hey arnold
Image: Nickelodeon

Everything About Christmas is Awful, Except the ‘Hey Arnold!’ Special

The holiday landscape is an icy brick squad tundra of contrived happiness, makeshift cheer, and capitalistic overindulgence. Sure Mariah Carey may be riding high on the charts again off the sheer nostalgia factor of “All I Want For Christmas is You,” but let’s be all the way real, that song was trash in the early ’90s and it’s even worse now. In fact the only true great Christmas song to ever be written is “Last Christmas” by Wham! The melancholy sorrow of George Michael’s lyrics and the hypnotizing synthesizer pulsating through the veins of the track feel like a watery-eyed broken smile. It’s probably the closest mankind has come to encapsulating the true spirit of the holidays.

The cash grab is far too real this time of year as artist, movie studios, and TV shows ride Santa’s sled of greed all the way to the bank in an attempt to capitalize on what is supposed to be (but is definitely not) the birth of Big Baby Jesus (RIP ODB). Did Ernest really save Xmas? Did we really need an N*Sync holiday album? Were you even alive when B2k dropped their holiday disaster album Santa Hooked Me Up?

Yet somehow, through the bullshit snowstorm of lies, spending, faux joy, and the myth of a fat white man sliding down your chimney to give you Best Buy gift cards, exist one glimmer of hope: the Hey Arnold! Xmas special. Now, 21 years after its debut, it remains the purist example of selflessness and love ever be broadcast on television. Do not fight me on this. There is no arguing. You are wrong. No piece of holiday themed programming has come close to capturing the brilliance and emotional turbulence of Arnold’s virtuous tale of unconditional kindness and love. Nickelodeon throughout the ’90s was prime golden era television for those fortunate enough to experience its holiday programming. The Adventures of Pete & Pete offered a defiant tale of the Wrigleys refusing to dump their eroding tree in an attempt to relive Christmas everyday and the Rugrats offered those of us who didn’t partake in gentile holidays a Chanukah special, but Hey Arnold!’s yuletide epic remains Nick’s masterpiece.

Set in an alternate reality version of New York, Arnold was/is a character based in kind-hearted, level-headed morality. A character that seemingly never played the antagonist in any of the show’s storylines, he was always the voice of reason and a conduit for plot resolution. Arnold wasn’t a holier than thou protagonist or hero, merely a response and reaction to the chaos the characters around him created. Simply put, he was always trying to pacify friends, enemies, and family members. How an orphaned kid living in a boarding house filled with scammers, liars, and sociopaths could keep his cool is anyone’s guess. Arnold did that in almost every episode and did so while being the constant victim of school bullying, due in part to his football head deformity.

Hey Arnold!’s holiday special takes place in the days leading up to Xmas. Arnold pulls the lovable yet disconnected Mr. Hyunh, one of the residents of his boarding house, in a Secret Santa holiday draw. Arnold,  eager to please and make the holidays perfect for his housemate, uncovers the secret refugee past of Mr. Hyunh.  Though it’s not really specified which Asian country of origin Mr. Hyunh is from, it appears to be something like Vietnam. Maybe Cambodia. Maybe North Korea. However we do know that where he is from got bombed to smithereens (likely due to U.S intervention) and he and his baby daughter were trying to escape. In one last gesture of fatherly heroism, Hyunh’s gave his beloved daughter to a US soldier to take to safer ground and never saw her again. Knowing that a father-daughter reunion would save the season for Mr. Hyunh, Arnold embarks on a quest to reunite the pair, only to be meet by greedy-ass employee of government records who can only think about gifts and getting his bitchy-ass daughter a pair of Nancy Spumoni Snow Boots. Arnold agrees to handle his holiday shopping in exchange for the clerk’s assistance in locating Mr. Hyunh’s daughter.

Everything seems to be going according to plan until Arnold and Gerald run into one small problem: Those fucking snow boots are the hottest thing in the streets and impossible to find. They are essentially the Yeezy Boosts of their day and nobody in the city can get a pair. He checks eBay, Grailed, Craigslist…all that. Can’t get em. Nope, not happening.

Enter the original weird stalker and Instagram lurker, Helga Patacki. Helga has real life anger issues likely due in part to her mom being a detached stay-at-home alcoholic and her dad being the dismissive mogul of a beeper store. (You see kids, these mobile devices called beepers existed before cell phones and the internet. It was the way people got in touch with each other while on the go. They were very expensive so only drug dealers and doctors had them.) Helga’s toxic relationship with Arnold borders on physical and verbal abuse as she constantly berates him publicly and assaults him. However, through the pain and misguided affection, Helga harbors a secret obsession with the boy with the dilapidated skull. Her private, unconditional love for Arnold moves her to see beyond her own greed and materialism to make the ultimate sacrifice. We won’t spoil what happens at the ned for those that haven’t seen it, just know you’ll need a big box of Kleenex. Get ready to believe in love and miracles again.  Happy Holidays.

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