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Tear Jerker / Arthur

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Dad, why won't Spanky wake up?
"He's a sad sad bunny, a sad sad bunny, TV isn't funny when you're a sad sad bunny."
Art Garfunkel, "The Ballad of Buster Baxter"

Who knew a PBS cartoon could have some really sad moments?

As a Moments subpage, all spoilers are unmarked as per policy. You Have Been Warned.

Season 1
  • In "Arthur's Pet Business," when Perky is even grumpier than usual (possibly due to being pregnant with Pal and her other puppies), Arthur thinks it's his fault and mopes about having "wrecked" her.
  • In "Buster Makes the Grade," Buster being a failing school student is Played for Drama.
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  • Binky mentions being held back in third grade a couple of times, presumably for the same reasons as Buster. A conversation between Arthur and Buster implies that being held back caused Binky to be bullied, enough to become a bully himself.
  • In "D.W.'s Baby," D.W. runs away to go live on an island with monkeys. Much to her parents' relief, she comes home after going to Grandma Thora to ask for a ride to Button Island, and Thora convinces her that Kate needs a sister when she gets older, so D.W. should stay. One kicker is that Nadine doesn't go with her; she just says, "Bye, D.W." and vanishes.
  • "So Long, Spanky" can be a real downer for anyone who has lost a pet and has to cope with that loss (or can imagine losing a pet).
    • Everyone in the family says something about missing Spanky at his funeral. Dave remembers the bird getting loose in his kitchen and not stealing any seeds, and Jane says she'll miss Spanky's song.
    • Arthur not having any happy memories of Spanky since the bird spent his time biting him, stealing his shoelaces, and messing up his collections. At the funeral he can only say, "I only pretended to be mad because Buster was there" about one of those times.
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    • It's even worse when D.W. keeps yelling at a toad that follows her around and resides in Spanky's old cage. The toad is well-meaning but well, a toad, and who seems to be literally taking up space where he's not wanted. She goes into My God, What Have I Done? mode on thinking she accidentally killed him and says "I should be in jail".
  • "Bully for Binky" has a Sympathy for the Devil moment in which Arthur and Francine listen to Binky about why he doesn't want to fight Sue Ellen: she's the first person who's ever accepted his fighting challenge since anyone else who did has run away from him. He bullies others since he feels it's the only thing he's good at, which Arthur admits, and when he hopes to beat Sue Ellen in an improv jazz match, she kicks his butt and makes him quit. It takes a while for Arthur to convince him to knock it off with the competing and the fighting, which marks Binky's Character Development into a friend.
  • In "Arthur and the True Francine," Muffy and Francine become friends immediately in the second grade because they have the same middle name. Muffy even gives Francine a friendship bracelet. Come Thursday's math test, Muffy copies Francine's exam and then claims that she would "never cheat in a million years". Francine, in shock, is unable to defend herself and ends up in detention for a week. Small wonder that she asks Muffy "Is that why you pretended to like me?" in a tearful voice, returns the bracelet, and tosses away the apology gifts that Muffy sends her. Muffy eventually comes clean to Mr. Marco so that Francine can play in the big baseball game, but she blushes when Francine reminds her of it at a slumber party one year later, since Muffy became a Drama Queen on being asked if she ever told a lie.
    • Muffy also gives Francine a balloon to apologize that says, "From your friend Muffy". Francine just pops it without giving it any second thought and throws the accompanying gift basket in the garbage.

Season 2

  • At the end of "Draw!" Mrs. MacGrady concocts a Xanatos Gambit while fortunetelling at the carnival: she asks Fern and her friends to dump green goop on Francine just to take the humiliation further. Francine comes to the fortunetelling tent for advice, while everyone waits. The kids are willing to go through with it until Mrs. MacGrady coaxes out of Francine that she's really upset about the cartoons. Francine starts to Cry Cute and admits she's sorry she called Fern a mouse, wanting the mean jokes to stop. Arthur and his friends can't pour the gloop on her when Mrs. MacGrady gives the signal, and go to Francine to help her cheer up. Mrs. MacGrady, after the kids leave, reveals that the "gloop" was actually party balloons and streamers, meaning that if it had been pulled, Francine would have gotten a pleasant surprise.
  • In "Lost!" Arthur goes on a bus for a swimming lesson, but sleeps through it and misses his stop. Depressed by how he is broke and doesn't know the way back home, he lets out a tear. Also heartbreaking for older viewers as his parents and sister are understandably terrified when he doesn't show up for class. Any wonder his mother burst into tears just recounting it?
    • In the Cold Open, there are a few moments when D.W. announces that Arthur is lost and David and Jane decide to take charge.
    • Jane tells D.W. to stay right where she is instead of going to tell everyone and getting help because "I don't need two lost children". D.W., who feels helpless after she's left alone with Pal, cries out, "Arthur, where are you?"
    • The title card shows Pal sniffing, looking for someone (ostensibly Arthur) and howling before resuming the search.
  • "Arthur's Faraway Friend" has Buster going away with his dad for the rest of Season 2. Arthur desperately convincing Buster to dig a pit with him under Arthur's house so he can hide there. Buster bluntly says he'd think time with his dad would be more fun than living in a pit.
  • In "Fern's Slumber Party", Fern writes her invitation in a secret code because she's convinced that she's boring and that no one will come to her slumber party.
    • Just before that, we see Fern come out of her shell while she's playing with her detective dolls and making up a story. Her mother comes into her room and asks her what she's always wanted. Fern asks for a detective kit, only for her mother to casually dismiss her interests and tell her to "put away that silly detective stuff" as she forces her to have a slumber party.

Season 3

  • In "Revenge of the Chip," D.W. is mad at her mom because she told her friends about D.W.'s chip incident from the previous episode, including Bitzi, who put it in the newspaper. Mom made a promise with her, but she broke it and told an adult about it. Even more sad, D.W. runs away. Turns out that Jane was telling said adult not to pass D.W.'s story around to save her daughter from further embarrassment.
  • In "Mom and Dad have a Great Big Fight", D.W. and eventually Arthur spend most of the episode worrying that their family will break apart. While most of the Imagine Spots are Played for Laughs, the last one is actually pretty sad, with Arthur and D.W., along with Kate and Pal, living alone and trying to take care of themselves. Arthur and D.W. eventually realize they miss their parents, and they both share a sad hug. Pal even starts howling after Arthur attempts to sing a lullaby to Kate. This line from D.W. really sells it:
    D.W.: (near tears) I never knew you could feel this lonely, even when you're not alone.

Season 4

  • In "Prunella Gets It Twice", Prunella gets a doll for her birthday and then Francine gives her another one, which she (at least according to Prunella's dreams) saved up for doing extra chores. Prunella doesn't thank Francine due to already having gotten one, which makes Francine mopey for the entirety of the party, not participating in anything.
    • When Prunella (through her dreams) finds out about the chores, she goes into My God, What Have I Done? mode and even says she stinks.
    • Worse still, Francine is now at Catherine's mercy because she begged her for the last of the money she needed to pay for the gift, and now owes Catherine favors for nothing.

Season 5

  • "The Big Dig" sees that Grandpa Dave is not as active as he used to be, and spends most of his stay with his family sleeping. Arthur and D.W. vent to Jane about their frustration with him, and Dave hears it while hiding in the hallway, clearly hurt. He tries to put on an elaborate treasure hunt only for his grandkids to figure it out and be upset with him for lying to them.

Season 6

  • In "The Good Sport," Francine loses "Athlete of the Year" to, surprisingly, Jenna. Despite becoming a passive-aggressive Jerkass over the course of the episode, it's kinda hard to not feel sorry for Francine when she completely breaks down in tears, considering how hard she's pushed herself to be good at everything.
    • Same goes for Jenna, who is constantly put under stress by both Francine and especially Muffy by constantly reminding her that everybody believed Francine was the more deserving winner. The harassment becomes so much that Jenna breaks down into tears, angrily pleading them to just leave her alone. Anyone who has felt their accomplishments cramped by someone who insists on being a Sore Loser about it can relate to how much it hurts her that she cannot enjoy what she worked so hard for to the point where she almost regrets it.

Season 7

  • In "April 9th," Lakewood Elementary's teacher's lounge catches on fire, forcing everyone to relocate to another school until the damage is fixed. The episode acted as the series' response to the September 11th terrorist attacks, and while the big incident is presented in much easier way for younger audiences to swallow, it nonetheless conveys the shock and lingering trauma of dealing with a sudden disaster very well.
    • Arthur's dad, who was catering a breakfast at the school, had gotten caught in the fire at one point. He was okay, but Arthur spends some time feeling terrified that something bad will happen to him again.
      • Arthur blurts out, "But what if something happens about the aquarium?" while trying to fake a sore throat to keep his dad from going to another catering event. His dad immediately asks, "Are you worried something is going to happen to me?" with understanding instead of anger. His dad then proceeds to tell a story of how Grandma Thora was in a car accident when Dave was a child, and for a long time after he was scared she would drive out one day and never come back. Dave would toss paper balls into his wastebasket, as a ritual to ensure she would come home safely (it helps that he was a good shot). One day he didn't keep the ritual, and she came home without a problem. "It's my job to worry about you, Arthur. Not the other way around."
    • Sue Ellen losing her beloved diary. She's forced to leave it behind when they evacuate, and it's later sprayed by the fire department to contain possible embers.
    • Poor Binky was so traumatized after seeing the fire in the teacher's lounge and Mr. Morris got injured, he starts seeing fires everywhere he goes. Watching Bionic Bunny becomes downright stressful with the villain Fireball, and Binky deliberately sets off the Mighty Mountain school alarms to see how fast the firefighters come. When their regular school reopens, he has a Freak Out when looking at the renovated teacher's lounge, imagining the flames burning Mr. Haney alive, and runs out screaming. Mr. Frensky finds him putting away litter in the trash and asks why he's not in class; Binky breaks down crying and admits that he's scared of going back to school after seeing the fire. Mr. Frensky understands; he relates how he couldn't sleep for a week after seeing his first fire. If Binky isn't ready, he can come with Mr. Frensky on his rounds and they just need to tell Mr. Haney.

Season 8

  • “Bitzi’s Break-Up” sees Buster deal with something many children have had to go through - his mother breaking up with her boyfriend, Harry. We’ve never seen any angst from Buster over the divorce of his parents, who seem on good terms after their split, but whether or not he took it poorly, we now see Buster taking Bitzi and Harry’s split poorly in real time. Even from the Cold Open, Buster can clearly sense something is wrong and keeps moving things around when they’re trying to talk to him, and the two adults are sharing uncomfortable looks since they’re quickly becoming aware he’s not taking it well.
    • At the end of the episode, Buster tries to get them back together, only for the two to get into an argument. Bitzi finally comes clean that she chose to end the relationship due to feeling too stressed from work to commit to a relationship at the moment. She and Harry insist that they’ll remain friends and Buster can still hang out with the latter, but Buster’s distress at losing Harry is saddening considering it took a lot for him to come around on Harry in the first place.
  • "Thanks a Lot, Binky" sees Rattles and Slink attempting a very dangerous rollerblading stunt and imagines Rattles messing up and hurting himself, which prompts him to tell Mr. Haney. Despite Binky having had potentially saved his life, the only thing Rattles could think about is Binky "squealing" to Mr. Haney about the stunt, and lets Binky know exactly what he and Slink both think of him. Poor guy.
  • Binky's Dream Sequence after the above point is also very sad. In his dream, he's seeing what the world would be like if nobody was nice. Litter would be everywhere, Rattles would be in the hospital wearing a full-body cast in agony after failing his stunt like Binky imagined he would, the Barnes household would be trashed, and Mr. and Mrs. Barnes would go on a cruise and leave Binky and (possibly) Mei Lin with hardly anything to eat or drink. This is an Opinion-Changing Dream, since before Binky was taking his mom for granted, and said she was wrong for thinking that Rattles would feel better about being saved; this could be interpreted as being all Binky's subconscious telling him that he doesn't appreciate his mother, or that niceness doesn't always get rewarded.
    • Not to mention the way the dream narrator talks about Mrs. Barnes -
      Uncle Slam Wilson: Life ain't always fair, Binky, but you're not the only one who doesn't get enough appreciation. I know someone who works twenty-four hours a day for nothing and almost never gets a thank you. (shows an abnormally tired/sad Mrs Barnes)
Season 12
  • In "The Cherry Tree," Muffy wants a huge bouncy house for her birthday. But in order to get it, her favorite childhood tree has to be chopped down. Her despair at this and regret at ever wishing for the bouncy house is quite moving.
Season 13
  • With Mrs. MacGrady getting cancer in "The Great MacGrady," it's already sad enough, but the reactions from the kids are worse because of how realistic they are: Arthur and D.W. try their best to help Mrs. McGrady out, to the point that they become a bit of a burden, Francine is unable to face Mrs. MacGrady, feeling afraid for her, Muffy acts like nothing has changed, etc., etc.
Season 16
  • "The Last Tough Customer" reveals how Molly became a bully and a Tough Customer. She was bullied a lot herself as a kid for wearing her hair in a bun, her classmates calling her "Muffin Head" and destroying her sandcastles. The torment she endured made her very angry and bitter, to the point of becoming a Tough Customer so she can vent her hurt feelings on other kids.
    • Made worse by the event that makes her realize what she's become: her little brother James, previously established as a kind and sweet kid who Molly absolutely adores, shoves a little girl out of the way in line for the water fountain in the park to Molly's obvious horror and shock. Molly tries to tell the girl that James didn't mean it but trails off when she sees the little girl in the exact same position she had been in after being bullied when she was younger. And when she asks why James did it, he tells her:
    • During the flashback that shows off her Freudian Excuse, Molly angrily snaps at another boy who concernedly asks her what's wrong to leave her alone, thinking he's just another bully. He runs away, leaving her alone and crying.
  • Early in the episode, Molly brushes George by telling him to go read a book and then cruelly sneering, "Oh, that's right. You can't read." Unlike previous run-ins with the Tough Customers, George is hurt rather than scared, his voice getting very small as he stutters, "I can read..." and runs off, crying. Binky is appalled at Molly's actions.
    Binky: That was a little harsh.
  • In "So Funny I Forgot to Laugh", Sue Ellen comes to school wearing a heavy yak-skin sweater gifted to her from a friend in Tibet. Arthur comments that it makes her look like a big sheep dog, which she finds funny until he starts taking the joke too far, making all sorts of crude dog-related jokes at her expense. It soon begins to bother Sue Ellen, with Arthur going so far as to draw a crude picture of her with the body of a sheepdog. Even after Mr. Ratburn reprimands Arthur on his hurtful remarks, Arthur becomes overly defensive and lashes out at Sue Ellen claiming she is just overreacting. Soon enough everybody, including Francine and Muffy of all people are calling out Arthur on his behavior, which only causes Arthur to fight back even more. It all culminates with Arthur emailing Sue Ellen a crude photo of her with a dog's head, which finally pushes her to her breaking point as she decides she can no longer wear the sweater that prompted Arthur's behavior.
    Sue Ellen: And from now on, whenever I look at that sweater, I don't think about Tenzin, or the yak that the wool came from. I only think of how mean people can be.
    • What finally snaps Arthur back to reality is the news that Sue Ellen requested she be transferred to another class so that she could avoid running into Arthur again, which shocks him so much that he rushes to apologize, only for Sue Ellen to walk away at this attempt. Arthur then sees that Sue Ellen threw her beloved sweater into the school's donation box, finally making him realize how much he had hurt a once good and trusted friend. Finally accepting responsibility for his actions, he makes a genuine apology to Sue Ellen and gets her sweater back.
      • The online comic isn't much better, and one ending shows that Arthur loses his friends when he continues to remain stubborn over his earlier actions towards Sue Ellen, and is sitting at home bitter and alone instead of hanging out with his friends, who would not speak to him again for a long while after the fact.
Season 19
  • In "The Last Day," when D.W. offers to take out the trash, the bag is caught on a hose, rips open and spills trash everywhere. D.W. starts to cry and unlike most prior episodes, she's not throwing a tantrum, she says she doesn't think she can handle kindergarten indicating she's stressed about going to real school.
Season 20
  • The end result of Buster's Dream Sequence in "Buster's Second Chance," where Buster enters a timeline where he became a Child Prodigy thanks to not flubbing an important assessment test he took as a preschooler (to the point where The Brain looks up to him and he's already taking calculus and robotics classes in the fourth grade). Buster eventually discovers that in this timeline, not only did he and Arthur never become friends, but Arthur wound up meeting then-bully Binky instead of Buster at the fated sandbox and became a Tough Customer! (Who evidently never disbanded in this timeline.) When Buster meets Alt!Arthur and attempts to get Alt!Arthur to remember him, the way Alt!Arthur continuously tries to brush Buster off and ridicules his nerdiness is rather sad. The clincher is what Alt!Arthur says as he leaves, hinting that he secretly doesn't like being a Tough Customer and is just pretending to be "cool", and Buster realizes he's the only thing keeping Arthur from going down this road. (Even if it is All Just a Dream, the moment is still rather sad to watch.)
    Buster: We were never friends?
    Alt!Arthur: Me? Friends with someone who likes Love Ducks? Come on! (suddenly more solemn) I mean, maybe if I had a friend who liked checkers and Love Ducks and other uncool stuff, maybe my whole life could have been... different, (acting tough again) but it isn't! (leaves ridiculing Love Ducks and lamenting how "uncool" the place has gotten)
    Buster: ....Arthur needs me!
    • The above Dream Sequence also shows another consequence of Buster never befriending Arthur - the Tough Customers themselves. Without the positive influence of Buster on Arthur and Arthur's subsequent positive influence on his other friends, the Tough Customers, especially Binky and Molly, would never have their own Heel Realizations and Character Development, or abandoned their bullying ways like they did in "The Last Tough Customer". Instead, they become full-time delinquents who trash the beloved Sugar Bowl after making it their local hangout. The Tough Customers becoming good all depended on Buster and Arthur becoming best friends.

Season 25

  • For the show’s final season, it decides to tackle one of the most important lessons of all, and one that should come as little surprise considering every other lesson it’s taught: how to deal with the death of a loved one, and how to help someone cope with their loss.
    • At the beginning of the episode, Francine gets a call from her mother, and she immediately loses her good mood as she recognizes something is wrong. And we soon learn that her beloved Bubbe passed away (to reflect the real-life passing of Joan Rivers several years ago). From the way things seem, it was very sudden, and Francine had no way of knowing it was coming let alone saying her goodbyes.
    • Muffy wants to be a good friend and organizes a surprise party for Francine, completely oblivious to the fact that this is the last thing a grieving Francine needs right now. The friends all gather trying to cheer her up, all clearly unaware of how to deal with this situation. All they do is upset Francine further.
    • Muffy’s distress at being unable to properly help Francine is relatable even for people who have already learned the lesson Muffy learns. Many people have struggled to do what they can to be there for a loved one in a time of grief and can feel helpless, or even start to take it personally. Thankfully, George is finally able to break through to Muffy that she needs to just be there and listen to Francine, and it works.
  • For all the lessons the show has taught us, the last one it gives is not how to say goodbye. Mixed with heartwarming, the ending of the series jumps ahead twenty years from Arthur’s fateful meeting with the librarian (played by Marc Brown himself). And while we do see the successful, happy lives led by many of the main characters, we do have some sobering implications of the passage of time. Kate is now a college student writing a short story about a baby who speaks to pets - her time with Pal now being a distant memory locked in her subconscious, with Pal surely long dead by now.

Arthur's Perfect Christmas

  • Everything may have turned out fine for Arthur and his friends despite the hiccups they run into, but you really can't help but feel sorry for them when they go through all that.
    • Arthur spends the entire special trying to save the glass bird he bought for his mother only to accidentally break it before he has the chance to give it to her. It doesn't help that he breaks down over it.
    • The night of Muffy's big Christmas party, Muffy doesn't understand why Francine is missing out to celebrate Hanukkah, which is why she tells Francine that Hanukkah isn't as important as Christmas, leaving Francine hurt. If that wasn't bad enough, after opening all her Christmas presents, Muffy realizes that since she and Francine aren't friends anymore, she has nobody to share her presents with. She even sadly sings about it.
    • Special mention goes to Buster, for whom Christmas hasn't been easy since his parents got divorced. Bitzi is always anxious that her son won't have a good Christmas because his father isn't around to celebrate with them.