Rugrats was my absolute favorite show as a child. I watched it every single night, saw both movies on the day of their release, and when its timeslot was pushed back a half hour, my moms even understood that to be a legitimate reason to allow me a later bed time.
Looking back on the show now, I have to wonder how much my love of the Rugrats was shaped by my evolving worldview, and how much the Rugrats shaped the person I became.
This show was feminist as FUCK. You have the obvious “female” shirt on Betty Deville, sure, but it goes much further than that. The show portrays many different types of families, each with their own flaws, but each loving and (mostly) functional:
- Tommy’s family, though traditional at first glance, has his mother, Didi, as the main breadwinner, working as a teacher while Stu mostly fails at monetizing his inventions.
- Phil and Lil’s parents clearly have upended quite a few gender roles, as it’s made clear several times in the series that Howard is more “domestic” than Betty, though they seem to take equal part in raising their children.
- Chuckie is being raised by a competent (though nervous and allergy-ridden) single father after the tragic death of his mother. Later in the series (after the Rugrats in Paris movie and an interracial and cross cultural marriage), he gains a stepmother and stepsister, depicting a loving blended family.
- Angelica’s parents are both full time corporate types, though it is very clear that Charlotte is more successful in climbing the corporate ladder than is Drew, who seems to take on more of the child care.
- Susie also had two working parents, her mother was a doctor, pilot, and chef (lack of continuity or commentary on women having high powered careers - you decide!), and her father was a writer.
The show was also extremely self-aware, tackling issues like the loss of a parent, and introducing themes like accepting differences, the importance of trust, and even subverting gender roles, in lighthearted quips and storylines - as well as a few more adult jokes that its intended audience may not have picked up on. In addition to having a Christmas episode, the Rugrats also had Passover, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa episodes - the former featuring Didi’s parents, Boris and Minka “from the old country,” and the latter featuring Susie’s Aunt T.
The show was far from perfect, of course. Susie was literally the token black character, and she was in FAR fewer episodes than the rest of the gang, which is a real shame, because she’s a much more positive character than Angelica, in my opinion. There wasn’t really any depiction of non-hetero or non-cisgendered characters - at least none that I can recall.
I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the Rugrats - I still have a lot of their VHS box sets, and the Chanukah and Passover episodes that I recorded off of TV (hilarious 1990s commercials included). Overall, the show was pretty incredible, in my opinion, and I think it helped to shape me into the person I am today.