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Why ‘Arthur’ Remains the Superior Children’s Show, 25 Years Later

Think of a television show from your childhood that is leagues above the rest. The one that was so good, you’d watch it as a college student and think, “Wow, I was lucky to grow up with this.” For me, that show is Arthur.

If you didn’t grow up with Arthur on your television screen, it’s a successful PBS Kids program that follows the trials and tribulations of a bunch of anthropomorphic third-graders. With a charming ensemble cast of characters from so many different backgrounds, it’s a show that has maintained its positive reputation since its premiere in 1996. What makes Arthur unique from the rest is its writers’ ability to balance education with humor. Seriously, check out compilation videos on YouTube of Arthur’s “savage moments” (such as this one), and I guarantee it’ll give you at least one genuine laugh.

Recently, I babysat two little girls for almost ten hours straight. Naturally, I had to put them in front of the TV from time to time to maintain my sanity. I asked the older one if she would be interested in watching one of my childhood shows for a change. I threw on a random episode of Arthur and it happened to be the one where Binky found out he was allergic to peanuts. As I watched, I noticed how delicately the topic was handled. The relevant information surrounding food allergies was presented in an age-appropriate way to help elementary schoolers understand the risks and how to manage them. All the while, the episode made sure it was an engaging topic to learn about by incorporating fantasy and humor, such as when Binky dreamt that he was about to be crushed by a piece of bread with peanut butter on it.

While the girls watched the show, I ventured down an online rabbit hole about all things Arthur. I recalled some of the important topics covered on the show, including cancer (“The Great MacGrady”), asthma (“Buster’s Breathless”), autism (“When Carl Met George”), and bedwetting (“Jenna’s Bedtime Blues”). On top of those larger, more serious topics, each episode includes at least one lesson or moral of lesser significance. I found this Arthur Wiki article that highlights the morals presented in each episode, such as “Arthur learns that nobody is perfect” and “Buster learns not to believe everything he hears.” Reading this list made me appreciate the show even more than I did when I was a kid.

woman reading to group of kids
Photo by Don Eckert

I will say that Arthur is not a perfect show since the “savage moments” referenced above are often jabs or insults from one character to the next, but I maintain that the beauty of the program is held within those bits of humor; it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The show simultaneously makes successful attempts to teach young elementary-school students the most valuable life lessons while incorporating just the right amount of humor that can be appreciated by both children and adults alike.

I’m nowhere near having kids yet, but if there’s one parenting strategy I’m sure of, long in advance, it’s that my children will grow up with Arthur on the television.

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Grace Bertagna

U Mass Amherst '23

Grace Bertagna is a sophomore at UMass Amherst studying Spanish and Sociology. She enjoys painting, practicing yoga, cooking, and playing ice hockey.
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