When most of us think of kids' TV shows, we probably think of series filled with mostly innocent adventures and lessons about life, with maybe a handful of adult jokes thrown in for the parents watching. Still, there are some TV shows that have aired on networks devoted to kids' programming that got surprisingly dark and probably fueled the nightmares of youngsters everywhere. In fact, some of us might have to wonder what kind of people we would have become if we'd watched lighter shows as kids. Plenty of the darkest series on Nickelodeon, and we've picked out eight that were way darker than they should have been. Check them out!
There is something fundamentally creepy about a show following the adventures of a bunch of babies who can talk and reason and concoct plots, and Rugrats didn't hold back from getting pretty dark. Sure, we got classic shenanigans like the Reptar On Ice tale, but we also got terrifying dream sequences and fantasies. Judging by some of the teases, I don't even want to think about what Grandpa Lou got up to in his alone time. Then, there's what happened to Chuckie's mom. Oh, poor, poor Chuckie. Why was the world so cruel to you so early in life?
Ren & Stimpy
The animated series Ren & Stimpy was all about the shenanigans of the imbalanced chihuahua Ren and his not-especially-bright cat pal Stimpy. Episodes were filled with adult humor, sexual innuendo, and bodily fluids, but those weren't necessarily what made it such a dark program. What ranks Ren & Stimpy among the darkest kids' series is all the graphic and even bloody violence, which could range from Ren smashing himself in the head with a hammer to beating somebody with a paddle to plucking the nerve endings out of his mouth with tweezers.
Compared to some of the other kids' shows that made this list, Hey Arnold didn't feature a whole lot in the way of sexual innuendo or graphic violence. In fact, most of the trauma on Hey Arnold was emotional, which can arguably be much worse. The story of why Helga is such a bully is pretty heartbreaking, and then there was poor Stoop Kid, who was an orphan with no home beyond his stoop, but do we remember him for his tragic story? No, we remember the chant of "Stoop Kid's afraid to leave his stoop!" See what you did to us, Hey Arnold?
Based on a book series of the same name, Animorphs followed a group of five teenagers after they gained the ability to morph into whatever animal they touched. A dying alien gave them the morphing powers to battle the evil parasite race known as the Yeerks, which was infiltrating Earth, infesting humans, and taking over their bodies to turn them into Controllers. One of the heroes found out that his brother was a Controller, and another became trapped in the body of a hawk almost immediately. Sure, the show wasn't nearly as dark as the book series, but the Yeerk invaders were pretty sinister.
Rocko's Modern Life
Like Ren & Stimpy, Rocko's Modern Life managed to sneak in an awful lot of innuendo, although with fewer graphic beatings and psychosis from the main characters. Still, it put its characters in some pretty rough situations, some of which involved drugs, death, and seriously inappropriate overtures from Mrs. Bighead to Rocko. The episode that takes the cake, however, has to be the one that kills off Heffer and sends down him to Hell... well, Heck. Nickelodeon can temporarily kill off characters to send them down to eternal damnation, but only as long as it's Heck. We can have hellfire, just not Hell.
Mr. Meaty is one of the more obscure series to air on Nickelodeon, and it only ran for 20 episodes, but it packed a lot of grim punch into those 20 episodes. The series stars Josh and Parker, who work at the fast food joint called Mr. Meaty, and they get into all kind of trouble. Who can forget the time Parker got a job elsewhere and ended up as the intended main course for a bunch of cannibals? Or when Parker got a huge and epically gross tapeworm? Or when he channeled his inner Freddy Krueger when he didn't get invited to a party? I know I haven't.
In hindsight, it's kind of hard to believe that Invader Zim ever made it to the airwaves on Nickelodeon, as it could get pretty obscenely nightmarish at times. Admittedly, there were some silly hijinks that came with the alien Zim's mission to conquer earth and enslave the human race, all while attending school with a bunch of kids, but there were also some really, really dark episodes. We got a Christmas episode that introduced a carol with the words "His jolly boots of doom," an acne-themed half hour that involved mind-controlling pus, and that merry little episode all about Zim harvesting his classmates' organs.
Are You Afraid Of The Dark?
What would a list of macabre kids' shows be without Are You Afraid of the Dark? It was the series that made kids afraid of things that weren't at all scary before. If you liked dolls, fairy tales, clowns, making new friends, and other wonderful things, Are You Afraid of the Dark could definitely cure you of those fancies. It was actually a pretty fabulous show if you liked horror, but it also told stories that could haunt your dreams well into adulthood. The kids in the stories didn't even all get happy endings at the end.
What are your favorite dark Nickelodeon shows? Let us know in the comments! Stay tuned to CinemaBlend for the latest in TV news, and don't forget to check out our summer TV premiere schedule to discover all your viewing options now and in the coming weeks. Be sure to drop by our rundowns for cable/streaming and broadcast TV renewals and cancellations as well.