If you were gay and a kid in the ’90s, you were lucky to have Nickelodeon on the tube. Not only did the classic kids network dish out quirky shows that hold up well (particularly The Adventures of Pete & Pete), but it gave you bizarre, unconventional, one-of-a-kind characters who could be your friends, no matter how ridiculous or cartoonish they were. Sometimes, Nick’s characters were seemingly tailor-made for gay audience acceptance, and that’s why we’re assembled here today in this blessed Pride month: to remember 25 of Nickelodeon’s ’90s heroes (in the pre-Spongebob era) who guided us through childhood like Kirk Fogg ushering Purple Parrots past Temple Guards.
25. Petunia, The Adventures of Pete & Pete
Sure, she was just a tattoo, but she wiggled! Scandalously! Gorgeously! Distantly. Little Pete’s mermaid tattoo was the slacker ’90s kid take on Veronica Lake.
24. Helga Pataki, Hey Arnold!
Helga’s threatening stature and grating whine were just part of her appeal. Arnold’s Viking gal pal was refreshingly cynical and witty in a cartoon world dominated by a strange multicultural blandness.
23. Sardo, Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Accent on the d’oh! Sardo (no Mr.) was a puzzling minx with ’90s magician hair who didn’t terrify you so much as wow you with dinner theater grandeur. Which is also terrifying.
22. Brad Taylor, Hey Dude
If there’s one thing I love, it’s a humorless beaut. Brad was an unsmiling, no-nonsense, blue-balling ranch hand who essentially ruined Ted’s (David Lascher <3 ) life every week. Her stare? Was killer cacti.
21. Scorchia, Nick Arcade
Even host Phil Moore had to tremble at the site of this virtual villain. Scorchia was a literally flaming femme fatale who waited to destroy contestants in the bonus round of this Super Nintendo-centric game show. Adore.
20. The Gromble, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters
The Gromble barely edged out his costar Oblina (voiced by the fab Christine Cavanaugh) to make this list. His nefarious, Jafar-esque voice was gay and delicious enough, but what really sets him apart from the pack is the fact that he wore four red pumps. He had a sort of Tiny Tim-meets-Dr. Frankenfurter look and vibe that I respect.
19. Susie Carmichael, Rugrats
Susie Carmichael shook up Angelica Pickles’ world when she descended upon town. First of all, her mother was named Lucy Carmichael, which is a clear shout-out to The Lucy Show, and that’s awesome. Secondly, she was cute as a button, voiced by A Different World’s Cree Summer, and unfazed by b.s. We needed more of her.
18. Sponge, Salute Your Shorts
The brainy loner type on Salute Your Shorts, Sponge was the preteen Nick equivalent of Billy from Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. He was smart, sensitive, and arguably the conscience of the show. Fun fact: Timother Eyster, the actor who played Sponge is bisexual (and now goes by Trevor Eyster). And David Yost, who played Billy, is gay.
17. Monica, The Adventures of Pete & Pete
The brilliantly bizarre Adventures of Pete & Pete gave us tons of weird characters, but the most inspiring of its distaff cast was Monica, the wide-eyed Kreb Scout who occasionally pulled on her braids to stay awake. She was the very picture of strangeness and tomboydom, and therefore a necessary (if underutilized) part of the Pete universe.
16. Dina, Salute Your Shorts
Dina was the preteen Nick equivalent of Hilary from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: spoiled, salty, and dismissive. During the famous radio contest episode, she provides a key trivia fact — George Michael’s real name! — so the boys can collect their prize. Fabulous, pop culture-savvy, and fashionable? A true camp icon.
15. Powdered Toast Man, Ren & Stimpy
He was a brawny superhero. His muscles bulged. And he looked exactly like Reichen Lehmkuhl. Thank you, Ren & Stimpy.
14. Charlotte Pickles, Rugrats
Alanis Morissette has a song called “One” where she describes “a sexy treadmill capitalist,” and that’s exactly the archetype Charlotte Pickles embodied. As Angelica’s alpha CEO mother, Drew’s domineering wife, and Jonathan’s fearsome queen, Charlotte was the kid version of Faye Dunaway in Network. Yes. I want that report NOW, Jonathan! (And praise be to Tress MacNeille, the legendary voice actress who gave Charlotte her boardroom bravado.)
13. Allen Strange, The Journey of Allen Strange
A slightly effete alien who has to use trickery and guile to feel like a part of the human race? I certainly can’t think of any gay parallels here. Props must be paid to the current star of TNT’s Perception, Arjay Smith, who effectively played Allen as both naive and wise.
12. Artie, The Adventures of Pete & Pete
In some ways Artie was a typical superhero: he wore a costume, made proclamations, and often saved the day. But the mysterious and crazy humanity behind Artie’s ubermensch act was both funny and a bit heartbreaking. Get down from that goal post, weirdo!
11. Judy Funnie, Doug
Never forget when Judy Funnie, the only kickass member of the Funnie family, forced her parents to pull over during a vacation so she could run around in Blithe Field, where one of her favorite poets once mused. Oh, her beatnik melodrama. Her bourgeois usage of the word “bourgeois.” Her sunglasses. Her total self-absorption. Priceless.
10. Amanda Bynes, All That and The Amanda Show
It’s easy to glorify Amanda Bynes’ child star days now that she’s a bewigged Twitter menace, but her characters on All That were bawdy and violent in a Ruth Buzzi way: She was maniacal as the advice-screaming tyke in “Ask Ashley” and zany as hell as the self-flagellating liver lover Meagan Marples. For kids who weren’t quite ready to tap into Molly Shannon’s brand of slapstick mouth-breather character, Amanda Bynes was a proper initiation.
9. Moira Quirk, Global GUTS
A woman with a whistle, an accent, and a charming ability to read scores, Moira Quirk was the reason to watch Nick’s GUTS. The words “Aggro Crag” only sound right coming from her mouth.
8. Shelby Woo, The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo
This meddling intern with the Cocoa Beach detective agency couldn’t resist a good caper — and as a result, she was our more sophisticated Harriet the Spy whose every case was a fun whodunit. It was hard to come by young characters on TV (especially girls) who were smart and self-involved, but Shelby was a straight-talking Veronica Mars for the SNICK set.
7. Danielle Atron, The Secret World of Alex Mack
Evil, evil, evil. Danielle Atron wanted to track down boring-ass Alex Mack like a dirty cop and keep the secrets of the mysterious chemical GC-161 to herself. It seems obvious, but it has to be said: She was the Nickelodeon take on Sigourney Weaver in Working Girl, down to her decidedly sinister blazers. Gay children love diabolical ladies! Particularly ones who dwell in dimly lit offices.
6. Eliza Thornberry, The Wild Thornberrys
The Wild Thornberrys, a cartoon about an animal-whispering girl in Africa named Eliza whose parents shot nature documentaries, came about in the age of Tomb Raider. That shapes my perception of Eliza, since she engaged with mountain lions and wild apes with the confidence (but not the artillery) of Lara Croft. You have to love that she was voiced by Lacey Chabert, who played only the finest Mean Girls character, Gretchen Wieners.
Lori Beth Denberg was a gifted joke-teller (Vital Informaton, anybody?), wild sketch actress, and even a kickass game show panelist if you remember her Arlene Francis-like work on Figure It Out. Her priority was always getting the laugh, but she exhibited a real intelligence that (I’m hoping) was the envy of all her fellow cast members.
4. Merv, Welcome Freshmen
Merv. Merv is his name. Because “Griffin” would’ve been too subtle. This gregarious, funny chap on Nickelodeon’s most under-discussed foray into high school hijinks (the show shifted from sketch comedy to regular storylines midway through its run), Merv was a dramatic, readably queer kid who made gay kids feel like people, and he loved filmmaking (remember Merv-U-mentaries?). Let us venerate this icon by drawing hearts on his locker!
3. Bebe Bluff, Doug
Yes, oh yes. Bebe was the pride of Doug Funnie’s otherwise humdrum world, a purple rose of rage and riches. Hell, the town was named for her family. Hell, she is the Lisa Turtle of this show. Fashionable, swanky, deadpan, and willing to roll her eyes at anything. On the ABC version of Doug, her high school was shaped like her face. That is Cleopatra-level exaltation.
2. Clarissa Darling, Clarissa Explains It All
Clarissa is a gay icon for one unavoidable reason: She invented her own world and lived in it. What gay kid can’t relate to that? She loved computers, talking out her day’s issues, and collecting kooky stuff like pet alligators and hubcaps. For a kid, she was mightily self-possessed. And you had to love, love, love her theme song. That’s right. Now you’re humming it. Right now. Nuh-nuh-NA-NA-na-NA!
1. Angelica Pickles, Rugrats
Ferocious, funny, unrestrained, dominant, and three years old. Angelica was the doyenne of the playpen, a total brat who literally received coal in her Christmas stocking one year. She was both a nemesis and an old softie, and that’s what I like in my gay icons. As the Lucy Van Pelt of Nickelodeon, she remains the network’s defining (and most hilarious) superstar character.