Doug was a staple of growing up in the 90’s. It followed imaginative, creative, and shy Doug Funnie. Doug dealt with all the troubles of being a tween, and it was an interesting and very relatable show for some. It became a cultural touchstone, though after leaving its original channel, Nickelodeon, and changing dramatically for its second home, Disney, with some fans complaining.
But one of the most memorable and serious episodes of the series was created by Disney. “Doug’s Chubby Friend” has Doug’s crush, Patti, becoming obsessed with a thin teenage actress. Wanting to look like her, and believing herself extremely overweight, Patti goes on a harsh diet. She supplements actual meals with a diet kit from the actress and does extreme amounts of exercise. She begins to lose weight, and due to her perception of herself, thinks she is barely making a dent so decides to push her efforts even harder.
Doug’s attempts to get help for his friend from the school coach as Patti refuses to listen, goes ignored. The situation ends with Patti collapsing in the middle of a track & field competition. We then have the kind words of a nicer teacher telling the kids the importance of eating correctly and making sure to rest between exercises. The original airing ends with Patti speaking directly to viewers about eating disorders, with the syndicated version removing it.
There were quite a few kids shows that dealt with eating disorders in the 90′s as the internet and instant celebrity access/ galleries grew greater. Parents and teachers voiced fears that children would go to extreme lengths to imitate their idols. While Doug’s version of this episode type didn’t really hit home hard for most, it has remained in my memory so strongly as it felt unique from its approach as a cartoon meant for children. Doug was weird. Its world was wacky, its sounds were unique, so for it to touch on such a heavy topic and actually end with a proper message and information, not lost in a distracting joke or gag, was impressive.
Like I said, a strength of Doug was its relatability, but that was usually reserved for average school or home situations. This episode addressed something that at the time, cartoons didn’t touch on. It couldn’t help but insert its flavors into it, but it didn’t detract from the episode’s concern.