I don't even know where to start as far as how this show affected me. First off, it contained the most obscure insult towards anyone's physical appearance I've heard, and to this day I've still instinctively called people "football heads" whenever they do something stupid. Also, it hosted one of the coolest bedrooms in television history. Not only was Arnold's room accessible through the ceiling of the hallway, it had a couch that flipped out from the wall, an alarm clock powered by a potato, and a bookshelf that doubled as a ladder leading up to the roof. I was excited when my dad finally installed a light switch on my wall, and then this kid has a universal remote that controls everything!
But if you dig deeper, Hey Arnold was much more than a show about friends and their youthfulness. In reality, those kids were poor as fuck! They were living in the ghetto of New York in shitty boarding houses, and there was a highway that ran right over their neighborhood. Arnold's family had the distinction of being landlords of a boarding house that accommodated some of the strangest people. The kids would play stickball, and there was even one episode about a "stoop kid." Stickball + house stoops = poor. Everyone knows that. And to make things official, Arnold's school was called "P.S. 118." It didn't even have a real name!
Hey Arnold also had one of the first token ghetto black kids, Gerald, a "cool kid" who always wore a #33 sports shirt. Gerald was Arnold's best friend, but more importantly, sported the most gangster haircut ever. And Gerald was a gangster, there was no arguing. For those of you who watched the show as intensely as I did, you would realize that Gerald is the one who knows all the town's urban legends, getting his stories from a source called "Fuzzy Slippers." Does this seem sketchy to anyone else? The #33 uniform that Gerald wore could easily be associated with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Patrick Ewing, or Scottie Pippen, all gangster ass basketball players.
Not only were the kids of Hillwood shit poor, they were mentally insane. Arnold's friend, Helga, had a massive crush on him. But this secret love was far past hair-pulling and name-calling. Helga had a fucking SHRINE of Arnold, complete with pieces of chewed gum and strands of hair. You know who does shit like that? Psychotic murderers.
This show taught us that even if you lived in the projects of New York, you were still able to have fun and be a kid.