A Rugrats Retrospective: Tommy’s First Birthday

Congratulations! A new Baby New Year has been born. Cherish it, because, as it grows up, it’ll have plenty of surprises for you: blessings, challenges, and frustrations. Regardless, we’ve been given a gracious gift, and it’s up to us to live up to the responsibilities that come with it, slowly improving ourselves and moving forward every day. If we make the most of it, this year might just grow up to be a good one.

Since we’re talking about babies, I thought it might be a good time to bring up a journaling project I’ve been working on about the show Rugrats (because, you know,…babies).  Even though we’re moving forward into a new year, I hope that we never forget the value of gleaning from the past on occasion, which I hope this project will help me do more of.   


Rugrats is a show that I watched throughout most of my childhood. In fact, it might not be a stretch to say that it was one of the first cartoons I watched religiously, with many of its plots, imagery, and sounds forever ingrained in the back of my mind. I was enraptured by the fantastic adventures Tommy, Chuckie, and the rest of the babies went on, all in the unlikeliest of places: playpens, stores, etc. Ok, so it’s clear that I liked the show a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean it still holds up.

Honestly, I didn’t even start to wonder about Rugrats’ quality until a few years ago, thanks to, believe it or not, my politics professor from college. Don’t ask how we started talking about Kid’s shows in a politics class, but he started naming a few he’d be willing to let his children watch for their benefit. He said that he’d be fine with his kids watching Spongebob, but, when someone (possibly me) brought up Rugrats, he shook his head no, stating that his kids wouldn’t get much out of such a mindless, menial show.

rugrats crying 2

As you’ve probably gathered, this struck a nerve with me. Nothing against Spongebob, but it kinda pained me to hear someone claim that kids couldn’t benefit much from my first nostalgic show.  It deserves more credit than that. Then again, maybe I was just blinded by rose-colored, nostalgia glasses. That’s why I decided to start re-watching the show while gradually compiling my thoughts and analyses in an episode log/journal, to determine for myself how well it holds up and what can be drawn from it.

baby's gotta do

I won’t  make all my future posts about an episode of Rugrats I wrote about, but, every now and then, I’ll share my thoughts on episodes I think are particularly fun or relevant to what’s going on in my life that week. This week, since we’re all about to move on to something new, I thought it’d be worth taking a quick look back to the very beginning: “Tommy’s First Birthday.”

Excluding the unaired pilot, this is the first official episode of the series, and, despite its simple animation and imagery, I’d say (judging from my memories, at least) that it’s a perfect telegraph for what to expect from the series. Many episodes involve two mingling plots: the adults’ plot and the babies’ plot. In this case, Stu and Didi Pickles are excited to celebrate their son’s first birthday, and have planned everything down to the last detail. On the other hand, after he watches a dogfood commercial, Tommy and his friends decide to find and eat dogfood, believing they’ll attain that elusive dog-hood and the freedom associated with it.

tommy dogfood.png

In a typical episode, viewers experience a constant shift in perspective as they follow both plots, allowing them to see the Rugrats world from both an adult’s eyes and a child’s eyes, but the crux of each episode relies on the babies’ plot, many episodes often focusing more on that. Hijinks ensue as the plots mingle, but, once the babies do achieve their goal, usually after a chaotic/messy climax, they inadvertently resolve the adults’ story too.

The adults start to bicker as party plans go awry, distracting them and allowing the babies a chance to continue searching. They find a can of dogfood precariously perched way on top of the counter, so babies use the gift Tommy’s inventive dad made, a remote control flying saucer, to carry Tommy to the food. What could possibly go wrong? Everything. Things go a haywire, and Tommy soars across the kitchen, making a mess and wrecking the cake.

Despite the chaos, the babies finally find and eat their dogfood, which they immediately spit out. It doesn’t taste like they’d hoped, but they still have fun afterwards, crawling around and howling like dogs. Things didn’t go as planned for the adults either. The house is a mess and the party’s ruined. Nevertheless, they can’t help but smile when looking on at the babies having fun, all of them enjoying life despite things not going their way.

rugrats party

While I remembered more about this episode than I thought I would, I’d say the first season of the show, as a whole, is the one I remember the least, but that’s probably because the show premiered a year before I was born. By the time I was old enough to watch and comprehend the show, it was already a couple of seasons in, and, while I certainly watched and enjoyed the reruns of the early seasons, I think I remember the show more for some of its later episodes, when the animation improved and the writers got a bit more imaginative. Still, I enjoyed the episode more than I thought I would, and some of the parents’ dialogue, which I’m pretty sure went mostly over my head as a kid (mostly because I was more interested in the babies), really made me laugh. What’s more, it’s a cute story to fall back on should we ever need a reminder to enjoy ourselves despite rough circumstances, which will come. Just like 2016, I’m looking forward to what else the show has in store for me.

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