Why You should Rewatch The Amazing World of Gumball

By: Eli Duah-Mensah

I can recall one of the first times I viewed The Amazing World of Gumball. As I rushed home from the bright yellow school bus, swiping some Ritz Crackers and cheese, and sliding off my shoes, I skipped through the living room, slamming down on the couch for my favorite cartoon — Spongebob Squarepants! I briefly bounced upstairs to slip on some comfy clothes and catapulted downstairs, clearing three stairs each with feverish excitement. Like a mouse, I lightly hit the cable TV button, scrolling through until I found channel 52: Nickelodeon. Yet, as I glanced through the channel, I gasped in horror — no Spongebob! At least, not for the rest of the afternoon. I languished in agony for all but two seconds, when I found I could skim through Cartoon Network; Disney XD wasn’t airing Gravity Falls either. I clicked to Channel 64, landing right in the middle of an episode of The Amazing World of Gumball.

I was eight years old, and I was in love.

Gumball became an integral part of my childhood; along with Spongebob, Gravity Falls, and Avatar: The Last Airbender, these four comprised the cornerstone of my favorite childhood cartoons. When Spongebob became lost and anxious in “Rock Bottom”, screaming into the bizarro abyss, or “Culture Shock”, where Squidward desperately wants to be recognized for his passion, my worries about learning time tables and writing up a report on The Lion King fell away for about twenty-two minutes. When Dipper summoned Rumble McSkrimish to beat Robbie V. in a fight in a pursuit for Wendy in “Fight Fighters,” or when Mabel and Dipper fought a legion of zombies in “Scary-Oke”, I swallowed my food so fast with fear that I almost choked. When “Lake Lagoi” came on for the first time, I was caught in a trance. When “The Warriors of Kyoshi” graced the earth, I admired Suki–both her fighting strength, and sharp wits. And soon, when Gumball aired, I smiled when the eponymous Gumball defeated the distatedly Rob in “The Disaster”

One of the hallmarks of media, be it books, television, music, or movies, is the ability to make the audience lose themselves in a narrative, be it for three minutes, thirteen-minutes, thirty-minutes, or even three hours. According to many, some of the hallmarks of our experience can be the ability to see another person’s experience as though we are right there with them. Our ability to empathize with others in the real world could be what makes our emotions for a character so potent in novels, movies, and even music. For a relatively short time, we can forget these characters only exist in the realm of fiction; if a character is being beaten or bullied, we can experience a myriad of emotions. It is to be expected then, that children’s media would be no different; children’s media can elicit a manifold of responses. Be it anger, sadness, embarrassment, joy, or fear, children’s media can provide us a safe, comfortable way to travel through a rapidly growing unknown. Whether it is a mystery drama, a fantasy,or a sitcom-like comedy.

In honor of the thirtieth-anniversary of Cartoon Network, I reviewed several episodes of Gumball, stringing along several odd thoughts, and commentary on what makes this show stand through several points of life.


The Fury/ The Compilation

In “The Fury”, during Nicole’s morning carpool, she steps outside to meet a shadowy figure, proclaiming it has been a long time. As Nicole draws closer, the figure then reveals herself as Yuki, an old friend. Yuki then calls Nicole for a brawl, but she refuses. As Nicole attempts to go on with her life, taking the family grocery shopping and going to work, the former develops into Yuki making advances on Richard and once again calling for a duel. As the children are astonished by Nicole’s composure, Yuki’s daughter Masami details the two’s tumultuous relationship. After losing a martial arts battle with Nicole, Yuki’s determination culminated in decades of work in Japan and an unquenchable thirst to regain lost honor. After extensive workplace and personal harassment, Nicole still does not resolve to fight with Yuki. It is only after a letter is sent to her home, threatening her termination and loss of residence, that she is energized to tussle with Yuki.

Many people remember this episode for the epic anime homage between Nicole and Yuki made by Studio 4°C, the makers of the Berserk series, as well as Children of the Sea. Indeed, the fight scene was a fantastic part for me, but I believe this acne is emblematic of a greater piece of Gumball. A unique aspect about Gumball is its ability to blend mediums, styles, and set pieces so beautifully together. Characters such as Tina, Bobert, and the clash between a three-dimensional set and some two-dimensional characters highlight the zaniness and the uniqueness of the people in this town. Even some of the more relatively “normal” looking citizens, such as Larry, have their own stylistic quirks. One principle of animation is “appeal,” the ability to create a character who is pleasant to look at, even if they are the antagonist. As we will later see with Rob, or even characters such as Tobias, their looks are visually appealing, despite them being some of the antagonists. Some of their appeals can even reflect on the characters personality; with Tobias, his cotton-candy, rainbow design matches perfectly with his zealous motif, impressing on the viewer a perception that he is–or believes himself to be–unique. Despite creating such a distinct world, the plots are typically founded in realistic situations–in this case, old drama, and workplace harassment.

“The Compilation” is exactly what it sounds like: a compilation of the citizens of Elmore Junior High, posted on the city’s exclusive video platform, Elmore Stream. From cameos of Evil Turtle, to Principal Brown confusing a strikingly similar rug for his grandma, to a Saxophone Chihuahua, this episode expands on the worldbuilding of the wacky world of Elmore.

I understand this sort of vignette episode is super common on TV — The Simpsons, Gravity Falls, and Spongebob for instance — but I feel like this was an homage to Vine — I love it. As a kid, I thought it was youtube. Theoretically, with the shorter videos, this could be TikTok? But, it’s the randomness that reminds me more of Vine. I do not believe there’s any deeper meaning in this episode; it’s just a silly showing of the cartoonish world of Elmore. One aspect Gumball always delivered on was its ability to balance a more emotional, poignant episode, with a silly one. Of course, that is not to say some episodes did not have a dash of humor in them; rather, it was a situation of homeostasis, where nothing could get too far from the balance. My favorite part about this episode is the “Nobody’s a Nobody/Weird Like You & Me” song. The children’s voices sound so raw — it does not sound like it has any audio manipulation — and Nicole and Richard sound exactly how I would expect them to sound. Furthermore, this episode highlights that even a super silly episode can have a powerful ending. Despite this oddball town and their misadventures, everyone in that world has a place, just like every viewer at home has a place, regardless of whether or not they fit in in their own weird town. This episode actually almost made me cry; it was so sweet and so validating.

The Microwave/ The Meddler

In the season two episode, “The Microwave”, Gumball and Darwin dip their toes into the world of parenting in the form of a “garbage baby.” A child born of the most disgusting things the Watterson brothers could find, their initial excitement is swiftly diminished by their baby Kenneth’s monstrous behavior. Though initially, the brothers find him unruly, eating only garbage and stray birds, their feelings are overridden by a genuine desire to see the baby succeed. As they leave Anais with Kenneth, she is quickly gobbled up by Kenneth. In tandem, Kenneth devours the mailman, then Richard, and Nicole. The brothers then have to find a way to save their family.

This was my first re-watch in this list, and I was immediately struck by how much faster the jokes hit. The crude humor got quite a few chuckles out of me. This episode stuck out to me most as a kid, as gross out humor was not typically my thing back then. However, I can appreciate the action in this episode a lot more, somewhat superseding the gross concept. I can also appreciate the pop-culture nod to The Blob through Kenneth, with his humanoid form growing in size as he eats people; to some extent, that facet could also apply to Spirited Away. That aspect highlights how many pop-culture references are commonplace in the world of Elmore.

A prime example would be “The Shippening,” a fantastically hilarious episode about Sarah G. Lato — the ice cream girl — stumbling across a magic notebook, where she proceeds to write myriad fanfictions about her classmates and teachers, resulting in the dissolution or souring of some of their relationships. Not only was this episode an awesome homage of their own, and many other fandom’s culture, but this episode had a sea of pop-culture references. For instance, from the beginning, Sarah finding the magic notebook is a parody of Light Yagami from Death Note, as he first encounters the aforementioned book. There’s a Dragon Ball from the series Dragon Ball Z, a Super Mario reference with the Banzai Bill, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle reference from Sarah. Though these references are fun, what is perhaps more impressive is the show’s ability to blend these elements in a non-forceful manner. Typically, these references flow naturally with the story they are trying to convey, which is an integral part to referencing a piece of media.

“The Meddler” opens with Gumball excitedly returning from a day of school, eager to tell his parents everything that occurred at school that day. When Richard ignores it and Nicole is sleeping, Gumball screams about how he feels neglected and storms off to his room. When Nicole is awakened by the commotion, she runs to Gumball’s room and promises to pay more attention to him. As Nicole follows Gumball through school the next day, progressively amping up the “meddling,” Gumball feels increasingly humiliated. The intrusiveness reaches its apex at the cafeteria, resulting in Gumball embarrassing himself yet again in front of Penny, motivating him to get her back after breaking her heart.

This was one of the more memorable episodes I watched; I remembered so many of the story beats. The moment when Gumball has a breakdown in front of Penny as an angry rebuttal to his mom was probably one of the most painful moments I experienced in this viewing. On rewatch, I can understand Nicole’s behavior a lot better than I did as a kid. Overall, two great episodes!

The Disaster / The Re-Run

In the season four finale, “The Disaster” we begin with Gumball in the car with his family, singing a tune on the way to the mall. We then cut to Rob, back with a vengeance after being thrown into the void. After acquiring a universal remote, Rob utilizes it to destroy Gumball’s life, with much success. As Gumball comes to discover this, he battles with Rob to save him and his family’s life.

I really like this episode. I vividly remember this episode, I love the homages in both of these episodes, especially the Cantonese drama. The fourth wall breaks were something Gumball was always good at, and it truly shines in this episode. In just some of many examples, “The Puppy” has the Watterson children wink at the camera multiple times, “The Origins” where the camera continually crashes into Gumball’s face, and “The Downer,” where Gumball speaks to the audience for almost the entirety of the episode. My only issue is though, that I would think, with Rob being so caught up in pop culture, he would know not to reveal his evil plan. but I suppose his venting to Gunball is perfectly in line with his motif.

“The Re-Run” is a follow-up to “The Disaster,” where Gumball attempts to stop Rob from destroying his life. As he’s sent back into the car, Gumball tries to prove to his family that they have experienced this order of events before, to no avail. As the episode progresses, it becomes increasingly clearer that the Wattersons are in trouble; eventually, it’s down to Gumball to save them.

I vividly remember this episode. Darwin suffocating was one of the saddest moments for me, especially when I was younger, as it is for me now. This was another situation where I understood the motives of the supposed antagonist with age. Though I do not condone Rob’s actions through his time, I can understand his motives. For me, it seems like he craves validation. Without it, he feels like a mistake; if he can’t be acknowledged by anyone in a positive manner, what is the point of his existence? Nearly everyone, even if they are socially awkward or introverted, wants some company. For me, Rob feels like the result of mixing a socially awkward teen with self-hatred and bubbling rage. This two-parter is a great example of how age can change one’s perception of a character. Sympathizing, empathizing, or even rooting for the antagonist as we get older is a common phenomenon. As we age, this dichotomy between good and evil gets dashed for the often nuanced reality protagonists and antagonists face. Along with this, this episode really highlights Gumball’s character. His caring nature, despite his reckless actions, and troublemaking spirit. Indeed, Gumball is a flawed character, but he managed to turn things around for himself, and, at least attempt to for Rob.

Overall, this episode is fantastic. It is full of emotional beats and actions, veering away from the often whimsical, comedic tone the episode takes. But, like most Gumball episodes, humor is still peppered in with the fourth wall breaks, which were cranked up to one-hundred in this episode.

The Shell

In the season three episode, “The Shell,” the episode opens with Gumball and Penny in the school play. After Gumball gives her a crack instead of a kiss, Gumball inquires about Penny’s true form outside of the shell, to her dad’s disapproval.As the two speak more, Gumball increasingly tells Penny to embrace her identity.

The shell is an iconic episode. As well as that, the companion episode “The Procrastinators” is not only fun, but incredibly relatable. With that episode, the animators amped up the wackiness and cartoonish style to an eleven, from the eye-popping gag, to the gag where the two brothers eat themselves, causing them to implode. Some of the double episodes feel like one is clearly stronger than the other, but this one just feels like the two have different tones.

Patrick, Penny’s father, is quite an interesting character. I think his line about Penny being a monster highlights the dad’s insecurities, as the whole family is locked in their shells. I’m wondering if some event happened in previous years to make them feel as though they had to hide their identities? Is this like Frozen where the grandparents or parents passed this down and it landed on Patrick, which landed on Penny? I like how this is never resolved; the audience is left to theorize when and why Penny’s family would go into hiding. Do they move schools anytime Penny gets a crack or their situation is compromised? With how resigned Penny looked telling Gumball, this doesn’t feel like it has been the first time.

This episode won a BAFTA as best animation in the children’s animation category. Furthermore, the episode won two British Animation Awards for the categories Best Children’s Series and Children’s Choice. I say it is well-deserved; this was one of my favorite episodes as a kid. It was heart-melting, witty, and well-produced. Additionally, this episode is described by Gumball creator, Ben Bocquelet, as “Miyazaki-esque,” with Penny turning into a dragon, much like Haku in Spirited Away, and her wolf and pig form for being homages to Princess Mononoke, which make me love this episode even more. This is one of my top three, but this is not my favorite episode.

The Choices

Last, and the antithesis of the least, we have the season five episode, “The Choices.” The episode opens with a chaotic evening in the Watterson household. As the children bellow for food to an unnerved Nicole, the pot catches fire while Nicole reprimands Richard. It is around this point that Nicole starts to reminisce about how she met Richard, pondering about if, and how, things could have gone differently.

I don’t think this list would be complete without “The Choices.” This episode is often highly regarded by viewers as one of, if not the best, episodes of Gumball; IMDb ranks it at a 9.7. Indeed, this high praise is not unwarranted — this may have been one of the most poignant episodes in 2010’s childrens TV. As I researched this episode, so many comments had been riddled with their own anecdotes. Stories of children who were the primary driver of their parents’ marriage, or whose parents/ in-laws did not come to their weddings, or just general relatability. For me, these anecdotes further cements the fact that children’s cartoons are not just for children, especially shows like The Amazing World of Gumball. Despite the zany nature of many of the episodes, many episodes are tethered to a positive message, or social commentary. Some of the more blatant examples being “The Move” or “The Best,” two fairly controversial episodes in their own right. The latter contains the infamous “social justice warrior” scene, while the former has the famous line, in reaction to what jobs a liar could get, “You could be an actor, or a lawyer, or even better, the president!” Be it subtle, or more direct, Gumball has always had humor interwoven with pertinent social commentary. It is no surprise then, that this episode contains social commentary about abusive relationships, as well as some of the reasons why someone would want to get plastic surgery. When Nicole has a vision about marrying Harold, he tries to lower her confidence to get her to want to be with him. When this works, Harold continues to be verbally abusive towards her all throughout their marriage, causing Nicole to get several plastic surgeries. At some point, Nicole snaps, burning the house down, resulting in her arrest. That scene struck a chord with me; I believe this could be very relatable for people in abusive relationships.

The episode itself is so beautifully produced, with “Nicole Meets Richard” being a passionate, wonderfully nostalgic piece. One of the most surprising aspects of rewatching the show was that The Amazing World of Gumball’s music was better than I appreciated. With songs like “Without You,” “Goodbye,” and “Make the Most of it,” some of these songs are flat out bangers. This may be one of the first episodes I think of when I hear the retort, “it’s just a kids show.” To me, if a children’s TV show fails to be appealing to adults, then it has failed. Mature media should not just mean more lude content without an appealing story. While a more mature show can easily talk about grimmer topics, that does not mean that a kids show cannot or should not talk about them either. As a matter of fact, it makes it all the more necessary; children deserve to know about harsher, emotional topics.

Growing up, kids do not experience, let alone want to be caught up in some saccharine wonderland, where the inhabitants are always safe and bubbly. Kids can be cruel, caring, and curious, and most want to know how to navigate this dynamic, somewhat terrifying world. Media can provide a safe way for children to experience the dangers of the world, knowing that if they are not ready to handle it, they can close the book, or turn off the TV. Although, many of them stay– both to see what happens, and because the narrative is so captivating. Coraline and Over the Garden Wall are two fantastic examples of darker children’s TV, both reaching massive success. Between Coraline being one of the most iconic dark fantasies of children’s media, along with the latter being hosted on the same network, these movies spooked, yet entertained a multitude of children. Both movies capture the wonders of dark children’s media, with massive success and accolades. Though Gumball was primarily a comedy, the show tackles more somber, poignant topics such as these with care and respect so well. The recurring themes of Richard’s absent father, or Nicole’s emotionally neglectful parents, show up frequently through the show, each being excellent black comedies. This is my favorite episode.

Conclusively, I feel like I grew along with this show; as the show went on, the viewers grew up, and though they were always ready to handle mature themes, they were not as candid and fleshed out as they were here. When Gumball was a middle schooler, most of us were in that elementary and middle school age. As we grew into our older years, we became privy to our family dynamics, our relationships with others and our relationships with ourselves. At its core, Gumball is a family sitcom, where the characters grow up; the characters are not formulaic, they grow to have their regrets. Although this material is understandable for a seven-year old, it can truly resonate with a seventeen-year-old, long into a person’s twenties.

To end with an episode, “The Kids” highlights these facets of growing up, with several fourth wall breaks peppered throughout the episode. In the episode, the Watterson brothers become distressed as their voices grow deeper, in denial of their aging. As the doctor tells them that they are growing up, the Watterson brothers are at first in denial, but then try to make the most of it. As they sing “Make the Most of It,” completing typical children’s activities, harnessing the power of their imaginations, and loitering at malls, their voice’s become increasingly deeper, causing a mother to believe they are two short men pretending to be children. The two then lament over their inability to escape adulthood, only to begin singing about the positives of aging. When their voices return to a high point, the brothers cheer about how they will be able to stay young for the rest of their lives, but quickly realize the unfortunate reality of being stuck as a child. Though everyone — in reality — has to grow up, I don’t think there’s anything to lose by carrying some of the lessons, the fun, and the nostalgia of what you enjoyed as a child. For me, Gumball has been just as, if not more, fantasticas a teenager as it was as a child. Go forth and conquer, with your childhood memories in your backpocket.

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