Western Animation: Pepper Ann
From Left to Right: Milo, Lydia, Pepper Ann, Moose, and NickyPepper Ann
is a 1990s
Disney-created Saturday Morning Cartoon
that ran in ABC's One Saturday Morning
block from 1997-2001. It centers on 12-year-old Pepper Ann "P.A." Pearson, her family, friends, and schoolmates. Pepper Ann's parents are divorced, and she lives with her mother and younger sister "Moose." Nicky, a smart and soft-spoken violinist, and Milo, an aspiring artist are her two best friends with whom she goes through a humorous and entertaining series of junior high adventures wherein she faces obstacles, enemies, and choices, and comes out right in the end.
The show was aimed at young and tween girls, and thus features several strong female protagonists. Pepper Ann herself is sharp and spontaneous, with a vivid imagination. Various episodes feature elaborate fantasy sequences that help her sort out each episode's dilemma. Nicky is extremely mature; she is serious about school, her music, and her future, and is the only character to have a steady boyfriend. Pepper Ann's mother Lydia is hard-working but loving; some episodes deal frankly with the strain and challenges she faces as a single parent. And Moose, Pepper Ann's sister, is a confident tomboy.
Much of the action takes place at Hazelnut Middle School, where various cliques and characters, including Trinket
, obligatory crush Craig Bean
, and sometimes love-interest for Milo
Gwen Mezro as well as a wacky cast of teachers and administrators. As is typical for a kids' show of its time, the episodes cover a wide variety of topics, from lighthearted plots like crushes, zits, and video games, to more serious issues of divorce and disappointment.
The series was adapted by Sue Rose from short comic strips she created and published intermittently in YM Magazine
in the early 1990s.
Tropes present include:
- Accidental Misnaming:
- Everybody always gets Moose's best friend Crash's name wrong.
- It comes to the point where Crash wears a shirt that says "My Name is Crash," which doesn't help anyone remember his name.
- The Ace: Becky is portrayed as one, being ridiculously smart and also very good with sports. however, Becky mentions that Nicky is actually the stronger and more creative one. (Becky mentions that she can't even bench-press 15 pounds!) See Muscles Are Meaningless down below.
- Adaptation Decay: Taken to hilarious extremes In-Universe with Moose's favorite superheroine, Tundra Woman, in one episode.
- Added Alliterative Appeal: Grampa Leo and Grandma Lilly. In an in-universe example, Grandma explains they were originally going to give all their children L names, but she was so hopped-up on epidurals she wrote the L backwards on Laney's birth certificate, making her Janey. They would have changed it, but it would have taken too much paperwork.
- All Love Is Unrequited: There is a Running Gag where Milo and Gwen can never seem to like each other at the same time.
- Alpha Bitch: Alice and Trinket, though Trinket is more shallow than mean and several episodes reveal that Trinket has feelings.
- Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Lydia occasionally slips into this, but especially when she took Pepper Ann bra shopping.
- Ambiguously Jewish: The Pearsons, until the Christmas Episode where Pepper Ann has to write a report on whether celebrating Christmas with her dad or Hanukkah with her mom is better.
- Amicably Divorced: Pepper Ann's parents. Unlike most other shows that have divorced parents, Pepper Ann's parents didn't split up because they didn't get along, they split up because Chuck (Pepper Ann's father) works as a blimp driver and his job got in the way of being a full-time father.
- Art Evolution
- Bare Your Midriff: Pepper Ann, slightly, due to how her shirt goes up in the middle.
- Gwen Mezzrow is a straight example.
- Black Bead Eyes
- Catch Phrase: "My life is trash." (said whenever Pepper Ann does something that makes her a social outcast, like admit that she bought pimple cream at Abe's Mall [a.k.a the "Abys Mall," as only freaks and geezers go to a place like that])
- "What's for dinner?" could count for Moose. She has said it more than once, and she rarely says anything else.
- "Peppie, you're (scaring, hurting, etc.) me" could count for Moose.
- Nicky has "absolutamente." Though she doesn't say it quite as constantly as the regular catchphrase it does pop up from time to time.
- Chick Magnet: Craig
- Clip Show: The episode "To Germany With Love" is a parody of these and is intentionally loaded with clips that make no sense unless you've seen the episodes they're from. It's shown as a video letter to Dieter's father in Germany.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Milo
- Brenda from "Old Best Friend"
- Continuity Nod: Quite a few. Among them, the Chess club researching on Pepper Ann and finding school newspapers detailing her involvement with the soccer team, the football team, and a "bizarre trampoline incident" (see the Getting Crap Past the Radar entry for more details).
- Comic-Book Time: The series first aired in 1997 and it consistently took place in 1997, even when it aired in the new millennium.
- Cool Teacher: Mr. Finky strives to be this.
- Couch Gag: In the opening sequence, Pepper always finds something interesting under her desk (five dollars, a singing Dieter doll, the remote control, a mood ring, etc).
- Crying Indian: Parodied in "Dances with Ignorance".
- Deadpan Snarker: Depending on the episode, everyone from Pepper Ann, Nicky and Milo to Lydia has this role at some point or another.
- Dean Bitterman: Principal Hickey in the early episodes.
- Distant Finale: "The Finale" skips 15 years into the future to show what everyone will become after graduating middle school.
- "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: A fairly early Disney example, as Kathleen Willhoite (voice of the title character) also contributes the vocals.
- Down to imitating a guitar riff.
- Donut Mess with a Cop: Subverted with Uncle JoJo who eats nothing but health food. Though he does sometimes eat donuts, they're fat-free donuts called Dough-Nots.
- Dumb Blonde: Cissy Rooney
- Everyone Went to School Together: As seen in a flashback episode, it seems that everyone in Hazelnut Middle School was in the same kindergarten class.
- Everytown, America: Hazelnut
- Female Misogynist: In "The Sisterhood" Grandma Lillian is shown to have very old fashioned views on a woman's role in life. Justified in that she most likely grew up in a time and place where women were seen as little more than mothers and housewives, and was too stuck in her ways to be more progressive.
- Fiery Redhead: Pepper Ann, though she's more spacy and neurotic than fiery.
- In the uniform episode she admits that it's auburn, which other characters agree to once she tries to take credit for being the trope.
- Fictional Video Game: Crunch Pod
- Four-Fingered Hands: Possibly one of the few Western-animated cartoons to actually avert this trope, as everyone in the cast has five fingers on each hand.
- "Freaky Friday" Flip: There was a Freaky Friday-style episode with Pepper Ann and Lydia switching personalities after the two of them argue over who has it tougher.
- Free the Frogs: In "Carmello". Type 2.
- Freudian Excuse: In one episode a Parody Sue new girl is revealed to be a thief the police have been looking for. When asked why, she gives a rather dark speech about how society warps individuals into criminals. Absolutely no one buys it, and the girl just admits she's a kleptomaniac.
- Friendly Enemies: Janie and Margot in "The Sisterhood" until Janie realizes she doesn't have to pretend to like Margot just because she's a woman. A later episode reveals that Janie and Margot's animosity towards each other came from Janie thinking that Margot called her stupid when she asked her for directions to a college class.
- Funny Afro: Several flashbacks show Lydia used to have one.
- Funny Foreigner: Dieter Lederhosen, the happy German kid obsessed with food and trying to fit in with American culture.
- Gag Boobs: Margot LaSandre.
- Gainaxing: A little bit on Lydia near the end of "In Support Of" when showing she was also a late bloomer.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: The episode "In Support Of" where Pepper Ann thinks she needs a support bra for an upcoming trampoline lesson in gym class and ends up in trouble for flashing her class after Coach Doogan asks her where her support was (as in "her partner to spot the trampoline jumper").
- From the same episode, Pepper Ann comes home from school and hears her mother shout, "Pepper Ann, do you want breasts?" Of course, two seconds later we find out she means "chicken breasts".
- A semi-running gag on the show is Ms. Bladdar (the cynical English teacher who looks like Jane Lane if her art career flopped and she ended up a Jaded Washout with a teaching job) being the substitute teacher for an unseen teacher named Ms. Ford, who is implied to have a drinking problem (the episode "The Environ-Mentals" stated that Ms. Ford "...had too much "punch" at last night's PTA meeting" and the "Quiz Bowl" episode had Principal Hickey state that Ms. Ford is on sabbactical at the "I Can Shine" Clinic)
- In the episode "You Oughta Be in Musicals!," a police officer is seen releasing a woman in tacky clothes. While it can be argued that she might just be some overdressed fashion victim who committed a petty crime, the officer's line, "Go free, you little vixen," clearly implies that she could be a hooker.
- On the episode where Pepper Ann tries to get her dad to appear on a game show with her, Pepper Ann reads some of her dad's old love letters to her mom...all of which have the risque parts removed (including one letter in which everything is cut except for "Dear Lydia"). When Pepper Ann asks her mom why the love letters are edited, Lydia can be heard running out of the house and driving away.
- In the Romeo and Juliet episode, all of the girls are auditioning to be Juliet opposite Craig's Romeo. Then they show Dieter auditioning for Juliet. To top it off they have him use the line "What satisfaction canst thou have, tonight?"
- From "Family Vacation": "I am forced to ride 3000 miles next to an opera loving ACCIDENT!" Out of context, that sounds very weird.
- In "One of the Guys" when Pepper Ann wants to enter a beauty pageant and her mother takes her measurements:
Lydia: 21... 21... 21... Peppie, if we're gonna win this thing, we are gonna need more than just a great dress.
Pepper Ann: Like... padding?
- Moose gets away with saying "I thought you said drama sucked" in the Romeo and Juliet episode. It's not a swear word, it's more along the lines of crap, but it wasn't commonly heard on children's TV shows in the 1990s.
- In "Manly Milo", Pepper Ann is trying to help Milo get more guy friends so she brings some "manly" items to help him develop more "masculine" traits. One of those items she's about to give him is an issue of "Playdude" with a hunky man and the words "pecs! pecs! pecs!" on the cover (if the viewer looks close enough) before she sheepishly says, "oh, how'd that get in there?" and tosses it over her shoulder.
- Girlish Pigtails: Gwen Mezzrow
- Gossipy Hens: Tessa and Vanessa
- Green Around the Gills: Nicky in "Quiz Bowl". She becomes ill, green-faced and runs off to throw up, when she gets stage fright on a quiz show.
- "Groundhog Day" Loop: "T.G.I.F."
- Hartman Hips: Pepper Ann's mom is a rare overweight example.
- Her Boyfriend's Jacket: A memorable episode of Pepper Ann had the title character start wearing Milo's ever-present hat so it would look like they were dating, and to cope Milo started wearing continuously more ridiculous hats as the episode progressed.
- Homage: One subplot was one to 12 Angry Men, involving Pepper Ann's mother as a Rogue Juror.
- There was the episode "Myself, My Mother," which is an homage to Freaky Friday.
- Hypocritical Humor: Pepper Ann's mother in "The Sisterhood" forces Pepper Ann to go to a Woman's bonding weekend seminar, talking about how her mother forced her to do all sorts of things she didn't want to and learned all sorts of skills that had no place in the real world (all the while making her do stuff like chainsaw ice statues and participate in a mock women's rights protest)
- Imagine Spot: Loads. In fact, due to Pepper Ann not giving us a signal about having one like Doug, you can't tell if the surreal things that she witnesses are in fact either in her head or real like the talking squirrel and bird in the first episode.
- It's a Wonderful Plot: Done on Valentine's Day and set up more like A Christmas Carol rather than It's a Wonderful Life.
- I Want My Friend to Be Happy: Nicky also has a crush on Craig Bean, but she's still willing to help Pepper Ann get with him.
- Jewish Mother: Subverted with Lydia (who is Jewish — or at least, celebrates Jewish holidays to keep with tradition, but doesn't act like a stereotypical Jewish mom). Lydia's mom (Pepper Ann's grandmother), however, is a straight example.
- Kids Shouldn't Watch Horror Films: Pepper Ann gets invited to a slumber party where they will be watching the R-rated film Gutter Clowns, which Lydia warns Pepper Ann against seeing. At first Pepper Ann tries to stop the girls at the party from watching the film but ends up watching it anyway and is terrified for the next few days.
- Kissing Warm Up: Pepper Ann gets ready for Dieter's unsupervised party by warming up on her hand, a watermelon, and a pillow.
- Late for School: If the opening is any indication (and the fact that her science teacher has pre-printed detention slips made exclusively for Pepper Ann's tardiness), Pepper Ann is late every day.
- Last Disrespects: In one episode, P.A. is asked to give the eulogy at the funeral of a cranky neighbor no one liked. She's having a difficult time finding anything nice to say about her, but also realizes she can't just lie about her.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: The opening, which includes such lines as "Did someone take my lunch?" (Pepper Ann had been rollerblading to school and somewhere between the shot where she goes the 'Wrong Way' and the shot where she emerges in front of school, the lunch bag she was carrying disappears).
- Mama Bear: Lydia is hinted at having this side to her. One time, she physically threatens a waiter who is making her late for Pepper Ann's play.
- The Girl In The Mirror Talks Back: Pepper Ann's reflection has talked to Pepper Ann about her issues so many times, it might as well be its own character.
- Marshmallow Hell: In "In Support Of" Pepper Ann winds up in it for a second when she says she wants a bra and her mom hugs her.
- In the Romeo & Juliet episode, Pepper Ann, Nicky, and Milo wind up in Ms. Stark's.
- Mixed Ancestry: Pepper Ann is Jewish on her mom's side of the family and Spanish, British, and Navajo Indian on her dad's side (though Pepper Ann's dad sounds like he has an Australian accent).
- Muscles Are Meaningless: Nicky Little is just as skinny as her two friends, but ridiculously strong. A childhood flashback shows that she was the local bully, overpowering a much larger kid who would normally be considered the bully.
- Musical Episode: Parodied, with everything suddenly turning into a musical with Pepper Ann being the only one who notices everyone is bursting into song and dance spontaneously.
- My Hair Came Out Green: Pepper Ann's hair turns green when she tries dyeing it blue.
- Truth in Television. Pepper Ann's hair is dark enough that if she wanted to do blue, she'd need to bleach it and if she didn't tone it, she'd probably have yellow tones. Yellow + blue (especially lighter blues) = green.
- Never Speak Ill of the Dead: Invoked and discussed in "Spice of Life" (the episode where a mean old lady whom Pepper Ann hates dies, and Pepper Ann finds out that the mean old lady was the school secretary's mother).
- New Transfer Student: Amber, the Locker Bandit.
- Nightmare Fuel: An in-universe example that's Played for Laughs. Nicky and Becky are both terrified of swans, and none of them remembers why. At the end of the episode, their mom throws a box of their old toys out...and inside is a swan that, when active, has glowing red eyes and says, "Swan wants to PLAAAAAAAYYYYY" in a very intentionally scary voice.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Pepper's mom marries Alex Trebek according to the series finale.
- Noodle People: Every character. Even the overweight characters have skinny arms.
- Noodle Implements: The one prank Pepper and Milo attempted to pull which got them, and Nicky (who was trying to stop them), sent to boot camp. We don't know what they were planning, but it involved the gym, basketballs, and somehow, they managed to convince Alex Trebek to help them out.
- Official Couple: Nicky and Stewart (until the finale).
- One of the Boys: Moose
- Also Pepper Ann on an episode where Pepper Ann enters a beauty contest to prove her femininity.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Moose, a.k.a. Margaret Rose Pearson.
- Only Sane Man: When she is not having her random outbursts, Nicky is close to being the only Normal person in Hazelenut.
- Opening Shout-Out: In "Like Riding a Bike" which starts with Pepper Ann finding maracas under her desk and Dieter taking them back. Then in the next scene, Pepper Ann is explaining her conspiracy theory that Mr. Carter is somehow responsible for her being late for school every day, listing a number of things that make her late in the opening.
- Pac Man Fever: Recurring arcade game Crunch Pod
- Parental Bonus: In the first episode Pepper Ann goes into Abe's Mall (which features a big statue of Abe Lincoln out front) to buy some pimple cream. The names of various shops in the mall float behind her, including "John Wilkes Photo Booth," "Getty's Burgers," "Four Score and Seven Year Pets," and "Civil Wear."
- Peek-a-Bangs: Trinket (covers her right eye) and Nicky (covers whichever eye's furthest from the viewer).
- Poke the Poodle: Nicky's attempts at pranks in "Impractical Jokes".
- Poor Communication Kills: Pepper Ann thinks this is the case in an episode where Trinket is transferring to a private school. She looks back on her previous interactions (which are actual clips from other episodes) and then starts to reinterpret them as if Trinket was making several cries for help. As Pepper Ann tries to aggressively bond with Trinket at a going away party, Trinket gets fed up and calls her a freak.
- In another episode, it turns out the animosity between Lydia and Margot was from Margot once calling Lydia stupid and Janie viciously insulting Margot as payback. It turned out that Margot hadn't even heard Lydia talking to her as she was discussing a song with the lyrics "Stupid can't find her way" because Lydia was speaking into Margot's bad ear.
- Protagonist Title
- Rise of Zitboy: "Ziterella"
- Samus is a Girl: Most of the family (and some viewers) thought Moose was a boy until the Thanksgiving episode.
- School Uniforms are the New Black: In the school uniform episode, Pepper Ann managed to get the school uniforms banned from campus after some students complained about them. Despite this, the same students used these uniforms to look cool when outside of school.
- Science Fair: An area of contention between Pepper Ann and Alice.
- Shoulder Angels: Sort of. Pepper Ann often deals with situations by talking/arguing to her reflection, which can on any given day be her conscience and chide her for doing something wrong, be her anti-conscience and encourage her to not think about consequences, reassure her about something, express her doubts, or simply be her common sense, which loops back to being her conscience.
- Shout-Out: In "Career Daze", Nicky is put on wrapping meat on a conveyor belt - and it looks very much like the famous I Love Lucy scene with Lucy and Ethel trying to make chocolates at a factory.
- Sibling Rivalry: Between Nicky and Becky. Nicky is jealous that Becky has all sorts of athletic trophies and good-name stuff under her belt and her parents clearly favoured her whenever she was around. However, when she finally confronts Becky about this, Becky admits that Nicky is far more creative (Being more musically inclined) and is far stronger than she is. Fridge Brilliance when you consider that even if Becky has athletic trophies; they're all for more agility-based sports.
- Slice of Life: Was made when this genre was starting to get popular.
- Spin the Bottle: Happens at Dieter's unsupervised birthday party, to Pepper Ann's chagrin. As it happens, Nicky is the only person to get spun (and subsequently smooched) before everyone decides that the game is boring and they decide to play video games.
- Straw Fan: Averted. When Moose learns they're making a cartoon of her favorite comic book character, Tundra Woman, she's disgusted that they turned her from an Action Girl into a vapid Alpha Bitch obsessed with shopping who is now dating her archenemy. Moose starts a protest campaign and gathers together fans of all ages, including Mr. Hickey, who, rather then being stereotypes of the Basement-Dweller type, are all relatively normal men and women whose lives were changed and inspired by Tundra Woman's original influence. Unfortunately, when the producers decide to change the cartoon, they still don't stick to the source material and turn Tundra Woman into grunting cavewoman who graphically slaughters baby seals onscreen. Eventually, the show is just replaced with a cartoon about a skateboarding robot.
- The Renaissance Age of Animation
- The Stoic: Moose Pearson and Craig Bean, though they've both had at least one Not So Stoic moment.
- Stop Helping Me!: In universe. Pepper Ann is chronically bad at helping people and giving advice. Lampshaded in "The Amazing Becky Little."
Milo: "How to put this... hmm... often-times when to attempt to help people they end up worse off than before you-"
Pepper Ann: "Don't you think I know that?"
- Take Our Word for It: The art piece Milo made that was so horrifying it was never shown on screen. All we know about it is that involved someone with water skis going through their feet and scared Craig Bean so bad he lost his voice screaming.
- Theme Naming: Most towns and other places in the series are named after nuts.
- íThree Amigos!: Pepper Ann, Milo and Nicky.
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: Pepper Ann and Nicky.
- Tomboyish Ponytail: The title character has one, and yes, she's a tomboy.
- Took a Level in Dumbass: Pepper Ann once had a nightmare where everyone turned stupid while suffering feelings of inadequacy.
- Took a Third Option: When it was time to elect a student body president, the campaign degraded into a mudslinging contest between P.A. and her rival Alice Kane. On the day the votes were counted, Principal Hickey noted that despite the revitalized participation of the students in this recent election, the winner was joke candidate Mark Hamill. When the girls demand a recount, Nicky reveals she was the reason why Hamill won by way of raising support for him behind the scenes. P.A. points out how Nicky had been complaining about no one taking elections seriously and how the candidates should focus on the issues, and Nicky counters with a speech about how she used her right to vote to form a protest campaign against P.A. and Alice Kane for the way they turned the election into a petty grudge match. Even Hickey agrees Nicky and tells the girls they should be ashamed of themselves.
- Tough Act to Follow: In-universe, Pepper Ann received acclaim after writing a magazine article about the time she sneaked out to a party without her mother's permission, but ended up feeling alone and scared at the party (and guilty for deceiving her mom). Pepper Ann followed this up with a tribute to her mother, after learning she went through the same thing when she was younger, but this received hate from students who believe True Art Is Angsty.
- Trees Into Toothpicks The second skit of Season One Episode Six featured a field trip to the wasteful Sani-Paper company
- Unusual Euphemism: "Fuzzy", the name of an in-universe comic strip character, is used as an all-purpose euphemism.
- Valley Girl: Cissy Rooney (only Cissy was voiced by Kath Soucie, not Gail Matthius)
- Violent Glaswegian: Shelf McLain, the school bully. It apparently runs in the family.
- Vocal Dissonance: Moose sounds like a teenage boy despite being an eight-or-nine-year-old girl.
- Visit by Divorced Dad: Pepper Ann's parents may be divorced, but there are episodes where Pepper Ann's father visits.
- Voices Are Mental: A noteworthy rare aversion of this; when Pepper Ann and her mom swap minds, the voice actors do not trade jobs, but they do trade inflections and speech patterns.
- Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Moose does have a real name (Margaret Rose), but there is no explanation for Pepper Ann and several other characters.
- Allegedly, Pepper Ann's "real" name is Jennifer, but this is never spoken on the show, nor is it officially confirmed. It is only seen on some old Internet episode guide listings.
- Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Nicky has a fear of swans, but runs into them on a frequent basis. It turns out her sister is scared of them as well, and it seems their phobia stems from a seemingly evil swan toy they used to have.
- Written-In Absence: Milo was once absent for nearly an entire episode until he appeared at the end. He was at the local pizza place for three days waiting for Pepper Ann and Nicky who apparently forgot they were supposed to meet him. He spent three days just eating sauce before showing up at school again.
- Yet Another Christmas Carol: A variation is done for one episode with the focus being Valentine's Day rather then Christmas.
- You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Averted, when Pepper Ann calls Milo out on dying his hair blue, he admits his hair is so incredibly naturally black, that it looks blue.
- You Have to Believe Me: In "Snot Your Mother's Music" Mick Snot stays with the Pearsons and every time Pepper Ann tries to show Nicky and Milo that Mick is staying with them they don't believe her, because he instantly switches between his stage outfit and his lame old man look depending who's looking.
- Zeerust: The Grand Finale can be seen as this as it takes place in 2012, 15 years after the series began going by Comic-Book Time above.