TV's 10 Most Timeless Kids' Shows

By Emily V. Gordon

Aug 02, 2012

I know this might sound like the ravings of an old lady, but kids' shows these days can be pretty lame. Most of them are either made to serve as launching pads for future Disney superstars, or they're so obsessed with being "in the now" that they ruin any chance of re-watchability. What will today's kids show their children when they're feeling nostalgic—Sonny with a Chance? Ugh, I hope not; what I'm interested in are the shows that could air at any point in time, for people of any age, and everyone would go, "Oh, this is cool!" And so here are the ten "kids' shows" that I think are the most timeless, in that I love watching them even to this day.

The Adventures of Pete & Pete

Oh, the '90s. The Adventures of Pete & Pete follows two brothers named Pete who make their own adventures. They aren't special, they're just kids who've turned their suburban lives into mysterious places, and we are lucky enough to tag along with them as they try to thwart bedtimes by refusing to sleep, or answer a pay phone that's been ringing for years. There are plenty of celebrity cameos (Michael Stipe, Steve Buscemi, LL Cool J) that may date it a bit, but the creators completely captured the feeling of being a child and believing that things are more mysterious than they seem.

Batman: The Animated Series

Inspired by the Tim Burton Batman movies on the early '90s, Batman: The Animated Series took itself seriously. The art style was coined as "Dark Deco," the voice-acting was top-notch, and the storylines were incredibly engrossing. This show was so good that when the its writers invented a sidekick for The Joker named Harley Quinn, DC Comics loved her so much that she was added her to the comic books. Impressive!

Adventure Time

14-year-old Finn and his magical shape-shifting dog Jake are the heroes of this completely insane show, which began as a short on Nickelodeon and now airs on Cartoon Network. The art style is beautiful and imaginative, the plotlines are engrossing and bizarre, and the writing is sharp and funny. I have no idea if any actual children watch Adventure Time, since I only know adults who do, you could've shown it to kids 50 years ago and you could show it to kids 50 years from now, and they'd all think Jake was the coolest.

The Ren & Stimpy Show

It's absolutely amazing to me that anyone allowed their children to watch The Ren & Stimpy Show in the '90s; it's dark, gross, nihilistic, and absolutely bizarre. Just watch the "Space Madness" episode, where Ren narrates losing his mind while he and Stimpy embark on a space mission, and try to tell me this series couldn't be part of Adult Swim's current lineup. There are no pop culture references, there's no cutesy pandering... just two super-weird animals that would be impossible to cuddle.

Looney Tunes

Gotta respect the classics. Since the '40s, Looney Tunes has featured a fully developed cast of characters that have motivations, flaws, hopes, and dreams. It never occurred to me as a child that they weren't real. I had seen them getting mad at each other and making mistakes! Today, my 4-year-old goddaughter adores Bugs just as much as I did, because outsmarting hunters never gets old.

The Joy of Painting

Okay, this one isn't supposed to be a joke, but I'm aware that this show may not age well. I'm aware that kids watching the show today would probably be like, "What is WITH that guy's hair?!" But Bob Ross's soothing voice and "anyone can paint" attitude are both timeless, and I spent many days in awe of him as a kid, watching a painting full of happy little trees appear out of nothing.

Pee-Wee's Playhouse

You know who kids love? Pee-Wee Herman, that's who. He's silly and funny and he respects kid intelligence... plus he has friends who are chairs that come alive. I showed Pee-Wee's Playhouse to an 8-year-old a few years ago, and she rolled her eyes and said, "This is dumb," but she was glued to the TV for the entire episode. Pee-Wee used live action, puppets, claymation, animation, and repeated themes to keep everyone hooked. He made everyone feel like a kid, and he still does.

Fraggle Rock

With Fraggle Rock, Jim Henson created a full and complete world that just happened to be located directly under our feet, full of monsters, cute muppetfolk who wore sweaters, and little tiny creatures, not to mention singing. When I was a kid in the '80s, I absolutely believed that there were magical creatures who lived where we couldn't see them, and Fraggle Rock only confirmed that. Watching it now, you still get the sense of how fully developed the world was, and you can appreciate the work that went into the puppetry. Puppets never cease to impress kids.

Yo Gabba Gabba

This show is a juggernaut of awesome. Created by two hip dads who found themselves annoyed with kids programming, Yo Gabba Gabba is hipster Sesame Street—you get story time, lessons on basic skills and etiquette, songs, and more celebrity cameos than you can shake a stick at. This show is for kids, but more than that, it's for parents who are trying to avoid the seduction of the minivan. Everyone's happy.

Invader Zim

Invader Zim aired on Nickelodeon in the early 2000s, and though kids didn't seem all that impressed with the show when it was on, it's another show that has a huge cult following of adults. Zim is an incompetent alien who, in the first episode, is assigned to conquer a mystery planet, which is a slightly more advanced Earth. The show is a bit cynical, very violent, and gorgeous to look at. Just consider the episode where Zim collects human organs in order to appear more human and you'll see what I mean.

When I consider this list I've made, it seems like for me, the most timeless kids' shows are the ones that don't talk down to their audience, the shows that challenge their viewers to meet them in a weird place for some clever entertainment. She-Ra just doesn't fit the bill (seriously, I bought the entire box set and it is unwatchable). But I'm sure I still left a million shows out! What kids' shows do you consider to be timeless? What shows did you watch that you'll be showing your children? Share 'em in the comments.

  • Comments (144)
Add a Comment
In reply to :
  • Detta Oct 19, 2012

    I've read a lot of the comments and though there are a lot of good ones I wouldn't say that they were timeless as in you could watch them at any time and it could still stand to be rewatched int the future and have that shame freshness and watchability .

    For Looney Toons they'd have to be all of them, the violent ones, the ones where they smoked and drank, and the ones that aren't edited for obvious racism. Really some of the PC needs to stop. Some suggested Sesame Street, but I say the SS before it turned into a huge commercial to make bank on Elmo. And the old Electric Company, and School House Rock. Those 3 were very helpful to me, even out of school it helped me a lot.

    I'd add some of the Charlie Brown/Peanuts movies and series.

    Freakazoid for the random hilarity that lasted for such a short time.

    And just about any movie/show that uses the Jim Henson workshop.

  • ToriVerlysdon Sep 25, 2012

    I laughed at the Ren & Stimpy description because my parents actually did not let me watch it.

  • hme418 Aug 12, 2012

    What about scooby doo? Cant leave it off!!

  • ToriVerlysdon Sep 25, 2012

    We can and should in my humble opinion. For me, Scooby Doo was definitely one of those "Ugh I guess I'll watch it but only because the remote is out of batteries and Recess is on in 1/2hr so there's no point in doing something else" shows. Conversely I loved She-Ra, but I've never been entirely sure why...

  • russelg000 Aug 08, 2012

    No Mr. Rogers?

  • Gully_Foyle Aug 07, 2012

    No love for the Amimaniacs? Any show that put a singing cat and an autistic dog together and still make it funny deserves some credit. And Mindy and Buttons might have been the same gag every week, but it was funny every week.

  • beep54 Aug 07, 2012

    Yes! Animaniacs!! Some of the jokes were way above kids heads. How about Lincoln trying to come up with a punchy opening line for Gettysburg and throwing way, "Ich bin eine jelly donut"? Hell, most adults won't get that one :) Or calling the Queen of England 'Sybil' because she keeps using the Royal 'We'?

  • Shikady Aug 06, 2012

    Fraggle Rock is the best show ever. Even if I was born the year the show ended my father taped every episode not only because he loved the show but because he knew his son would love it, and I do. Great characters, great music, funny, sad, even scary sometimes. I'm 24 and I still watch it ( altough my VHS is broken ) and is without a doubt one of the best shows ever for me.

    Go Fraggle Rock!

  • CosmoCramer1 Aug 06, 2012

    Pfft, I think real classics that are actually still timeless, mainly because they were ahead of thier own time are Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High - the new one doesn't even compare - and Press Gang. Both dealt with issues that kids and teens still face today and aren't exposed to any resource on how they might deal with it. Bullying, sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, race issues, bigotry, religion issues, drugs and effects, changing schools, getting in trouble, stealing, peer pressure. Kids shows these days deal with absolute crap!

    Even light entertainment in my day has some sneaky moral in there that didn't hit hard, but hit home. Rugrats and the strength of friendship and the imagination, Twins of destiny and Tin Tin exposed us to other cultures and ways of living.

    Ahhhh, memories... good times :o)

  • brag0031 Aug 06, 2012

    Totally agree that the old Degrassi shows are better than the new incarnation.

  • lanzie_rulz Aug 06, 2012

    The Wiggles and Play School from Australia - both are about 20 years old and the kids today can't tell whether it's a brand new episode or one from the first season! They are education-focussed, but still awesome.

  • Dawalk86 Aug 06, 2012

    I'd watch my favorite shows growing up on these various channels and weekday afternoon/weekend morning blocks: the Disney Afternoon, Fox Kids, Kids WB, ABC's One Saturday Morning, PBS Kids, USA's Cartoon Express, etc. Among my favorites are Peter Pan and the Pirates, Shining Time Station, CBS Storybreak, the ABC Weekend Specials, the Puzzle Place, the Noddy Shop, Super Mario Bros. Super Show, Kratts' Creatures, Under the Umbrella Tree, Reboot, My Brother and Me, Weinerville and many more. And to name the few shows I have bothered to check for from the 2000s and this decade that have since also become my favorites include House of Mouse, Fillmore, Jackie Chan Adventures, Wild Kratts and Word Girl. If I had kids right now, these are among what I'd show them. I used to be crazy about Ren & Stimpy, but not anymore. I guess that one could say that they were just a guilty pleasure for me before I even heard of the term. At the time, I had no idea that it had adult/mature undertones behind it and there are other shows I'd put way ahead of this one.

  • Dre5d Aug 06, 2012

    1. Arthur 2, Foster's home For Imaginary Friends 3. That's So Raven 4. Recess 5. All That 6. The Proud Family 7. Filmore 8.Rugrats 9. Goosebumps 10. Ed, Edd, n Eddy

  • See More Comments (75)