based on Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Colonel Sanders. Carney was cryogenically frozen inside one of the Mr. Meaty locations, before being thawed out by Josh and Parker. Carney’s abusive behavior towards *Mr. Wink, typically in the form of electrocution, doesn’t have a home on the modern day Nickelodeon.
Grandpa Boris was the grandfather of the Rugrats main character Tommy Pickles. Boris was periodically seen babysitting the toddlers throughout the series and was well-liked by Tommy and the gang. So why is Boris on this list?
The problem with Boris is in the character’s design. Despite producing two Jewish-themed holiday specials, “A Rugrats Passover” and “A Rugrats Chanukah,” many critics couldn’t help but notice that Boris bore a striking resemblance to German propaganda images.
A Russian immigrant of Yiddish descent, Boris’ character was criticized by many for its similarity to the depiction of Jewish persons in anti-Semitic newspapers in Nazi-era Germany. While this is seen by the Rugrats production team as a very unfortunate coincidence, you won’t be seeing another character like Boris on Nickelodeon any time soon.
Cynical, disrespectful, and an all-around bully, Helga Pataki was one of the main sources of grief for Arnold Shortman on Hey Arnold! The product of a neglectful father and an alcoholic mother, Helga showed signs of emotional ineptitude throughout the series. We're still talking about a kid's show, right?
Despite her constant bullying of Arnold, it was revealed on several occasions that she was infatuated with the football-headed protagonist. While children can show affection in strange ways, Helga took this to the next level, having constructed a full-blown shrine to Arnold in her closet. Helga's obsessive and, at times, abusive behaviour often resulted in the 4th grader getting what she wanted.
Even though she has moments of compassion throughout the show, Helga certainly doesn't set a very good example for growing minds.
It wasn't just the supporting characters from Rocko’s Modern Life that were responsible for the show’s controversy. The titular wallaby’s habit of finding himself in awkward, adult-themed situations made the show subject to censorship on many occasions throughout its run time.
One episode in particular, “Canned”, was censored for its adult themes. The episode featured Rocko working a brief stint as an adult phoneline operator. He was then instructed by his new bosses to “be hot, be naughty, and be courteous.”
Rocko’s later trips to no-tell motels and the not-so-subtly named restaurant The Chokey Chicken were examples of inappropriate humor throughout Rocko’s Modern Life. All in all, the show feels more suited to an adult-oriented network like Adult Swim.
Arguably the most controversial program to have aired on Nickelodeon, The Ren & Stimpy Show followed the adventures of the ridiculous chihuahua and cat. Ren’s emotional instability and Stimpy’s general dimwittedness saw the two characters constantly at odds with each other. The friends tried to work through such trauma as being captured by the pound, being used in an amateur brain experiment, and everything else imaginable.
The Ren & Stimpy Show’s adult humor sparked controversy amongst parents, who would walk into their living room to see highly sexualized jokes and graphic animated violence. The show ended in 1995 after 5 seasons, but retained a cult following in the years since its cancellation.
There was a short-lived spin-off, Ren & Stimpy “Adult Party Cartoon,” that aired in 2003 and attempted to draw in fans of the original series. Although the spin-off was free from the limitations of airing on a network like Nickelodeon, fans can’t seem to get enough of the original series.
Did we miss any of your favorite controversial Nickelodeon characters? Let us know in the comments!