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Top 10 Kids Show Episodes That Dealt With Serious Issues

VO: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake
They may be aimed at children, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get real. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Kids’ Show Episodes That Dealt With Serious Issues. For this list, we’re taking a look at episodes of kids’ shows that ventured hard into normally adult territory and heavy topics.
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They may be aimed at children, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get real. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Kids’ Show Episodes That Dealt With Serious Issues.

For this list, we’re taking a look at episodes of kids’ shows that ventured hard into normally adult territory and heavy topics.






#10: “Mother’s Day”
“Rugrats” (1991-2004)




Chuckie Finster always stood out as the only Rugrat with a single parent. This Emmy-nominated episode addressed the absence of Chuckie’s mother and executed it in a subtle, honest way. Chuckie only has vague memories of his mom, but still feels a strong connection to her. He tries filling the void by seeking out other matenal figures, but is ultimately drawn to a photo of the woman from his dreams. Realizing that his son is old enough, Chaz begins to tell Chuckie about his late mom. Although she passed away from a terminal illness, Chuckie takes solace in knowing she’ll always be with him in spirit.






#9: “Alone at Sea”
“Steven Universe” (2013-)



Behind its colorful, bubbly exterior, “Steven Universe” has gotten some pretty mature messages across to its audience. One of the most unsettling episodes finds Steven trying to comfort Lapis Lazuli shortly after she escapes Jasper’s clutches. Although their relationship was a recipe for disaster, Lapis reveals that she actually misses Jasper and feels that they belong together. When Jasper tracks Lapis down and asks her to fuse into Malachite, she’s tempted to repeat a toxic cycle, but rejects it with Steven's support. Through Lapis, the writers deliver a down-to-earth look at the nature of abusive relationships, as well as the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.






#8: “True Colors”
“That’s So Raven” (2003-07)


This episode of “That's So Raven” explored Black History Month, but also delved into racial prejudices that still very much exist in 21st century America. Raven applies for a job for which she is clearly the most qualified, only to see the Caucasian Chelsea land the position instead. Through a vision, Raven learns that the manager made her decision solely based on skin color. Raven additionally finds that she’s far from the first person of color who has faced job discrimination. Above all else, she learns that one person can make a huge difference in the fight for inclusion.





#7: “Mel vs. the Future”
“Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street” (2014-16)



Overcome with denial, Mel refuses to cry over the sudden loss of her mother, and instead dedicates all of her energy towards building a time machine. Mel eventually crosses paths with her future self, who reveals that even after mastering time travel, she was still unable to save their mother. Regardless, Mel is willing to spend the rest of her life trying to undo this unspeakable tragedy. It isn’t until Mel finally confides in her family and friends that she accepts her mother’s passing. Even in the fantastical world of Normal Street, there are some harsh realities we can never escape.





#6: “Helga on the Couch”
“Hey Arnold!” (1996-2004)


Why exactly is Helga such a bully? Well, this episode reveals her father is likely a narcissist, her mother is probably an alcoholic, and she’s always lived in her overachieving sister’s shadow. After punching a student, Helga is forced to meet with a child psychiatrist. Though reluctant, Helga soon places her trust in Dr. Bliss. We know Helga is troubled, but this episode really delved into her insecurities and emotional scars. It additionally showed us why she’s so afraid to share her true feelings for Arnold. Dr. Bliss ultimately teaches Helga that she isn’t alone, a message neglected children everywhere can take to heart.


#5: “A Formula for Hate”
“Captain Planet and the Planeteers” (1990-96)


Taking a break from protecting the environment, “Captain Planet” tackled the HIV/AIDS crisis. We meet Todd Andrews, a young HIV-positive athlete voiced by Neil Patrick Harris. As rumors about the disease spread, Todd and his mother, voiced by Elizabeth Taylor, become outcasts in the community. The episode does, admittedly, simplify the hardships HIV/AIDS patients face, but it was still incredibly risky for a children’s animated series to take on this difficult subject matter, especially in the ‘90s. What the showrunners deliver is a well-meaning life lesson that both educates on AIDS and encourages acceptance.





#4: “America's Kids Respond”
“Zoom” (1999-2005)


The terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 has inspired many stories throughout the years, and “Zoom” was one of the first programs to address the tragedy. “America’s Kids Respond” aired on PBS a mere ten days after the World Trade Center collapsed. At a time when America was overwrought with grief, this special episode exemplified the importance of community and what we can all do to help. A year later, “Zoom” aired a follow-up special entitled, “America's Kids Remember”. Reflecting on the aftermath of 9/11, the Zoomers showed us that the country may still be hurting, but it was also healing.


#3: “The Great MacGrady”
“Arthur” (1996-)



Mrs. MacGrady has been appearing on this series since season one. So it came as a massive blow to viewers when she was diagnosed with cancer. The way Arthur and his friends react to this news feels surprisingly relatable and authentic. Arthur and D.W. try to comfort MacGrady, Muffy doesn’t entirely understand what she’s going through, and Francine is too afraid to visit her in person. Fortunately, Francine works up the courage following a talk with Lance Armstrong. This episode was co-written by Leah Ryan, who passed away from cancer before its airing. In her honor, MacGrady was later gifted the first name “Leah”.






#2: “Mister Rogers Talks to Children & Adults About Violence”
“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” (1968-2001)






Given the wholesome nature of his show, it’s hard to imagine Fred Rogers talking about shootings. A year after John Lennon was assassinated, however, Rogers dedicated an episode to violence. With such a serious subject at its core, the special aired in the evening and Rogers informed his viewers upfront that youngsters shouldn’t watch without a loving adult. As “sad” and “scary” as matters get, Rogers still offers a message of hope and peace. Unseen for nearly 35 years, the Fred Rogers Company released it to the web in 2015, giving it a wider audience at a time when its topic remained a hot-button issue.






Before we get to our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:



“Strangers on the Net”
“Smart Guy” (1997-99)



“Hey, Who Wants Pizza?”
“Andi Mack” (2017-)


“Doug's Chubby Buddy”
“Doug” (1991-94; 1996-99)




#1: “Episode 1839” [aka “Farewell Mr. Hooper”]
“Sesame Street” (1969-)


Since its debut in 1969, this series has taught kids everything from mathematics to nutrition. On occasion, “Sesame Street” has even veered into more serious territory, introducing characters with autism and divorced parents. In 1982, actor Will Lee, who played Mr. Hooper, died. Rather than recasting or avoiding the issue, the creators decided to use this opportunity to educate viewers on death. The confusion and sadness Big Bird endures sincerely captures how many children cope with loss. The episode not only offers a loving tribute to Mr. Hooper, but also set the standard for all the other shows in this list.





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