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- Back to School: Arnold's grandpa does so in "Back to School", passing fourth, fifth, and sixth grades all in one episode.
- Bad Humor Truck: The Jolly Olly Man is a downplayed example. He is an ice cream man and he's far from being a pleasant person, but he's more of an asocial jerk than evil.
- Bait-and-Switch Time Skip: In the episode where Stinky takes up farming, a montage shows him diverting heavy rains from his plant, keeping it shaded from the hot sun, and finally protecting it from heavy snow. The characters then remark how strange the weather's been in the week since he started working.
- Barbie Doll Anatomy:
- Arnold and the other boys are shown shirtless in a few episodes and none of them have nipples.
- Another example is in "Rhonda Goes Broke", where Rhonda's sweater has a large tear in the chest area, yet still doesn't expose anything.
- Bare Your Midriff:
- Olga and Lila's Doppelgänger Lulu wear an outfit that leaves their navel exposed.
- Olga's outfit in "Student Teacher" is an exception—a longer version of her signature plaid miniskirt and a black sweater. However, there are frames where she appears to skirt the line a bit.
- Harold Berman in his default outfit, because of how fat he is.
- Batman Gambit:
- Helga pulls off quite an impressive one in "School Play". Helga wants to play Juliet in order to get a kiss from Arnold's Romeo, but since she didn't audition, the part is given to Rhonda with Sheena, Phoebe and Lila as the understudies. So she comes up with a plan to convince each girl to drop out of the role by exploiting their idiosyncrasies. First by taking the role of head costumer and constructing a hideous frock for Juliet, knowing that Rhonda would object to wearing it. Then she informs the queasy, pacifist Sheena about the violence in the play, and finally, she exploits Phoebe's perfectionism and nervousness to scare her out of performing. Unfortunately, none of these worked on Lila, who correctly guesses that Helga wants the role to kiss Arnold. Helga is forced to tell her and Lila agrees to drop out of the part.
- Ernie does one in "Oskar Can't Read?". Oskar recites the first page of A Tale of Two Cities to everyone in the boarding house. However, Oskar had previously bribed Chocolate Boy with chocolate to read the page for him. Ernie is skeptical since he knows that Oskar has a history of lying and cutting corners. Ernie grabs War and Peace and tricks Oskar into "reading" what he memorized instead. With Oskar exposed as a cheater, the others join Ernie in calling him out on it.
- Beach Episode: "Summer Love" has the characters go to the beach.
- Beauty, Brains, and Brawn: Lila, Phoebe, and Helga are respectively a beautiful girl, an intelligent girl, and a girl who relies on physical force.
- Bee Afraid: "Helga's Boyfriend" has a scene where Helga gets attacked by bees at the park. In "Friday the 13th", Arnold and Gerald are attacked by bees.
- Befriending the Enemy: Some episodes involving Harold, who is a bully to the other kids in his grade are frequently like this. Arnold being an All-Loving Hero befriends Harold in multiple episodes. Even deciding not to rat out on him to the principal in one "Full Moon", and helping Harold lose a ton of weight he gained in "Weighing Harold".
- Beneath the Mask: Helga only expresses her feelings for Arnold when alone. (Well, alone with Brainy sneaking up behind her, anyway.)
- Beta Couple: In certain Ship Tease episodes, Gerald and Phoebe would hook up in the background. And interview with Craig Bartlett stated that had The Patakis gone through, Gerald/Phoebe would've been the "cool couple" to contrast with the somewhat dysfunctional long-distance relationship of Arnold and Helga.
- Beware the Quiet Ones: Discussed at the end of "Curly Snaps."
Mr. Simmons: I think we all learned a valuable lesson here today.
Helga: Yep. Don't ever trust the quiet ones. They'll go bonkers and hole up in the principal's office.
- The B Grade: "Olga Comes Home" had Olga spiral into a depression over Helga changing one of the perfect grades on her report card into a B+.
- Big Applesauce: The city the show takes place in is pretty obviously based on New York, Brooklyn in particular. Craig Bartlett states that there are generous bits of Seattle and Portland, OR mixed in as well.
- Big Brother Bully: Gerald's big brother Jamie-O is often picking on him for no reason.
- Big Eater:
- Harold frequently eats lots of food.
- Seymour, as revealed in "Eating Contest", is able to eat an assload of ice cream in one sitting despite his small size. However, Arnold beats him.
- Bigger on the Inside: As seen in "Phoebe Cheats" Phoebe's house has several rooms that look like they should be in a mansion, like a sparring room and a jacuzzi room.
- Big "NO!": Helga's "everyone is better off without me" nightmare in "Magic Show" ends with one of these, after she sees Arnold announce in a TV interview that he and Ruth are getting married.
- Big Storm Episode: "The Flood" had the kids dealing with a flood happening at Hillwood and endangering them while they were at school.
- Big, Thin, Short Trio: Harold, Stinky, and Sid frequently hang around and are obese, skinny, and short respectively.
- Sunset Arms boarders Mr. Huynh (big), Oskar (thin), and Ernie (short) to a lesser extent at times.
- Big "WHAT?!": "Spelling Bee" has Bob Pataki holler "What" in response to Helga deliberately screwing up spelling her word to throw the spelling bee.
Helga: Qualm. Q-u-a-l-...(looks at her father)...-x?
- Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: An in-universe example in "The Flood," when Helga catches Principal Wartz attempting to dance the salsa while she was trying to break out of the school. The characters-in-question even agreed that they'd never speak of it again.
Principle Wartz: This moment never happened.
- Birds of a Feather: Olga and Lila get along well in "Big Sis" due to both being cheerful and perfect on the outside, but troubled on the inside.
- Birthday Party Goes Wrong: "Eugene's Birthday" has Eugene go through several failed birthday parties. Nobody except for Arnold went to his first one because the invitations were lost, Arnold then throws a makeup party at the aquarium with Gerald but the other kids don't attend because Sid and Stinky (who were responsible for inviting the other kids) got the venue wrong and had a party at the roller rink. Finally, Arnold sets up a third party at his backyard with all the other kids, except for Eugene who refuses to attend because he worries the third party will just be a screw up like the last two. He eventually comes around and shows up only for the party to be rained out, but Eugene expresses his gratitude towards Arnold making such an effort to make him happy.
- Bittersweet Ending: There are a few episodes with bittersweet endings.
- "The List" ends with Arnold failing to do any of the objectives on the list of things to do for the ultimate weekend, but his grandmother helps him realize that he shouldn't be upset over it.
- "Eugene's Bike" ends with Arnold upset that his attempts at giving Eugene a good time have all ended in disaster, but Eugene forgives him because he still enjoyed the moments they had in spite of the misfortunes he suffered during them.
- "Pigeon Man" ends with the Pigeon Man forced to leave Hillwood, but he parts with Arnold on good terms and hopes that he'll find another kid like him in the next place he goes.
- "Crabby Author" has Arnold disillusioned by finding that his favorite author has become a bitter recluse, but is cheered up to learn that telling her that he still considered her his favorite author has inspired her to get back to writing books.
- "The Journal" has Arnold learn why his parents have gone missing since he was a baby, but he also finds a map of San Lorenzo, which gives him hope of being reunited with his parents. This is followed up on in The Jungle Movie.
- "Quantity Time" ends with Bob buying Helga tickets to see "Rats: The Musical", thinking that was what she wanted to see. Unfortunately, Helga wanted to see a wrestling event instead, while Bob otherwise wanted nothing to do with it. In spite of this, the two were able to have a laugh over how much they hated the musical.
- Bizarro Universe: "Arnold Visits Arnie" had Arnold dream of visiting his country cousin Arnie and finding that his rural town has polar opposites of Arnold's friends.
- Blind Black Guy: One of the subway passengers in "Das Subway" is a black man who happens to be blind.
- Blind People Wear Sunglasses:
- Helga invokes this in the episode "April Fools' Day". When she pretends to be blind, she wears sunglasses.
- In another episode the kids get stuck on the subway with a few other adults in the same car, one of which is a blind man wearing sunglasses that harasses Harold in particular for being fat.
- Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Helga, Phoebe, and Lila have blonde, brunette, and red hair respectively.
- Body Wipe: In "Wheezin' Ed", near the end where Harold is rolling, his butt fills the screen before running over everyone.
- Born Unlucky: Eugene (whose name, ironically, means "born lucky") could practically serve as the Trope Codifier (it doesn't help that he was born on Friday the 13th). See also Butt-Monkey.
- Bottle Episode: "Stuck in a Tree" consists mostly of Arnold, Harold, and Eugene being stuck in a cherry tree with very little changes in scenery.
- Brainy Brunette: Phoebe Heyerdahl has black hair and is among the smartest children in the school. She was even given a free pass to the 6th grade in the episode "Phoebe Skips", Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
- Break the Haughty: Rhonda constantly gets her comeuppance for being rude and arrogant to the other kids. There are at least three different episodes dedicated solely to the idea ("Rhonda's Glasses", "Polishing Rhonda", and "Rhonda Goes Broke").
- Brick Joke: During Helga's dream sequence in "Magic Show", she finds that Phoebe became best friends with someone named Gloria, who dresses the same as Helga but looks sweeter and cuter. Come "Helga's Boyfriend", and Stinky ends up dating Gloria and proves she actually exists, which stumps Helga.
- Broken Aesop: In "Hookey", Arnold and Gerald skip school but their fear of being found out interferes with any fun they might have had. Eventually, they go to school only to learn that there was a surprise carnival day. This weakens the Aesop as skipping school is wrong because you miss class, not because you miss a fun day. The "weakness" of the episode's moral is Lampshaded at the end.
- Broken Pedestal:
- In "Eugene Goes Bad", Eugene finds that his idol "The Abdicator", an Arnold Schwarzenegger-esque Action Hero is not a real Action Hero, but a fictional character played by a Jerkass that's obnoxiously spoiled, bosses the staff on the set around, and doesn't do his own stunts. Upon finding this out, Eugene does a temporary FaceHeel Turn that ends when the actor saves him from falling to his death, showing that, for all his flaws, he's a fundamentally good person who cares about his fans.
- In "Pre-Teen Scream", Phoebe gets to meet pop singer Ronnie Matthews, whom she idolizes for his lyrics which she thinks are deep and meaningful. She's devastated when it turns out he doesn't write or even sing his own music—he just gets paid to lip-sync and pretend to play the guitar. Simultaneously inverts the trope, as this causes Helga to admire him due to how he's managed to make so much money scamming people.
- Buffy Speak: Helga's description of Ruth in "Arnold's Valentine" has her resort to making up words.
- Bullying a Dragon: Several episodes deal with people (usually Sid and Stinky), teasing either Harold or Big Patty, either of who can and will beat the crap out of them in retaliation.
- But for Me, It Was Tuesday: A heartwarming example—in the Veterans' Day-special, it turns out that Gerald's father is a Vietnam War veteran. However, he was sick with the flu during most of basic training, so he was unable to partake in any actual combat and mostly worked as an office clerk—in fact, the only real action he saw was when he once happened to come upon a fallen soldier who had a severe leg wound. Gerald's dad explains that he used some spare files to create a makeshift bandage for his leg—Mr. Johansen didn't think anything of it (he was just helping someone who happened to really need it). Twenty years, while Gerald and his dad, with Arnold and his Grandpa Phil in tow, are in Washington DC at the Vietnam War-memorial for soldiers, they run into the same man that Gerald's dad had saved in Vietnam—the man reveals himself to be named Private Miller and explains to Gerald's dad that if he hadn't done what he did to help in the war, he would've bled to death. Private Miller (who's with his wife and kids) adds that he's been waiting twenty years to personally thank him for ultimately saving his life.
- But Not Too Foreign: Phoebe has a Japanese dad and a white mom. Plus, Phoebe's last name, Heyerdahl, certainly isn't Japanese - unless her dad is only of partial Japanese descent.
- Eugene constantly gets injured or subjected to misfortune in all of his appearances.
- Arnold is not completely safe either (particularly if Helga's involved), and as Eugene, he doesn't have a too hard time handling his problems. This makes him into a No Respect Guy.
- Sid, Stinky and Harold to a lesser extent than the former and latter.
- Brainy, at the hands of Helga. Helga backhands him every time she notices him.
- Helga herself also suffers this a lot due to the many ordeals she puts herself through whenever she attempts to keep her secret from Arnold, as well as her family life.
- Calling Parents by Their Name: Helga refers to her mother and father as "Miriam" and "Bob" respectively, most likely because she doesn't view them as true parents, and for good reason.
- The Cameo: During later seasons, it's pretty common to see past/minor characters in crowd shots and backgrounds. Hey Arnold! The Movie has a ton of these during its first act.
- Camp Gay: Mr. Simmons is a toned down version of this, as while he is confirmed to be gay, his effeminate traits and mannerisms aren't blatant.
- Cassandra Truth:
- In "Girl Trouble", Arnold is fed up with Helga's bullying and goes to his Grandpa for advice. Phil guesses that the reasons she bullies him is because she likes him, pointing out that a girl named Gertie (who turns out is Arnold's Grandmother) did the same thing to him when he was younger. Arnold dismisses this theory.
- In "Married", Rhonda repeatedly tells Arnold that he will marry Helga (via a marriage predictor). The only one who believes it is Helga, but as per the word of Craig Bartlett, they do get married in the future.
- Cast of Snowflakes: The art style makes good use of creative head shapes and various body sizes and proportions to make the characters distinctive and not resort to reusing character designs.
- Bartlett's brother-in-law is Matt Groening, who actually advised him to make his characters so that they are recognizable through silhouette, which is why Arnold has a football shaped head, and Gerald has a high hairdo, etc.
- The Cat Came Back: Subverted in "Phoebe Cheats" when out of guilt Phoebe tries to dispose of a trophy she didn't earn. There are logical reasons why it keeps coming back into her possession, but she doesn't see them and she thinks it's moving by itself.
- Helga often says "Criminy" when she is frustrated or annoyed.
- Grandpa's - "Never eat raspberries".
- Stinky always either says "this bites" or "this really bites" when something upsets him.
- Sid says "boy howdy" fairly often as well.
- Harold often grumbles "Madame Fortress Mommy'." Whenever he's scared he usually cries out Mommy!
- Gerald has "Are you thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?" He apparently got it from his father, who does it to Phil in the Veterans Day episode.
- In the April Fool's episode Arnold borrows it and turns it around:
Arnold: I think you're thinking what I'm thinking.
Gerald: (whispers in Arnold's ear)
Arnold: That's even better than what I was thinking.
- Gerald also has "You're a bold kid, Arnold... a bold kid." He even lampshades it when Arnold says it to him in "Cool Jerk".
Arnold: You're a bold kid, Gerald.
- Eugune has "I'm okay..." which was "I'm fine" in earlier episodes.
- Then there's Mr. Hyunh with always calling some of the show's more eccentric characters "creepy" (which they admittedly are).
- The Jolly Olly Man has "Who's laughing now eh? WHO'S LAUGHING NOW!?"
- Harold has a tendency to say, "I was hungry!" whenever people look at him for eating something he shouldn't.
- Caught on the Jumbotron: Arnold and Gerald are caught on the big screen at a baseball game while skipping school in "Hookey", much to their horror.
- Celebrity Is Overrated:
- Stinky doesn't want to be an idiot in soda commercials in "Stinky Goes Hollywood".
- "Mr. Hyunh Goes Country" is about this: Mr. Hyunh could have been the next big country music star, but after tasting fame, he gives it up because he prefers his normal, simple life.
- In "It Girl": Helga is against modeling for Johnny Stitches from the start, only doing it for the money and the free stuff. Seeing everyone wearing her dress and bow (even some boys are wearing it) pushes her over the edge. So she tries to get fired by shoving a model during another one of Stitches' shows, then by spitting in front of the press. Realizing that being mean only makes people love her more (since Helga's nastiness is much of her image), Arnold suggests that she try acting nice at Fashion Week. And it works.
- Celebrity Paradox: In the Hey Arnold! universe Dino Spumoni is a stand-in and Affectionate Parody of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, but in Dino Checks Out it shows that Dino was a member of the Rat Pack along with them.
- Celebrity Star: Randy Travis in "Mr. Hyunh Goes Country". Voiced facsimile Travis Randall, and the titular Mr. Hyunh (when singing).
- Cerebus Retcon: Originally Helga's situation with her family was Played for Laughs. Helga's mom falls asleep all the time while making "smoothies"? Hilarious. Helga's dad always calls her by her sister's name? Hysterical. Neither of them really pay attention to her? Knee-slapping. Then came the episode "Helga on the Couch" and her family's neglect of her was shown in a far more serious light.
- Chainsaw Good: In the episode "Helga's Parrot", Helga was going to kill the annoying parrot with a chainsaw, but it ends up escaping to Arnold's house when his front door is left open.
- Character Development: There was much character development through the series, with Harold and Helga's developments into being nicer and more sympathetic characters being the most apparent cases.
- In fact, Arnold is probably the character that got the least, and what little he does get usually pertains to his feelings for his Love Interests. After pining after Ruth McDougal for most of the first season, he finally goes on a date with her in "Arnold's Valentine" and almost instantly loses interest after spending time with her. His more notorious attraction to Lila, which began in season 3 with "Arnold & Lila", actually comes to an end in "Timberly Loves Arnold", late in season 5. Tellingly, in "Eugene, Eugene!", which immediately followed "Timberly Loves Arnold", he shows absolutely no interest in her - even in a scene when he and Stinky are watching her audition (while Stinky fawns over her). Lila also has no more speaking parts after this and it's been confirmed that she will not appear in The Jungle Movie. This since has become a case of either Lying Creator or Changed My Mind, Kid, as she can be seen in the SDCC clip, but didn't do anything important
- Characterization Marches On:
- Remember when the Jolly-Olly Man used to be a simple, nameless, smiling ice cream man and not a total psychopath?
- Remember when Arnold was a chronic daydreamer?
- Remember when Harold was a Jerkass and less of a Jerk with a Heart of Gold?
- Remember when Stinky was a bully and sidekick to Harold? Furthermore, remember when he wore those spiky wristbands?
- Remember when Sid wasn't a paranoid nutcase? The guy even gained episodes dedicated to him because of it.
- Remember when Rhonda wasn't rich?
- Remember when Helga was so unsympathetic that her failures and neglectful home life were amusing? And her crush on Arnold was of the stalker variety? Well, that last part never changed much, but she did eventually commit several acts of true love.
- The Chew Toy:
- Eugene, the Anthropomorphic Personification of bad luck.
- Arnold's father Miles is pretty accident-prone too. Not as extreme as Eugene though.
- Pick an episode where Helga's secret is in danger of some sort, and you'll get an episode where the universe itself plots against her for eleven minutes straight.
- Chez Restaurant: Chez Pierre and Chez Paris who are right across the street from one another, the better to aid any would-be Two-Timer Date.
- The two similarly named restaurants become a plot point again when Helga wins a free dinner for four at Chez Pierre but accidentally brings her guests to Chez Paris, she doesn't realize this until she's given the large bill and noticed the name on the check doesn't match the name on her gift card.
- Christmas Episode: "Arnold's Christmas", where Arnold tries to reunite Mr. Hyunh with his daughter as his Secret Santa present.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome:
- Mr. Hyunh's daughter Mai was never seen again. Possibly justified - after all, she presumably had adoptive parents in the US, given that her father hadn't been in her life for about 2 decades. She is mentioned only once, in "Family Man".
- Ruth McDougal (the sixth grader Arnold had a crush on in the first season) mysteriously disappears towards the middle of the series. One could guess that she simply graduated from P.S. 118, since she was already in sixth grade, and Arnold never mentions her (or his crush on her) after the Valentine's Day episode in which Arnold tries to go on a date with both Ruth (who thinks she's seeing a famous poet named "Anonymous") and his French pen pal, Cecilia, and discovers that Ruth isn't all that bright or interesting to be around. In "What's Opera, Arnold?," she appears mainly for Helga to have a foil in Arnold's dream opera. Afterwards, she only cameos two or three times.
- Tucker, Coach Wittenburg's son. Appeared in one episode and was never seen or mentioned again. Odd, since Coach Wittenburg gets a few focus episodes. It's particularly glaring when one such episode deals with Wittenburg's estrangement from his wife. He finally reappears in The Jungle Movie alongside his parents.
- Mr. Smith (the first season boarder whose face nobody sees) never appears after "Door #16"
- Lana Vail, the brunette woman who lived in the boarding house, also disappears midway through the first season, but shows up in background shots on occasion; for example, at the restaurant with the cockroaches in "Dinner for Four". Some sources say that her original characterization was considered too inappropriate for Nickelodeonnote so they dropped her altogether.
- Mr. Purdy also disappeared after only a quick gag in one episode. The boarding house sure suffered a loss of business after season 1.
- Torvald seems to have completely disappeared after only a few appearances.
- Billy, a member of the geek ensemble introduced in "Eugene's Bike" disappeared without a trace after the first season.
- Inverted with Grandpa's sister Mitzi, who appeared out of the blue with no previous mention during the fourth season. However, she also never made any other appearances afterwards.
- Ludwig never appeared again after his debut episode despite the implication that he and Wolfgang would join forces from then on.
- Circle of Shame: This happens dozens of times. Often, several of the characters forming the circle were laughed at in an earlier episode, because Kids Are Cruel.
- The City vs. the Country: Lila moves from a farm to the big city and is immediately resented and made fun of by the other kids. Subverted when she stays in the city and the other kids warm to her.
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander:
- Arnold's Grandparents both tend to be very eccentric and prone to bizarre habits.
"Hey! Crazy lady! Come back here with my bulldozer!!"
- In the first season, Arnold himself was this way, being very quiet and introverted, with a tendency to frequently lapse into intense daydreams.
- Principal Wartz, too. During the flood, he dressed in Mexican garb and danced around, then climbed onto the school roof and started singing. He later quit his job as principal for an episode to seek a career as a singer.
- The Collector of the Strange:
- Helga's statue of Arnold made out of wads of ABC gum the boy threw away, doubles as a Stalker Shrine.
- Arnold's cousin Arnie collects lint.
- Ernie has his apartment filled with the last brick of each building he demolished (which is over 500). Amazing the extra weight hasn't caused his floor to give in.
- Comic-Book Time: Several dates in the background show the series takes place in the mid-to-late 1990s. During "New Bully on the Block", the scoreboard said Gerald Field was founded in July 1997. A newspaper printed on October 9, 1998 appears on "It Girl", and the show Arnold and Helga appear on on their beach trip is filmed in July 22, 1999. Despite these dates being from 3 different years, very few characters are shown having birthdays, and none of the kids ever move on to the 5th grade. The Jungle Movie moves the timeline all the way to the 2010s, with smartphones now being commonplace.
- Comic Trio: Harold (Moe), Sid (Curly), and Stinky (Larry), especially earlier on, when Harold was more of a one-dimensional bully and Sid and Stinky were his flunkies.
- Compressed Vice: Oskar's illiteracy. "Oskar Can't Read?" is the only episode where it comes up.
- Consolation World Record: "World Records" has everyone in Hillwood try and fail to break a lot of world records, but end up breaking the record for the most record-breaking attempts to ever be attempted!
- Construction Vehicle Rampage: Defied.
- As Ernie Potts enjoys being the demolition worker, he plans to knock down the old Circle Theater with his wrecking ball crane, which Arnold's grandmother is against him, causing the conflict in the episode "The Old Building".
- In "Save the Tree", Helga's father Big Bob announces that Mighty Pete, the oldest tree in town, will cut down with a bulldozer and build a beeper center on its place, which Arnold and the other kids are against him because they love the tree. As a result, the bulldozer is mainly focused in the episode's climax. note
- Bulldozers are also prominently featured in the movie.
- Continuity Nod:
- Lila mentions she gets sick on the big amusement rides in "Love and Cheese". After riding the coaster in "Timberly Loves Arnold" she's seen throwing up
- The premise of "Beaned" calls back to the plot of "Dangerous Lumber," showing that Arnold still has a perfect record for beaning people with baseballs. And the plot of "Dangerous Lumber" could be seen as continuing off of the event that kicked off "24 Hours To Live."
- In the episode where Arnold tries to help Chocolate Boy overcome his chocolate addiction Gerald mentions several of Arnold's past accomplishments which were all from past episodes.
"Helped Stoop Kid and The Pigeon Man, found Mr. Hyunh's daughter, saved Mighty Pete, stopped the teachers strike..."
- In "The Baseball", Mickey Kaline tells Arnold a story, saying that the pitcher he was batting against was "pitching like a man on fire". Two years later in "Dangerous Lumber", the roles would be reversed with Arnold telling Mickey his own story in which the pitcher Arnold was batting against was "pitching like a man on fire".
- Cool Big Sis: Olga tries to be a cool older sister to Helga, but Helga resents her most of the time. She gets along better with Lila in "Big Sis".
- Cool Car: Grandpa's vintage Packard; it was even the focus of "Grandpa's Packard".
- Cool Loser: In "Cool Party" Gerald is on the "geek" list. Subverted in that Gerald was only put on the "geek" list by Rhonda because he beat her for the position of Class President in 2nd grade.
- Cool Old Guy: Arnold's Grandpa is a very good guardian to his grandson and will sometimes join in his grandson's pastimes.
- Cool Old Lady: Arnold's Grandma occasionally is the one who helps Arnold save the day.
- Cool Shades: Iggy rarely takes off his sunglasses. In addition, Curly wears an eyeglasses with opaque lens, which make his eyes invisible.
- Corrupt the Cutie: Arnold's Grandpa after entering fifth grade becomes more prone to dishonest behavior.
- Covert Pervert: In "Timberly Loves Arnold", Lila says this immortal line:
That is, if Arnold doesn't mind making it a threesome
- Cover-up Purchase: When Helga wants to show that she's feminine to attend Rhonda's slumber party, she goes to a corner store to buy a preteen beauty magazine for makeover tips, along with other magazines to cover it up. Unfortunately, the cashier has trouble scanning the beauty magazine and shouts to her co-worker asking for the price for it while describing the magazine, which gets the attention of all shoppers. Helga quickly pays for all the magazines and then runs out the store embarrassed.
- The Cowl: Hillwood's local superhero Monkeyman strives to fight for the good of all.
- CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: Subverted and inverted at the end of "Summer Love" in which Helga gives Arnold CPR after being rescued in a "Babewatch" film shooting, only for her to give him a kiss which surprises Arnold.
- Crack Defeat: Subverted in "Family Man", where Mr. Hyunh worries that his new boss will pick an inferior cook as the new head chef of the restaurant he works at simply because he has a family, but Mr. Hyunh gets the position in the end precisely because he's a way better cook than the other guy.
- Crappy Holidays: "Arnold's Thanksgiving" has Arnold and Helga complain about their own Thanksigivings, but finding that Mr. Simmons' Thanksgiving is even worse.
- Crazy People Play Chess: The Sewer King plays chess and is strongly implied to be out of his gourd.
- Creative Closing Credits: Quite a few episodes (particularly special/serious ones) have their own unique credit music. Some episodes even have the credits playing over actual animation and dialogue ("Principal Simmons").
- Creepy Child:
- Crotch-Glance Sex Check: In "The Journal", Miles and Stella receive a pig as a gift from The Green-Eyed People. Stella mistakes the pig as a female and wants to call it "Isabel", but her husband changes the name to "Abner" when he sees its crotch after he opens the blanket the pig was wrapped in.
- Curse Cut Short: In "Ghost Bride", while Arnold is reading the epitaph of the titular Ghost Bride.
Arnold: Here lies Cynthia Snell. She lived her life and went straight to... I can't read the rest.
- Cute Bruiser: Helga is 9 years old and still pretty capable of giving beatings to other people.
- Dad the Veteran:
- Grandpa was in World War Two. When tasked with driving a truck loaded with spoiled meat for disposal during the Battle of the Bulge, he was ambushed by hungry Germans who start eating the meat despite his warnings. Their commanding officer thinks he's trying to trick them, so he pretends he was and has been outsmarted, then captures them when they get food poisoning and directs friendly troops through the area, which is implied to be critical to Allied victory at the Bulge.
- Gerald's father was in Vietnam, but in a desk job, much to Gerald's disappointment that he wasn't a war hero like Arnold's Grandpa. He eventually reveals he was taking paperwork to another base when he came across a wounded soldier. He saved the soldier's life by using the paperwork as bandages and taking him to a field hospital.
- Darker and Edgier: In-universe in "Eugene, Eugene". The director deliberately changes the original happy ending of the play into a Downer Ending, to stimulate the Black Comedy fan crowd.
- Dark-Skinned Blond: Nadine. This becomes a bit more...somewhat plausible when you notice that in Parents Day, her dad is white and her mom is black.
- A Day in the Limelight: Despite his name being in the title, there are more than a few episodes where Arnold has absolutely no connection to the plot at all.
- Indeed, by the end of the series, it's easier to count the secondary characters who didn't ever get an episode focusing on themnote ; practically every kid in Arnold's class and "permanent" member of the boarding house had at least one. Even Helga's parents had at least one each.
- Dead Artists Are Better: In an in-universe example, one episode involves Dino Spumoni faking his death to rekindle an interest in his music and raise his sales. It works too well as a Dino-impersonator comes along, doing his songs and gigs, dates his former wife, and his dog loves him, and drives Dino jealous and reveals he isn't dead.
- Deadly Euphemism: Grandpa and Jimmy Kafka exchange a bunch of these in "Old Iron Man" when they believe they're about to drown.
Grandpa: We're going to Davy Jones' Locker!
Jimmy: Kicking the bucket!
Grandpa: Buying the water farm!
Jimmy: Checking out of the Hotel of Life!
Grandpa: And checking into the Hotel of Death!
Jimmy: The Big Roundup!
Grandpa: The Last Tango in Paris!
Grandpa: I know but it was my turn and I ran out of euphemisms and I didn't want to lose the game!
- In "Grandpa's Birthday", Grandpa uses the phrase "Buying the farm" to Arnold. Arnold takes it literally at first.
- Deadpan Snarker:
- Gerald will frequently make sarcastic remarks about the situation.
- Helga can snark with the best of them.
- Dean Bitterman: Principal Wartz can be grouchy and unreasonable at times.
- Deceased Parents Are the Best: Arnold's parents, Miles and Stella, were assumed to be deceased during the original run, and therefore fell into this trope. They have devoted their lives to working with and healing the inhabitants of remote jungles. In the ultimate saintly move they left Arnold with his grandparents after being pressured to go on one last mission—and never came home. In The Jungle Movie it is revealed that they fell to the sleeping sickness they were working on curing, and were comatose for nine years. They recovered along with the Green Eyes tribe when Arnold and Helga activated the machine that spread the antidote throughout the Green Eyes' encampment.
- Deconstruction: Arguably for shows like Arthur and Recess. For in those shows, there is a memorable/colorful cast of characters, all with their own personality quirks. While that is present here in Hey Arnold, the quirks and traits that make the characters more or less memorable, are usually the result of some hidden neurosis, or psychosis. Some characters have even received therapy for said problems; only to regress to their former problematic ways at the story's end.
- Ironically, this receives the same treatment in "Deconstructing Arnold". Helga starts the episode by calling out on Arnold that he is too much of a Nice Guy that ruins fun for everyone but the problem is that Helga's only good at this because she is a Jerkass and merely uses this method to bully him. What results is a short life without Arnold who IS the only one who kept everything in order and that includes the school. Once he stops helping his friends, they began to suffer from their foolishness. The kids then turn to Helga for help but she lacked the wisdom and any sort of social skills(minus Phoebe) Arnold has causing the problems to grew even worse such as Curly humiliating Rhonda, Sid losing his friendship with Lorenzo and Harold and Stinky injuring Eugene. She even lampshades how much of a terrible person she is. Who are the kids going to hate more? Arnold or the Unwitting Instigator of Doom.
- Defeat Equals Friendship: Subverted in the episode "24 Hours To Live" because even though Arnold never fought Harold directly, he still gained his respect after the "fight" sequence, through the way he got himself out of the fight.
- Demoted to Extra: After Arnold finally gets over Lila in "Timberly Loves Arnold/Eugene! Eugene!", she becomes a background character and never has another speaking role.
- Denser and Wackier: Later episodes became more comedic and off-the-wall in tone.
- Department of Redundancy Department: Coach Wittenburg repetitively overuses words.
- Depending on the Writer: A lot about the way the kids relate to one another change depending on the plot - which makes a bit of sense for grade school kids.
- Most obvious is how close the gang is: sometimes they're one huge tightly knit group of friends that hang around together with little to no friction ("Arnold's Halloween"; any time they play on the vacant lot), while other times they seem to have no problem with insulting/making fun of their friends. Generally, it's shown that Arnold's closest friends aside from Gerald are Harold, Sid, Stinky, and Eugene.
- The True Companions approach to the 4th graders is most often used in episodes where they go on some kind of adventure ("Ghost Bride") or are up against a common enemy ("New Bully on the Block"; "New Teacher"), and got a bit more common in general episodes as the show went on.
- Helga's relationship with Arnold - sometimes Arnold sees her as a bullying nuisance and doesn't seem to like her very much ("Girl Trouble"; "Summer Love"; "Married"; and particularly "Egg Story", so much that it seems out-of-character), whereas other times, it's evident that he is aware that her abrasive attitude is a cover of some kind and approaches her as a friend regardless of her behavior ("Helga vs Big Patty"; "School Play"; any episode where Helga has a family problem and Arnold gives her advice).
- Detention Episode: "Full Moon", Harold, Stinky, and Sid moon Principal Wartz. Arnold is the only witness, and because he refuses to rat them out, Principal Wartz gives Arnold 30 days of hard labor in detention. If Arnold confesses before the end of the deadline, Principal Wartz will lift his punishment, and if he doesn't, he will mark Arnold as a "Failure to cooperate" on his permanent record, but Arnold still refuses to rat his friends out. Near the end of the episode, Harold, Stinky and Sid's guilty consciences catch up with them and they confess what they did to Principal Wartz just before he can mark Arnold as a failure to cooperate.
- Helga will refuse to let any setback stop her, particularly when her secret is in danger of getting out. The climax of "Helga's Parrot" in particular has her single-mindedly driving herself through the roof to keep things under wraps.
- Brainy has been given Offhand Backhands whenever he tries to be near Helga since the age of three
now nine, he still does it.
- Didn't Think This Through: Harold's plan to get a week off from school by intentionally getting himself suspended in "Suspended" proves to have a few holes in it. For starters, he intended to spend most of his time watching TV and eating junk food and didn't anticipate that the programs he wanted to watch would be interrupted by an emergency broadcast or that he'd currently be out of the kind of food he likes to eat. He also tried to hide the fact that he was suspended from his parents so he could have the house to himself, but failed to realize that his parents would lock the front door if they thought he was at school.
- Dinner Order Flub: Helga, trying to pass herself off as Arnold's French pen pal whilst in disguise and with a very rudimentary knowledge of French, attempts to make a order from the menu of a fancy French restaurant. It isn't until she's happily tucking into the dish that the waiter informs her that she's eating cow brain and eggs... which prompts a dart to the bathroom. Arnold played it safe with a steak and fries.
- Disability Superpower: The blind guy in "Das Subway" had a really good sense of smell.
- Disappearing Box: Helga gets involved in the trick in "Magic Show", but decides to run away instead of staying behind the secret wall, thinking what life would be like without her. It leaves Arnold trying to bring her back many times with no avail.
- Disney Acid Sequence: Helga experiences a bizarre series of hallucinations after drinking an (alleged) anti-love potion in "Helga's Love Potion."
- Disproportionate Retribution:
- Distracted by the Luxury: Rhonda frequently prioritizes her attention toward the gifts her parents shower her with.
- Dogged Nice Guy: Arnold becomes a mild version after realizing that he's interested in Lila, only for Lila to continually clarify to him that she's realized that she doesn't like like him.
- Doing It for the Art: In-Universe. Mr. Hyunh, who has an incredible country-western singing voice, only likes to play music for his friends and family as a way to relax, while perfectly happy to work his restaurant day job. When Arnold and Gerald try to make his famous, he's clearly not comfortable with it.
- Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male:
- Zig-zagged with Helga. While her bullying (of everyone, not just Arnold) is not treated as seriously as a male bully would be, it is still not portrayed as being okay by the show, pointing out repeatedly that it is a problem, and that what Helga is doing is not acceptable behaviour for anybody. Helga on the Couch: Principal Wartz didn't seem to pay much attention to Helga punching Brainy, as usual, until Dr. Bliss informs him of this. It's possible that Wartz, like the students, had grown accustomed to it or the instances didn't get reported considering how Helga is.
- However, in one episode, Helga throws glue on Arnold, and Arnold snaps and throws paint on her. Arnold is the one who gets yelled at.
- Played straight with Arnold's grandparents when they were kids, where his grandmother would do the same (if not worse) to his grandfather.
- There is an unfortunate amount of Truth in Television in how bullying is reacted to in schools in this show. Principal Wartz's non-reaction is normal for an American school administrator, and bullying (be it physical or verbal) is largely given a blind eye unless someone outside the school makes an issue of it. And Arnold being punished for throwing the paint is also an unfortunate norm: Anyone who lashes out at a bully gets punished for "perpetuating the problem", frequently while the bully escapes with either a warning or no punishment at all.
- Averted in "Jamie-O in Love", as Gerald and Arnold find out that Jamie-O is being financially and emotionally exploited by his manipulative girlfriend. They initially enjoy it because Jamie-O's finally treating them nicely due to being in love, but as soon it's shown how much he's suffering because of the increasing demands of his girlfriend, Gerald tells Jamie-O the truth, helping him to break up with her.
- Downer Ending:
- "Arnold Betrays Iggy" ends with Arnold cutting off ties with Iggy after suffering public humiliation.
- "New Bully on the Block" ends with the gang being beaten up and losing Gerald Field to Wolfgang and Ludwig.
- "Operation Ruthless" and "Love and Cheese" have a downer ending for Helga. The episodes have the same basic plot, with Ruth and Lila, respectively. Helga brings it on herself both times, since she shouldn't be allowed to get away with what she does, but both endings portray her as so pitiful that you can't help but feel for her.)
- "Helga and the Nanny" ends with Helga's home life going back to its dysfunctional state after she pushed away the one person that was improving it. Just like the above example, Helga doesn't really deserve a happy ending, but it's hard not to feel sorry for her.
- Dream Sequence: Many dream sequences appeared in the first season when Arnold was portrayed more as a Cloudcuckoolander, but went away as the show went on.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty:
- Lieutenant Major Goose can be pretty petulant and demanding, he was Arnold's teacher for short time,(after Miss Slovak and before Mr. Simmons), he's a satire of Major Payne.
- Coach Wittenburg also had the sports discipline of a drill sergeant.
- Dropped Glasses: Happens to Phoebe in the hallway in "Hall Monitor", where she frantically searches for her dropped glasses as other students step on them.
- Duck Season, Rabbit Season: Helga pulls this trick on Arnold in his dream in "Married", tricking him into saying he does want to marry her by switching sides of their argument after it's gone on long enough.
- During the War: Grandpa's war story. Which includes the tale that he personally beat up Hitler, and this tidbit:
Arnold: Grandpa, you did not fight Adolf Hitler! You're making this all up.
Grandpa: Okay, ya got me. I made that part up. It was Goebbels.
- Dysfunctional Family: Dear God, the Patakis. Very much so.
- Early-Bird Cameo:
- Monkeyman can be seen (and heard) in the background in several episodes before his Season 4 debut. In fact, he appears in the very first episode "Downtown as Fruits".
- Patty first appeared in "Ms. Perfect" as a nameless character who unintentionally falls victim to pranks Helga intended to inflict on Lila.
- Early Installment Weirdness:
- The original Stop Motion shorts are nothing like the main series. Aside from being in a different animation medium, the shorts focus not on solving real-life problems, but on drifting off into Arnold's imagination. In addition, Arnold himself is a cross between Mr. Imagination and a Cloud Cuckoo Lander, his fascination with dinosaurs is much more apparent, and the sequences themselves are bizzare in comparison to the main series.
- The first season is a lot different from the other seasons. The animation is of much lower quality, with lots of Off-Model scenes, the students are taught by Miss Slovak instead of Mr. Simmons, there were fewer episodes centered on Helga (and she lacked any redeeming qualities for a while, with the abuse and neglect she suffered being used as a form of Comedic Sociopathy), Arnold has a crush on Ruth, who is nowhere to be found after season 1, there is a heavier focus on bizarre one-shot characters as opposed to Arnolds classmates, and on top of all that, Arnold is FAR more child-like and immature compared to the later seasons.
- One early episode has Gerald as the voice of reason, and another has Pookie act as the voice of reason. Watching the later episodes you'd be surprised to see this.
- The original pilot episode of the series depicted most of the characters as having differently-colored clothes and gave Gerald a more saturated skin tone.
- Easy Amnesia: Helga gets amnesia in "Beaned" after getting hit with a baseball. Subverted in that she gets her memory back normally when she wakes up the next day, not by getting hit again. However, she continues to fake amnesia to take advantage of Arnold's kindness, and when she feels guilty about it, she intentionally hits her head again so she can pretend that she just then got her memory back.
- Election Day Episode: "Mr. Green Runs" had Marty Green, a butcher shop owner, angry at the fact that his councilman was failing to do things to help the community he represented (such as failing to get funds to repair and repave roads which had massive potholes) and spent more time golfing than working on legislation, decided to oppose him in the upcoming election. Green wins.
- Embarrassing First Name: Curly's real first name is Thaddeus.
- Embarrassing Pyjamas: The "Arnold Betrays Iggy" episode has Arnold discover that Iggy, who has a reputation as the coolest kid at P.S. 118, wears bunny pajamas. Iggy makes Arnold promise not to tell, and although Arnold keeps his promise, his friends find out through extremely accurate guessing. When Iggy finds out, Arnold does everything he can to earn back Iggy's trust, but the only thing that will work is if Arnold walks out in public dressed in Iggy's pajamas. Arnold is teased by almost everyone in the neighborhood, and only then does Iggy realize that he went too far. Now Iggy tries to earn back Arnold's trust, but Arnold doesn't want to see or speak to him ever again.
- Embarrassment Plot: "Phoebe's Little Problem" focuses on Phoebe farting into a microphone at school assembly and being too embarrassed to return to school. She eventually goes back to school and tells everyone who teased her off, then Harold embarrasses himself from wetting his pants laughing at Phoebe.
- Ensemble Cast:
- While Arnold is the kid with his name on the show's title, the series doesn't focus only on him. There's a certain (and rather large) group of characters that appear pretty darn often: Helga, Harold, Gerald, Phoebe, Sid, Rhonda, Stinky, Eugene, Mr. Simmons, Big Bob, Miriam, Grandpa, Grandma, Oskar, Ernie, and Mr. Hyunh.
- Then there's characters that appear fairly often, but not quite enough to be considered part of the main circle: Principal Wartz, Curly, Lila, Brainy, Suzie, and Olga
- Escaped Animal Rampage: In "Cool Party", Curly goes crazy (again) after he's among those not invited to Rhonda's party, and acting on an impulse, frees all the animals from the zoo.
- Even Evil Has Standards:
- Big Bob's greedy, but he's not a murderer. He also refuses to bulldoze a tree upon realizing there were kids up there, but mostly his kid (which in of itself is something, considering how neglectful he usually is of Helga.)
- Helga gives Arnold a lot of crap but during the parents day episode when Bob calls Arnold (who was in earshot) an orphan, she is shocked and later goes up to Arnold and apologizes for it, justified because it's probably one of the only things that can hurt him.
- Played with when Rhonda (forced by circumstance to pretend to be his girlfriend) publicly dumps Curly and humiliates him, Helga is disgusted with her and tells her she has a black heart. To Rhonda, Helga is the biggest Jerkass around (only the audience knows about her hidden heart of gold).
- Speaking of Helga, the other children aren't really evil but can be cruel Jerkasses at times. However, even they called Helga out when she framed her nanny for theft.
- In "Arnold's Thanksgiving", Helga may be dissatisfied with her dysfunctional family on Thanksgiving. But when she and Arnold visit Mr. Simmons in hopes his Thanksgiving is much better, they're appalled to see first-hand how selfish, rude and self-centered his own family is. If Helga's reaction is any indication, her family isn't nearly as disfunctional.
- Everybody Cries:
- "Ms. Perfect" involves Lila refusing to attend school after being the victim of a prank courtesy of Helga, Phoebe, Rhonda, Nadine, and Sheena. When the girls arrive at Lila's house to drop off her homework, they discover that Lila and her father are suffering from financial issues. The moment Lila's father breaks down crying when he is told he has been rejected as a job candidate, Helga and the other girls start to feel remorse over their treatment of Lila and start shedding tears too.
- In "School Play", when P.S. 118's production of Romeo & Juliet comes to a close, there is hardly a dry eye from anyone who had watched the play.
- In "Full Moon", Harold, Sid, and Stinky are all crying as they confess to Principal Wartz to mooning him in order to clear Arnold's name.
- In "Synchronized Swimming", Coach Wittenburg talks about his emotional experience watching a movie called "Come Back, Wayne", particularly the ending. By the time he has finished talking about his experience to his synchronized swimming team, he and most of his team are in tears. The only ones who don't cry are Arnold and Gerald, although Gerald's lips do quiver at one point.
- "On the Lam" has Harold, Sid, and Stinky once again crying together. Only this time, not only does it involve them thinking they blew up a police station, but they all cry twice in one episode! The first time is when they confess to Arnold about their "actions" in his basement and the second time is when they confess to everybody on live TV near the end.
- Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Stoop Kid, Chocolate Boy, Pigeon Man, Monkey Man, and The Jolly-Olly Man are just some characters on the show who are seldom addressed by their real names, if their real names are known at all. (Pigeon Man's real name is Vincent, while Jolly Olly's real name is Willie.)
- Everyone Loves Blondes: Helga and Lila for Arnold to a certain degree, since he has blond hair and they are attracted to him (the latter at least initially).
- Everyone Went to School Together: In this case, they all went to pre-school together, as revealed in a flashback in "Helga on the Couch." Strangely, even Harold was there, even though a previous episode had made Harold several years older than his classmates.
- Everything's Better with Rainbows: When Mr. Simmons becomes principal, there are a lot of rainbows at the school.
- Everytown, America: Hillwood is your typical made-up American city used as the setting for a work of fiction.
- Evil Laugh: Curly wins in the best psychotically evil laugh department, but Helga has a pretty impressive one as well. Some of the other characters get one in certain episodes: Sid for example gets on in "Sid's Revenge," and Phoebe gets a brief but creepy evil chuckle in "Phoebe Breaks a Leg."
- Evil Overlooker: Scheck is depicted as a giant reaching for Arnold and friends below him in the poster for The Movie.
- Evil Plan: Helga refers to her schemes to get what she wants as "evil plans", often with episodes dedicated solely to her pulling a series of them. A running gag in the series is that her evil plans always fail in ways that only help the person she's trying to hurt and hurt her instead.
- Excited Show Title!: Hey Arnold! is written as if it's something being shouted.
- Expressive Hair: Helga's pigtails will occasionally perk up or droop depending on her mood.
- Lieutenant Major Goose from New Teacher is an expy of the title character of Major Payne.
- Wally the Alligator in "Ransom" is the most obvious Barney expy ever.
- The mechanic in "Road Trip" is Karl Childers with a unibrow.
- The owner of the scarf store is modeled after Peter Lorre.
- Mr. Green is partially based on Ernest Borgnine's character from Marty.
- Extreme Doormat:
- Phoebe takes everything Helga throws at her - however, she gets some Character Development, in a few episodes where it's shown Helga also depends on Phoebe's support.
- Arnold himself lets people take him for granted a few times.
- Failure Is the Only Option: Helga's attempts at admitting her love to Arnold always end in failure. Subverted in The Movie, when she finally tells him face-to-face, and for good in The Jungle Movie.
- Fan Disservice: Gertie decides to go naked in "Summer Love" after encountering some naturists at the beach, her nudity thankfully obscured by a surfboard. Phil even lampshades it.
Phil: Aw, Pookie. Nobody wants to see that!
- Fandom-Specific Plot:
- The Jungle Movie fanfics, write-ups, and speculatory scenes were very popular in the decade-plus period between the end of the original run and the film's final airing.
- Fanfic writers are also particularly fond of the plot where a character leaves/runs away from town, stays away for years, and then comes back as an adult. This type of story usually stars Helga, who comes back hot and much nicer, and at the end finally manages to be with Arnold.)
- It's almost difficult to find an Arnold/Helga fanfic that doesn't feature Arnold seeing Helga with her hair down and realizing she was "Cecile".
- Fantasy Helmet Enforcement: The kids always wear helmets and other protective gear when they go biking.
- Fat Bastard:
- Harold is obese and was quite mean in the earlier episodes. As the series went on, he became The Big Guy with a slight hint of Jerkass.
- Big Bob is slightly overweight and not a very pleasant guy at all.
- Fat Idiot: Harold is shown to possess the IQ of a piece of furniture. This quote from Helga perfectly sums up why.
: Everything that happened today was your fault. You can't do anything right! Take the bus for example. Why do you think we missed it, Harold? Oh, let's see, hmm... maybe was it be because you were too busy eating twice your body weight in chocolate Num-nums?! Oh, how about this one? "Let's take the subway, I think it goes to Lincoln." Oh wait, no it doesn't, it goes straight to the bowels of the underworld!! Population: Homicidal! Toothless! Midget clowns!!
"I know, let's steal their bike, they won't mind." Now, you'd think that would be enough to fill any moron's day, but you're not just any moron, are you, Harold? You're the king! Your day's just getting started! So, because of your amazing curiosity about the world around us, you pulled the plug out of the bottom of our getaway boat!!!
- Fire-Breathing Diner: "Chocolate Boy" has Chocolate Boy exhale flames when he and Arnold try chili peppers as a substitute for chocolate to cure his addiction to chocolate.
- Feud Episode: "Best Friends" focused on a temporary falling out between both Arnold and Gerald and Dino Spumoni and his songwriting partner Don Reynolds.
- Fighting Back Is Wrong: In an episode, Helga and Arnold were fighting over some paint to use in their art project. Helga spills the paint on Arnold and Arnold (uncharacteristically, but understandably) spills it back on her. The classroom gasps collectively and Arnold gets in trouble from Mr. Simmons. Helga gets away with it.
- Arnold started out as a good-natured kid that sometimes made mistakes, but as the seasons went on, he turned into an incorruptible, squeaky clean, advice-giving saint.
- This spread to other characters who contrast it - in later seasons they were practically total buffoons or borderline immoral jerks, watching some episodes in which the voice of reason is someone like Gerald or even Grandma seems rather weird.
- Eugene's bad luck intensifies with each passing season.
- Grandma started out eccentric and a little batty, but ultimately sane and always willing to give Arnold a little advice (even if it was delivered in a non-traditional manner), but she got slowly crazier as the series wore on and by the end of the series she's little more than a crazy old lady who lives in Arnold's house. This can be somewhat justified in a somewhat horrifying way - senility.
- Olga started out as overachieving drama queen that would actually be treated like Helga if she wasn't successful and understood Helga's plight to.... just a content, overachieving drama queen. Also, you'll be damned if you see Miriam functioning despite drinking and scouring the city to get Helga a sold out gift for Christmas in any later season.
- Lila started as a seemingly perfect yet struggling girl who had Hidden Depths, and finished as a Parody Sue who was ever-so-certain about everything.
- For Doom the Bell Tolls: In the episode "Helga vs. Big Patty", the sound of a tolling bell can be heard just before the terrified Helga and Big Patty face each other in a scheduled fight, which is what the episode title is exactly called.
Stinky: Well, it's almost time, fellers. Who's got the popcorns?
- Four-Girl Ensemble: Lila is the sweet, innocent one, Helga is the tomboy, Rhonda is the glamour-obsessed pretty one, and Phoebe is the smart one.
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: Arnold (phlegmatic), Helga (choleric), Gerald (sanguine), and Phoebe (melancholic/leuquine).
- Free-Range Children: The nine-year-old cast runs about the city (which is quite big) with little concern from any of their parents. This includes playing sports in the middle of a busy street, running away when a car comes. This particular instance doubles as Truth in Television.
- The Freelance Shame Squad: Constantly shown, often spearheaded by Sid or Stinky. "Arnold Betrays Iggy" is one instance.
- Freeze-Frame Bonus: If you pause in "Phoebe's Little Problem", you can see that apparently they have school over the summer. Maybe they're making up the days they missed from the Teacher's Strike?
- The Friend Nobody Likes: Helga, due to her bullying tendencies, isn't well-liked by the other kids. Only Phoebe and occasionally Arnold truly consider her a friend. Everyone else just tolerates her out of fear and/or proximity.
- Freudian Excuse:
- As seen in one of Helga's days in the limelight, "Helga on the Couch." She discusses with the school psychiatrist her obsession of Arnold which is deeply embedded into her family life. On her first day of pre-school her parents were more focused on her sister Olga playing the piano. They didn't even acknowledge her existence when she asked them to take her. She had to walk there herself and on the way it began to rain, mud got splashed on her, and a rottweiler stole her lunch. Then Arnold gave her his umbrella, which was possibly the first time somebody showed her genuine kindness. She began her assertive personality when Harold stole her crackers and the other kids teased her about her crush. She explained to the psychiatrist that she treats Arnold the way she does because she fears rejection like how her family seemingly rejected her. It's safe to say that not one member of the audience had a dry eye when the episode was over. And Helga was placed top of the show's Woobie list.
- Parodied with the Jolly Olly Man: If you had to drive daily to a wasteland of a city to sell ice cream to horrible children you will be a little crazy too (even more scary, the true source of his problems is his father, who doesn't believe in him and is clearly expecting him to fail).
- Frothy Mugs of Water: Miriam is hinted to be alcoholic in a way that doesn't mention alcohol. She's shown drinking "Smoothies" and falling asleep in odd places, as well as putting Tabasco Sauce in them. She has slurred speech and signs of depression.
- Averted in "Buses, Bikes, and Subways" when Mr. Simmons' class sings the "explicit" version of "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall."
- Funny Foreigner: Mr. Hyunh has shades of being foreign comic relief at times, but Oskar Kokoshka defines this trope.
- Gag Nose: Sid, Stinky, Oskar, and Grandpa all have big noses.
Sid: I bet [Rhonda] thinks I'm a geek because of my big nose!
Stinky: It's not that big.
Sid: Thanks, but you're only saying that because you have the biggest honker in the world. No offense.
Stinky: None taken.
- Gainax Ending: "Sid the Vampire Slayer". Throughout the episode, Sid believes that Stinky is a vampire, citing strange though incriminating reasons and trying to take a stake to Stinky's chest. Fortunately, Arnold proves to Sid that Stinky is not a vampire...only to show at the very end that Sid was right, as Stinky has a chat with a bat, reveals his sharp fangs, and cackles maniacally. This wasn't brought up again, so Rule of Funny was probably in effect.
- Gave Up Too Soon: In "The Little Pink Book", Gerald and Arnold find Helga's poetry book about Arnold, and spend most of the day trying to figure out who wrote it. Scientific measures didn't work, so they try to compare hand-writing on the school yearbook. By the time night rolls in, they're tired and consider giving up because the next person on the list is Helga Pataki. They laugh at the very idea that Helga has a sensitive side, but to her relief (as she's hiding in Arnold's room at the time), they never check.
- Gay Paree: Subverted. When Helga tried to pass herself off as Arnold's pen pal, he asked about her home and Helga responded that Paris is a big noisy city, full of French people. Then Arnold recalled Cecile saying that she lived in a farm, catching Helga off guard.
- Gentle Giant: Patty Smith the Huge Schoolgirl of P.S. 118 is reasonable and good-natured when she isn't bullied or provoked.
- Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: In "Ms. Perfect", Helga becomes hysterical when she learns about Lila's crappy home life and regrets her bullying her, and Phoebe snaps her out of it by slapping her.
- "Getting My Own Room" Plot: Gerald decides to move into Arnold's grandpa's boarding house after being tired of dealing with both an Annoying Younger Sibling and Big Brother Bully and feeling shafted as the middle child. It wasn't as good as he thought since he was now on his own and had to take care of himself.
- Getting Suspended Is Awesome: In "Suspended", Harold deliberately gets suspended so he can get some time off of school. He quickly realizes that there's nothing fun to do and wants to go back to school.
- Ghost Train: In one episode, Arnold and his friend investigate the Legend of Engine 25, about a train piloted by a mad engineer which takes its passengers to the fiery heart of the underworld. It turns out be a Double Subversion: There's a real Engine 25, an industrial train which stops at a steel mill, and all the supernatural phenomena Arnold witnesses have perfectly rational explanations, but after Arnold concludes it's an urban myth, the audience is shown the train leaving the steel mill with the ghost of the engineer riding on its front.
- Gilligan Cut: It's a Running Gag to immediately cut to characters doing what they said they wouldn't.
Helga: I am not taking the subway! (cut) I can't believe I'm taking the subway!
Gerald: There's no way we're fishing in the swan boat! (cut) I can't believe we're fishing in the swan boat.
We are not calling our go-kart the "Mauve Avenger
I cannot believe we called our go-kart the "Mauve Avenger".
Helga: Look, I am not going to in there and tell them the truth and end up washing dishes. (cut) I can't believe I told them the truth and I wound up washing dishes.
Oskar: I never lose! (cut) I can't believe I lost.
Helga: I am not gonna be part of your dumb little football game. (gets the shit beaten out of her) I can't believe I'm part of their dumb little football game.
Rhonda: There is no way I am wearing that shirt! (cut) I cannot believe I am wearing this shirt.
- Girly Girl with a Tomboy Streak: Rhonda is a spoiled, rich Alpha Bitch, but she's not above playing football and baseball with her friends.
- Girly Scream: Sid, Eugene, and Mr. Simmons have feminine-sounding screams.
- Glasses Girl: Phoebe wears glasses.
- God: Appears in Stinky's prophetic dream in "Stinky's Pumpkin", voiced by Tony Jay.
- Going Commando: Phoebe in "Phoebe Skips", however, this is due to a couple of animation errors.
- Gonky Femme: Patty was at first a girl that was tall and big enough to beat the official bully, Helga, and no characterization was given apart from being scary, strong... and wearing a skirt and a headband. In a later episode she has her own day in the limelight, where she is shown to be feminine, polite and graceful enough to excel in Manner Classes, even getting to tutor the shows girliest girl, Rhonda.
- Good Parents: Surprisingly, most of the cast members, except Helga, have parents who do their best to raise them right. Some kids are shown only with one parent, but it's generally assumed the other one is there and simply not relevant to the plot. (The goodness of Arnold's parents was mostly implied until The Jungle Movie.)
- Granola Girl: Is Helga's nickname for Sheena, which seems to be more or less accurate given her obsession with eating healthy.
- G-Rated Drug:
- Chocolate Boy's obsession with chocolate is very similar to a drug addiction. In one episode, he begs Arnold to help him get over this. It is revealed that his nanny who took care of him as a very young child always gave him chocolate. He was devastated when she was forced to leave him. He ate chocolate to remind him of the one person who ever loved him.
- Miriam's "Smoothies" are a clear way of hinting she's an alcoholic without having to mention alcohol.
- Groin Attack:
- Arnold accidentally hits Grandpa in the groin in "Mugged" when he tried to kick a can off his head.
- Grumpy Old Man: Grandpa Phil is reasonable for the most part, but he does show a grouchy side whenever he argues with the tenants at the boarding house.
- Halloween Episode: "Arnold's Halloween" was a Whole Plot Reference to Orson Welles' The War of the Worlds radio prank.
- Hates Being Touched: Helga doesn't like being touched by Arnold, or at least she pretends to.
- Hate Sink:
- It's probably not a coincidence that Wolfgang was introduced around the same time that Helga and Harold started undergoing their Character Development. He's a worse bully than both of them ever were and has no redeeming qualities, so it's very easy for fans to hate him.
- There are also numerous one-shot characters that are this. In particular, Arnold, Oskar, Ernie, and Mr. Hyunh's rival Chauncey from "The Racing Mule" is a real piece of work. There is not a moment where Chauncey isn't arrogantly rubbing his victories in the heroes' faces, making fun of their mule Glueboy, and acting like an immature Manchild (including taunting Arnold and sticking his tongue out at Arnold like a six-year-old before the race). He even cheats by kicking Glueboy in the face during the mule race itself. Needless to say, he's such a detestable character that it'll be immensely satisfying to see Chauncey get knocked off his high horse (er, mule) when Arnold manages to beat him at the mule race despite Chauncey's efforts, which is immediately followed by Sore Loser Chauncey being kicked out of sight by his own mule.
- Headless Horseman: The Headless Cabbie is a legend surrounding a cabbie being decapitated and his ghost haunting the park at night.
- Heel Realization: The episode "Big Bob's Crisis" has Bob Pataki suffer a heart attack (it was actually just gas, but either way it sent him to the afterlife for a second) and before he goes into the light, he's able to look from on high at his actions earlier that day; denying a refund for a woman who bought a defective beeper for her eldery mother, refusing to give a single cent to a destitute orphan looking to send the kids in his orphanage to summer camp for a week to get away from the "abandoned warehouse next to the toxic waste dump," and firing an employee trying to support his wife and eight kids for accidentally organizing files incorrectly and knocking over a water cooler. As Bob watches, he looks more and more shameful, and realizes what an asshole he is. The rest of the episode is about his descent into a hippie lifestyle to become nicer and Helga trying to stop him before he goes too far.
Bob: Criminiy, I'm a monster.
- Here We Go Again!: Several episodes end with the characters going through, or planning on going through, similar events to the ones they just resolved:
- "Weighing Harold": Harold is again given a bet that he can't eat 50 Mr. Fudgie bars in one sitting
- "Phoebe Breaks a Leg": Helga is the one with a fractured leg and Phoebe is the one who has to tend to her needs until she heals.
- "Freeze Frame": Arnold and Gerald look over the footage of Mr. Green's surprise party and discover that Porkpie and his friend are planning to "really [get]" Mr. Green three weeks later at "the convention", prompting another investigation.
- Heroes Want Redheads: Arnold is attracted to the red-headed Lila.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: There are more than a few close friends consisting of two people of the same gender.
- Arnold and Gerald.
- Principal Wartz and Mr. Simmons, at least during the "karaoke night" ending of "Principal Simmons." (Played with, as according to the series creator Mr. Simmons is actually gay.)
- Helga and Phoebe, appropriately enough, considering their respective relationships with Arnold and Gerald.
- He Who Must Not Be Seen: Gerald's informant "Fuzzy Slippers" was mentioned several times in the early episodes, but was never actually seen.
- Hidden Depths: As confirmed by the chapter book Arnold's E-Files, Brainy is as eloquent as Helga... only that he cannot talk because of his asthma.
- Stoop Kid somehow manages to be both pathologically afraid of leaving his home and a gutterpunk at once.
- Arnold becomes this when he loses his hat in "Arnold's Hat", saying that he'll never come out of the house without it.
- Hit Flash: The show had an instance of this, featuring colorful stars rapidly flying on a black background that originated in the pilot episode, and was recycled numerous times throughout the series and in the movie.
- Hollywood Voodoo: In "Sid's Revenge", Principal Wartz gives Sid detention for a prank he didn't pull. Out of revenge and his frantic paranoia, Sid carves Wartz' likeness into a bar of soap. The next day, Sid finds out that Wartz is in the hospital, and is told by the doctor that he's already "checked out." Following this is a string of signs that soap voodoo worked. Hilarity Ensues.
- Homage: 'What's Opera, Arnold?' was a Homage to the opera Carmen, right down to altered song lyrics. It's also an homage to the Bugs Bunny cartoon, "What's Opera, Doc?"
- Homeless Pigeon Person: A "pigeon man" (trope picture) lives on a rooftop, with some elaborate cages containing hundreds of pigeons. At the end of the episode, he actually flies away carried by his birds.
- Honor Before Reason: Almost every episode is about Arnold choosing to do the honorable thing over the logical thing.
- Hot Teacher:
- Arnold finds substitute teacher Ms. Felter attractive in "Crush on Teacher".
- Olga is seen as attractive by the male students in "Student Teacher".
- Hourglass Plot:
- Happens to Phoebe and Helga in "Phoebe Breaks A Leg" - when Helga is indirectly responsible for Phoebe getting injured, out of guilt she starts waiting on her in the way she often had Phoebe wait on her. In a twist, Phoebe quickly realizes this is happening and - tired of being treated like an assistant all the time - conspires to keep it that way for as long as she can.
- Happens to Arnold and Iggy in "Arnold betrays Iggy" - For accidentally blabbing an embarrassing secret of his friend Iggy, Arnold unsuccessfully tries to apologize to him. When Iggy finds out the truth, he begs Arnold for his forgiveness.
- Huge Schoolgirl: Big Patty is way bigger than the other students. Also Sheena, who's as tall as most of the adults on the show.
- Humiliation Conga: Helga tends to get these in episodes where her evil schemes go south in particularly unpleasant ways. Rhonda, as well, gets pretty severe ones in episodes where she's particularly haughty.
- Hypocritical Humor:
- In "Gerald's Tonsils" Gerald tries to practice singing with with his new post-tonsillectomy voice and a kid overhears him and makes fun of it, saying he has a "crazy voice." The kid has a very annoying and nasally voice himself.
- In "Helga's Masquerade" Harold makes fun of Helgs's Big Ol' Unibrow despite the fact that Harold has a unibrow too.
- "Girl Trouble" features this classic bit from Pookie.
Pookie: Just remember, Arnold. Violence is not the answer.
She karate chops a watermelon to slice it, hard enough to splatter some of it across the wall.
- "Spelling Bee" has a banner hung outside the location holding the titular spelling bee. What does it read? "WELCOME SPEELERS!"
- I Can't Believe It's Not Heroin!: In Chocolate Boy's self-titled episode, Arnold helps Chocolate Boy quit his "obsession" with chocolate for two weeks, only to get a 10 pound bag of chocolate which he immediately devours in one sitting. After Chocolate Boy realizes how pathetic he has become, he wants to quit for good. Chocolate Boy's mannerisms in this episode are very similar to a crackhead. Justified somewhat by the sheer quantity of chocolate Chocolate Boy consumes. Child or adult, that much caffeine and sugar will mess you up.
- If I Had a Nickel:
- Ignored Confession: In The Movie, Helga says she loves Arnold. And then they agree it was heat of the moment.
- I Know Karate:
- Arnold learns it in "Mugged." He ends up becoming an Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy who ended up inadvertently chopping the clothes off of some guy who was looking for the bus stop.
- In the episode "Career Day," Helga comments that the jujutsu class she took really helped her when taking down the perps she encountered on her police "ride-along."
- I'm Okay!: the catchphrase of Eugune said when something bad happens to him.
- Impossible Leavening: When the kids try to bake the world's biggest pizza puff, the whole thing explodes after Sid mentions that when reading the amount of yeast to use, he misread "tsp" as "ten square pounds".
- Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Helga in episodes where she's antagonistic, particularly as the series goes on. Especially noticeable in episodes involving Lila. The series does this especially well: because we know Helga's true insecure reasons for doing what she does, when her Evil Plans to humiliate Arnold or Lila or whoever's incited her jealous wrath fail epically and/or backfire hilariously on her the audience laughs, but also feels truly sorry for her.
- Inept Aptitude Test: The plot of "The Aptitude Test" has Helga and Harold's test results being mixed up and causing problems for both of them.
- Informed Attractiveness: Lila. Nearly every boy in Mr. Simmons' class has a crush on her (especially Arnold) and her beauty is often commented on by others. However, she doesn't look much different than the other girls, aside from the ones with exaggerated features such as Helga and Sheena.
- Informed Deformity: While it's clear that Helga probably won't be winning any beauty pageants anytime soon (though she was a model for a brief time) she is one of the few characters who is outright called ugly despite the fact that this world is full of football heads, unibrows, inhuman looking faces and whacky hairstyles.
- Informed Species: Lockjaw is stated to be a rare species of Galápagos tortoise but is both treated as and resembles a large sea turtle.
- Ink-Suit Actor:
- Mr. Simmons strongly resembles his voice actor, Dan Butler. They're are also both gay.
- Councilman Gladhand in "Mr. Green Runs" looks a lot like his voice actor, John O'Hurley.
- Radio announcer Nashville Ned resembles creator Craig Bartlett.
- Mr. Scheck from the Movie looks a lot like his voice actor Paul Sorvino.
- Coach Wittenberg has a slight resemblance to Jim Belushi.
- Ironic Echo Cut: So very, very many times, coupled with the Gilligan Cut. "I can't believe I'm taking the subway."
- Ironic Inversion: Stinky had no intention of becoming the mascot for Yahoo Soda in "Stinky Goes Hollywood" and only intended to be at the auditions to cheer Arnold on, yet he ends up picked after everyone else who auditioned was rejected.
- Ironic Nickname: Curly, as Lieutenant Major Goose pointed out.
Lt. Major Goose
* CURLY, GO STAND OVER THERE!
- Made even more ironic in that Curly actually sports a "Moe" haircut.
- Injured Limb Episode: In "Phoebe Breaks a Leg", Phoebe injures her leg when she walks into the path of a bus while trying to carry Helga's stuff, which obstructs her view, to school. Feeling guilty, Helga decides to do nice things for Phoebe until her leg heals. Phoebe enjoys having Helga doing nice things for her so much, that by the time her leg heals, she pretends it is still injured so that Helga will continue to do nice things for her. At the end of the episode, Helga injures her leg when Phoebe saves her from an incoming truck, and Phoebe is now back to doing nice things for her.
- Insufferable Genius: Played straight with Phoebe. "Phoebe Cheats" and "Ms. Perfect" even shows us that she has to meet her own expectations with "being the best at everything". Averted in "Phoebe Skips", however, where the sixth-grade girls use Phoebe's intelligence and niceness to their advantage.
- Insult Backfire: When the boys meet Rex Smythe-Higgins III in "Tour de Pond", Gerald mocks his haughty attitude by asking if he's the owner of the park. Rex tells him that his family actually does own the park.
- Ironic Name: Arnold's pet pig is named Abner. In the Hebrew Bible, Abner was the commander-in-chief for King Saul, the first king of Israel. Jews don't eat pork because they consider pigs unclean.
- Irrevocable Message: Helga got high off of laughing gas in "Helga Blabs it All" and left a message on Arnold's answering machine declaring her love for him, then spent the rest of the episode trying to delete it.
- It's All My Fault: Arnold in "Beaned" and "April Fool's Day" blames himself for Helga's amnesia and temporary blindness in both episodes; Helga in "Phoebe Breaks a Leg" is shown to be very remorseful for Phoebe breaking her leg while doing errands for her.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Craig Bartlett says that Brainy ultimately wants Helga to be happy and wouldn't mind if her happiness meant not getting together with her.
- I Was Beaten by a Girl: Harold by Big Patty in an arm wrestling match in "Harold vs. Patty". He is so upset, he attempts to escape from those mocking him by hiding under a drinking fountain. He finally gets over it by the end of the episode - after she beats him again in the citywide arm-wrestling championships - and smacks Sid and Stinky together when they trash talk about him after his loss, but not before publicly defending Patty as the better opponent. (The end of the episode implies a Relationship Upgrade for Harold and Patty due to this.)
- I Wished You Were Dead: Sid with Principal Wartz in "Sid's Revenge". When Principal Wartz goes missing after Sid carves a voodoo doll of him out of soap, Sid comes to the conclusion that his actions have resulted in Wartz' death and is very distraught by his assumption that he killed Principal Wartz.