The History of Doug (Nickelodeon/Disney) – Retro TV Review


Hey everyone, PushingUpRoses here, and today
I’m going to be talking about a staple of my childhood, a television show I remember
very fondly and recently decided to revisit: Doug, a cartoon that originally ran on Nickelodeon
from 1991 through 1994, then on ABC from 1996-1999. When I was young, the Nicktoons seemed like
a big deal; I remember the constant marketing and early commercials for the original three,
Ren and Stimpy, Rugrats, and Doug. As a young kid, I didn’t really enjoy Ren
and Stimpy because I was someone who feared nearly everything and was easily grossed out
by the imagery; I watched Rugrats relatively frequently and with enjoyment, but it was
Doug I most looked forward to. I related to the character, and found it effective
at portraying the anxieties and daydreams of, as Billy West described, a painfully average
11 and a half year old. So you can imagine my surprise when I went
on Twitter and found that many people found the show bland and boring. After a brief moment of questioning whether
I myself am bland and boring for enjoying such dullness, I decided that no matter what
you think about this show, it has its share of unforgettable quotes and wacky situations
that I am certain exist in your memories if you’ve seen it. So let’s talk about Doug and how it’s
NOT bland and boring, thank you very much. Doug was created by an animator named Jim
Jinkins, whose name I will forever be familiar with me because I remember seeing it in the
credits of every episode; unlike other shows, I always watched the credits for Doug because
I enjoyed the little animation at the bottom, and the outro songs were always catchy and
fun. Jinkins is from Richmond, Virginia, which
is what Bluffington, the town where Doug lives, is based on. The character started out as a doodle that
Jinkins didn’t have any plans to develop further, but he ended up drawing him throughout
the 80s and the character turned into an alter ego. He named him BRIAN. It was changed to Doug because Brian was thought
to be too common a name, which is great for all the Brians out there and a nightmare to
for all the Dougs. In 1984, Jinkins found himself in a dark place,
suffering from personal struggles after a biking accident; in an attempt to turn over
a new leaf, he decided to work on something positive he could put out into a world. In his words, he wanted to “create a place
where there was no overdue rent and no delinquent phone bills.” With the help of his friend and later partner,
David Campbell, a lot of the characters were fleshed out while getting sloshed on Margaritas,
which is very easy to do, by the way, they just look so magical. Jinkins claimed that the unnatural skin color
choices were the result of all those drunken margarita nights, though later he would go
on to say the colors were a conscious choice that has come to symbolize the irrelevance
of race; I will touch on that more a bit later. Doug’s first animated appearance was in
a Grapefruit Growers commercial. He was also featured in a promotional bumper
for the USA Network, alongside this early version of his dog Porkchop. About a year later, Nickelodeon started making
plans to air original, animated TV shows on their network, they would be known as The
Nicktoons. Jinkins had previous experience with Nickelodeon
in the 70s when it was known as Pinwheel, so he was able to set up a meeting with Nickelodeon
executive Vanessa Coffey, and pitch the idea for Doug, which at that point was a prototype
for a book called Doug Got A New Pair of Shoes; she was so impressed that she left the meeting
to tell her boss that they would be bringing Jinkins on board to develop a pilot. There were 8 cartoons considered for the nicktoons
line, but only three made the cut: Rugrats, Ren and Stimpy, and Doug; they debuted on
Nickelodeon on August 11th, 1991; the first episode of Doug that aired was Doug Bags a
Nematode, though the pilot was included as half of the second episode. It was developed and animated at Jumbo Pictures,
the company founded by Jinkins himself and where the show would be be produced. The episode, titled Doug Can’t Dance, looks
a bit rough compared the rest of the series, but never forget the intensity of the scene
where Doug gets his foot smashed by an apparently realistic hammer costume. The characters are loosely based on people
Jinkins knew growing up, including Doug’s crush throughout the entire series, Patti
Mayonnaise, the eccentric but kind neighbor, Mr. Dink, and Roger Klotz, the bully with
the most maniacal laugh ever. The pilot gives you a small but accurate idea
of what the show is all about, though it’s apparent the character designs were cleaned
up and changed before the first official episode; Roger especially looks very angular, and there
are some characters you will never see in the series after this, like this version of
Roger’s gang. The daydream sequence they feature is very
short, but definitely hints at the things to come. It also perfectly describes the plot of every
episode which can be boiled down to “Average preteen fears other kids will think he is
a loser, but he never is and things work out in the end, sometimes by accident, and sometimes
because he learned something important.” Also, Doug yells in every episode. Let’s talk more about what this show is
really about; I always described it as “Diet Hey Arnold”, and if you aren’t familiar
with that show it’s a cartoon that debuted on Nickelodeon years later that focused on
city kids and more serious themes, sometimes in a comedic way, sometimes not. I view Doug as a lighter version of that;
it centers around an 11 year old boy who just moved to Bluffington with his family, The
Funnies. Despite making a couple friends almost immediately,
including his best friend Skeeter who recurs throughout the series, he is still terribly
anxious about being unpopular. In the first episode, he gets pranked by Roger,
who convinces him a creature called the nematode exists, and if he catches one, he’ll be
the coolest kid in town. This turns out to be a humiliating venture,
but it works out and Doug finds that he has new friends. And the plot never changes for the duration
of the show. Despite having friends, Doug’s fears are
always tied to suddenly becoming a loser, or accidentally embarrassing himself in front
of everyone. The stories change of course; they are mostly
the result of wacky shenanigans, or something wrong outside of Doug’s control that he
suddenly has control of and can fix. The first four seasons that ran on Nickelodeon
takes place over one elementary school year, and Disney’s Doug focuses on Jr. High, and my god. A lot of shit happens in just one school year. This is the first time I had ever heard of
a permanent record, which is a repeated anxiety Doug struggles with; doing so poorly in school
that it reflects on some kind of immutable elementary school document. What the hell is a permanent record, is this
even a thing? I don’t think so. If you watch Doug today, it might feel like
First World Problems, the show, but even if you didn’t like it even if you thought it
was bland, this show has iconic moments that seems to stick around your memory. I am in my early thirties and and can still
remember that frantic moment where Doug tries to eat liver and onions for the first time. Doug was kind of a palette cleanser for some
of the wackier nicktoons; not that there isn’t a place for surreal humor or gross out moments,
but it definitely wasn’t my jam when I was young. The show doesn’t have a robust sense of
humor, in fact I very rarely found myself laughing out loud; it reads more as silly,
or goofy, and it tackled issues in a light hearted manner that never got too dark. It’s very innocent as far as jokes go, and
it never dishes out lowbrow quips; Roger will sometimes comment on other characters, but
overall everyone is quite friendly with each other, and the conflicts that happen between
characters tend to be tame. Judy, Doug’s artsy older sister, is one
of my favorite comedic characters in the show; like many sister characters, she is often
annoyed by her younger brother, but also has a caring side as seen in several episodes
where she helps Doug and his friends. She inspired me to wear a beret and sunglasses
for at least a year of my life, and I love how unaware she is of her pretension. God, it’s like I’m back in art college. I didn’t enjoy Doug for the individual plots
of each episode; you can tell they were very structured and if you watch the episodes today,
you’ll be able to vaguely predict what happens. That might make for tedious viewing for some,
but what made it enjoyable and relatable to me, was the shows emphasis on daydreaming
and fantasy sequences. You see, I didn’t fall into the popular
category in school; I fell into the “Let’s stick pads to this girl’s back and laugh
at her as she walks down the hall” category, so I was also fearful of being the butt of
everyone’s jokes; I appreciated the averageness of Doug’s character, and I think the exaggerated
daydreams he has throughout the series are a good portrayal of the things we feel and
go through in adolescence. They are of course hyperbolic, because everything
is as a tween. Getting a single pimple is cause for fear
and judgement. It kind of feels like the whimsy and imagination
of Calvin and Hobbes mixed with the always worried nature of Charlie Brown. To deal with his worries, Doug is always imagining
himself as different personas he’s created, normally in the form of a doodle in his journal. Most notably are Quail Man, Smash Adams, and
Jack Bandit, but a more low key favorite of mine is his Columbo like detective character. I do think it’s interesting that his alter-egos
are based on things that kids watching this series probably wouldn’t be too familiar
with, like Columbo or James Bond, but I have a feeling that the writers wanted to include
things that adults could appreciate while watching the show with their kids, and unlike
a lot of cartoons that slid in a raunchy joke here and there, Doug really didn’t do that
to appeal to parents, it mostly used references to figures in pop culture. It was wholesome as fuck. I also find that I do I like how the characters
interact and the friendship between the main group that the show focuses on, with the exception
of Doug sometimes getting a little too weird around Patti. Seriously? Doug. Come on. In fact, some would say it’s a little too
idyllic; I can’t imagine a single time where someone invited their BULLY to a hang out;
so some aspects of the show really can come across as fluffy and kind of shallow, but
I still think that that innocence is what makes it stand out among other more slapstick
oriented cartoons. This is a world where everything works out
no matter what, and where you can share a honker-dog and fries with an abusive prick. I did notice that cartoons that focus on a
group of school kids often included a bully archetype; Hey Arnold does this somewhat with
the character Harold; it seems like kid shows really have a penchant for characters that
start out as a bully, but then slowly come around and end up becoming friends with everyone. Roger never really got to the point of redemption,
but he does often hang out with the others throughout the show. Even though I typically like the situations
the show presents, it can sometimes go into strange or needlessly weird territory, so
let’s talk about some of the more fucked up episodes! One that sticks out in my mind centers on
Doug’s Bluff Scout Troop developing a fundraiser for a new canoe. To make money, they have to go door-to-door
selling chocolate bars, which are called Booster Bars in the Doug universe. Everyone hates them because the taste like
cement. Turns out they taste cement because there
is ACTUAL CEMENT IN THEM. Am I to believe that these characters have
been eating cement and also claim to know what it tastes like? Look, for the most part, I can suspend my
disbelief for this show, but how did no one notice these buckets pouring a constant flow
cement into the chocolate? I know I said that these show doesn’t really
dive into more serious subject matter, and for the most part, it doesn’t. It mostly focuses on Doug’s self esteem
and the various issues a preteen faces as they grow up, but there is one episode that
actually makes an attempt at something more pressing. In the Christmas episode, Doug and his friends
are shown playing some messed up version of hockey using rakes and pinecones or some shit;
the pinecone gets thrown off to the side, and Bebe, one of the main side characters,
walks over to retrieve it, only to get dangerously close to some thin ice. Porkchop, Doug’s dog and constant companion,
tries to save bebe by clamping onto her leg and dragging her back to the group. Porkchop is accused of attacking her, and
the poor pup is sent to the pound, then put on trial. And though it’s not said directly, the implication
is that if Porkchop is found guilty or unfit for society, he would indeed, be put down. MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE. That’s about as dark as it got, which in
my opinion, is pretty dang dark. Especially for a holiday episode; I’m typically
all about cartoons tackling heavier topics, but I just don’t think Doug as a show, was
designed for it; from the beginning of the series, when it was being developed, it was
meant to be pretty positive, so this was way too jarring, and it’s the least memorable
and enjoyable episode for me. Adding to the tone of the show is the very
peculiar music; it has an unforgettable quality, and if I even if you don’t remember the
specifics of the show, you DO remember the theme song. Many of the songs included were made with
mouth sounds by actor Fred Newman, who voiced Skeeter, Porkchop and Mr. Dink; it’s so
natural to me that I sometimes forget that these noises weren’t made with an instrument. I find that a lot of people immediately think
of Billy West when they think about Doug, seeing as though he did voice the main character
and has an extensive resume of voice work, but I think Fred Newman, who has also had
a successful career as an actor and sound effects artist, contributed a lot more and
really gave the show its personality. The music is one of the best elements of the
show, and the songs really drive these episodes; there’s a song for friendship moments, romantic
moments, and several characters have their own themes. Judy’s is my favorite, it’s the perfect
blend of poetic and melodramatic. Roger’s song is of course, a little harder,
sometimes with low, droney sounds and a angsty electric guitar, And Mr. Dink, is represented
by an array of zany, goofy sounds and melodies that perfectly capture the character’s personality. Doug and Skeeter have a fondness for a Beatles
inspired band called the Beets, and you can also hear their songs play throughout the
series. Most well known is probably killer tofu. But I have a place in my heart for Shout Your
Lungs out. And of course, I have to showcase Bangin’
on a Trashcan, a song that Doug wrote; in this sequence, Doug daydreams that the song
becomes a big hit and has an over-the-top music video; much like how Doug’s alter
egos take inspiration from figures in Pop Culture, this imagined scene pays homage to
Musicians like Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Talking Heads. I love the role that music plays in this cartoon;
it’s more significant than what you see in other cartoons because it’s woven into
story lines and feels very connected to the characters, and it’s clear that music is
something that holds a lot of weight for Doug himself. He’s shown several times with his banjo,
belting out syrupy love tunes. Case in point, Doug’s tribute to his love
interest. And then he compared me to the relish on a
hot dog and I knew it was meant to be. Despite my positive experience with the show,
it does have its shortcomings, and it wouldn’t be much of a retrospective without touching
on those. People have speculated and analyzed the show’s
character representation, specifically the use of bright, unnatural colors for skin tone,
Doug being the exception. In an interview, Jinkins claimed it stemmed
for a drunken night and a set of colorful markers, but years later, both him and Campbell
stated that it was meant to represent the irrelevance of race; Jinkins explained the
decision, saying giving the characters unnatural skin colors was done to avoid stereotyping;
his example is that Roger, the bad guy, is green, but so is Ms. Wingo, the kind hearted
school teacher; he didn’t want the color to represent the behavior of the character
or have them come across as a stereotype, which is not the worst idea, but it also comes
across as passive; Doug, being one of the only white kids in the series while everyone
else is multi-colored, adds to the amount of shows that spotlight this exact type of
character. There is a definite oversaturation of Dougs. In a later interview, David Campbell admitted
that they didn’t really know how to write for different groups, and felt that the multi-colored
characters could help avoid any barriers they didn’t understand, which didn’t land well
for some and people speculated why the team didn’t have a more diverse set of people
working on th character design. Though it might not be completely fair to
pinpoint Doug; Nickelodeon in the early 90s was not exactly a pioneer of diversity. I also want to briefly talk about the Disney
acquisition as a negative; I have seen several episodes, enough to form an opinion, and I’ve
gotta say; I was underwhelmed. The reason Doug was sold to Disney was because
Nickelodeon could no longer handle the show’s expensive budget, and also couldn’t afford
to keep Billy West on as the main character, and the show’s antagonist, Roger Klotz;
Disney bought ABC and Doug around the same time, and even though a lot of the previous
employees did work on these episodes, they really fell flat. It’s familiar because it uses the some of
same music, the same sound effects, and the storylines are really the same, just for the
point of view from a Jr. High student, but I feel like some of the
quirkiness and creativity from the original series is missing. Something I noticed almost immediately was
that Connie, a character who was a little larger in the Nickelodeon series, had a new
trim appearance; this…annoys me. A positive thing I noted in Doug was the fact
that the characters had different body types; I especially liked the portrayal of Connie. As a chubby young girl myself, I wasn’t really
used to seeing bigger characters being depicted as LIKING school, and HAVING friends. I was used to seeing chubby women in television
sobbing into some ice cream and lamenting about not finding a guy, or Monica from friends. No thanks. So when I saw that they had her lose weight
for the Disney version, I found it super off-putting. If that sounds like a small thing that holds
no importance to anyone, I assure you that it is not minor, especially in children’s
television. The explanation the show gave is that she
went to a make-over school; yeah, all right. It’s true that sometimes preteens go through
weight changes during puberty, but that’s not what happened here and I don’t trust
the intentions of Disney executives. I mean, do YOU? This is pretty much just a segue for me to
further talk about how Disney’s Doug just didn’t do it for me, though. In 1999, the show was adapted into a feature
film called “Doug’s 1st Movie”, it is not good. Let me give you the rundown for this: Doug
finds a monster in Lucky Duck lake, as in a real monster. Not this kind of real monster, more like this. Mr. Bluff, who is Bebe’s father and this
kind of…shrewd businessman who has a lot of power in Bluffington finds out about the
monster and wants to kidnap it, and it becomes this demented version of ET where they have
to save the monster, meanwhile, Doug is torn because all of this commotion is really screwing
up his love life. This movie lost me at “there’s a monster
in the lake”; this show, even with all of its embellished situations and characters,
was mostly grounded in reality. The primary reason I liked Doug in the first
place is because I found it relatable as a tweenager, so this just kind of jumps the
shark for me. Maybe the writers did feel the need to end
this series in an elaborate way so they concocted this bonkers plot and gave the characters
urgency to find a solution to the conflict. I don’t know. It’s weird. And speaking of weird, Doug also got a live
stage show that ran at MGM studios from March of 1999 to May of 2001. I can’t comment on the quality of this show
as I have never seen it, but judging by some of the footage online, I’m gonna go ahead
and deem this weird as well. How is this even real. Disney. Come on. There was even a video game released for the
Game Boy Color in late December of 2000. I didn’t own the handheld growing up, but
it looks cute; seems to be an action adventure game, so that’s nice. The merchandising continues in present day:
FunKo released Doug Pop figures in February of this year, and…hmm. Hm. Can’t tell if these stubby things are hairs
or mouse turds precariously glued to Doug’s head. I find that binge watching Doug as an adult
is more annoying than seeing it weekly as a kid because I feel like I am being bombarded
with melodrama, but still: I really do feel like it had those components that made it
stand out; the lack of slapstick, the emphasis on music and how it relates to the narrative,
the brilliant voice acting, and the over-the-top fantasy sequences; I think there is a creativity
about this cartoon that couldn’t be matched by other cartoons I was watching in the early
90s. And if nothing else, it gave us the family
vacation episode; Now I annoyingly quote Doug’s Dad whenever I’m on a roadtrip and someone
asks me if we can stop somewhere along the way. Thanks, Doug. Thanks. Hey everyone, thank you so much for watching
my video about Doug; let me know which shows you used to look forward to in the comments;
I love waxing nostalgic. If you want to read more random prattle, be
sure to look me up on social media, and if you wanna support the show, do consider becoming
a patron. As always, I’ll see you guys in the next
one.

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