Helga’s personality

Downtown as Fruits

Season 1 Episode 1

Downtown as Fruits Title

On October 7, 1996 Hey Arnold! premiered on Nickelodeon as one of their brand new Nicktoons. The episode Downtown as Fruits is the official pilot episode for the Nickelodeon debut, and it has remained a classic Hey Arnold! episode since then. In this episode we get introduced to the students of PS 118 in the midst of their preparation for the school play on the food groups, as put on by the one and only Helga Pataki. While this episode does show a good number of the characters, it mainly focuses on introducing the viewers to the main three, namely Arnold, Gerald, and Helga. A wise move as the rest of the show’s episodes tended to be focused in some form on these three characters.

Episode Synopsis

The episode opens with Arnold surfing an awesome wave on what seems to be a very pleasant day out at the beach. He is immediately snapped back to reality by Helga who is obnoxiously yelling at him to get off the stage. The students of PS 118 are preparing for a play on the food groups, to premiere that night, and Director Helga isn’t happy about their progress. She bosses and bullies the students around, clearly taking pleasure in her position of authority. None of the students make any attempt to stand against her, showing that they are all quite fearful of her threats. That night, Arnold dressed as a banana and Gerald dressed as a strawberry board the city bus to get to the school. It’s during this ride, where they are given many weird looks, that Gerald has the brilliant idea to *miss* the stop for the school and a few stops after that in order to get out of performing in the play put on by Helga. After a brief internal moral dilemma, Arnold decides to go along with it. At the school, Helga is informed by Phoebe that Arnold and Gerald are missing, thus causing her to yell Arnold’s name and Arnold to hear her angry cry all the way on the bus across town. They quickly reach the end of the bus line in downtown and are forced to get off. With no money and a disconnected pay phone, they begin to realize how serious their situation is.


Downtown as Fruits

We're stuck...downtown...as fruits.

That is, until a mysterious person tosses them a bag full of cash, telling them to take it as they know what it is. They gladly take it commenting on the kindness of downtown people and rush off to purchase some actual clothing. The viewer sees after Arnold and Gerald that two goons dressed as the same fruits were supposed to have received the money, showing that Arnold and Gerald just got mixed up in a case of mistaken identity. With the newly gained cash, Arnold and Gerald purchase some funky rags, eat some delicious street food, and dance and play pool at a downtown bar.

Meanwhile back at PS 118, Helga’s play is beginning to fall apart. It seems that Helga is about to go into an angry tirade about Arnold not being there, however her tirade quickly turns into a beautiful speech regarding her beloved. The classic back and forth of “I love you’s” and “I hate you’s” is said by Helga and Brainy is punched for the first time on the show.

Arnold and Gerald’s fortune takes a quick spiral downward when they are discovered by the goons and are chased out of the bar. They land in a fortune teller’s den who asks them if there is someone they have wronged. Gerald thinks back to Helga and answers no, but Arnold becomes horrified at the fact that they have wronged Helga and he yanks Gerald away while yelling that they have to make everything right again.

Things seem to be getting dire at the play and Helga goes on stage to announce a change of program as the fruits are absent. At this Arnold and Gerald leap on stage fully costumed and sing an adorable song about fruits. They are joined by the rest of the class in song as Helga watches from the side with an adoring look at Arnold. The audience gives the students a roaring ovation and the episode ends with Helga knocked down by the falling curtain with a bouquet of roses thrown at her face as she happily sighs, knowing that her play was a success and that Arnold had indeed shown up.


We're Fruits

It's fruits! It's fruits that really make us toots!

Characters, Traits, Etc.

Seeing as how this episode is the start of everything for the show’s Nickelodeon run, we learn A LOT. We first learn that Helga isn’t at all who she appears to be on the outside. She is seen by the other students as a condescending bully who is to be feared and tread carefully around when in actuality she can be quite poetic and secretly harbors a crush on Arnold. We do not actually see the depth of this crush and initially regard it as a regular school girl crush. Arnold is shown to be a boy with good moral character as he initially does not want to skip the play and ends up being the one to decide that they have to return to the school when they do end up skipping. Gerald is introduced as Arnold’s best friend who is willing to break the rules and doesn’t mind wronging the school bully at all. We also get a brief glimpse at Phoebe’s character, who is displayed as more of an assistant to Helga at this point in the show. Phoebe also looks up to Helga as when Helga cries due to her play being ruined, Phoebe begins crying too.

Other students briefly introduced and seen include Harold, Sheena, Eugene, Curly, Pea Pod Kid (who gets his name from his pea pod costume in this episode), Stinky, Rhonda, Nadine, Iggy, and Park.

Two last things to note. First, how awesome were Arnold and Gerald’s funky rags?! I totally agree with Gerald, too. Arnold’s banana shoes totally pulled his outfit together. Secondly…why did we have to see Helga’s underwear? This is the only time we ever see them, but it’s pretty random that we do. Oh the random things that go on with this show.


Funky Rags

Two suave looking nine year olds, ready to hit downtown!


There are the start of so many recurring gags and minor characters in this episode because, well doi! It’s the pilot episode! Recurring gags are a major component of Hey Arnold! and are part of what make it such a memorable show. Noteworthy gags that get their start in this episode include Monkeyman, the animals running out the Sunset Arms door as Arnold opens it, Arnold being the only one to hear Helga angrily yell his name across town, Brainy punches, Eugene’s clumsiness, and Helga’s confessions of love to the locket photo of Arnold. Love all the gags!


First Brainy Punch

The first ever punch from Helga that Brainy receives on the show!

Lessons Learned

We learn several important lessons in this episode. Firstly, treat your peers with respect. Helga abuses her position of power as director and writer of the food groups play, thus leading to Arnold and Gerald skipping out. If she had treated her peers with respect and directed them kindly, she probably wouldn’t have found herself in the compromising position of watching her play fall apart right before her eyes.


Love Hate

If only Helga could be her kind self all the time, but then we'd miss her awesome temper!

A minor thing we learn is a new word! We are basically told by Helga that legumes means beans, which personally, I didn’t know when I was watching the show as a precocious nine year old. Oh Helga and Arnold, you guys taught us so much vocabulary it’s ridiculous.



"Legumes? I thought we were beans!"

Another lesson learned is to always do the right thing. Arnold opts to miss the stop for the school, even though he knows it’s not the right thing to do. Even though he and Gerald end up having a great time downtown initially, the night nearly ends in disaster as they are almost caught by the gang. If Arnold had pulled the rope and gotten off at the correct stop, he might not have had the best time, but he would have stopped a whole lot of grief from happening.


Moral Dilemma

Even the most morally upstanding of us are susceptible to immoral behavior.

Finally, two wrongs don’t make a right. The main drive behind Arnold and Gerald deciding to skip out on the play was because they were really ticked off with the fact that they were doing this play for Helga, a big school bully. By deciding to tick her off by skipping, Arnold and Gerald end up nearly having a disastrous night of their own. This is summed up when they go visit the fortune teller who asks if they have wronged anyone as they have disrupted their karmic energy field. Gerald is fine with having wronged Helga, but Arnold realizes that disappointing Helga was not the solution to their problem and finally mans up and returns just in time to complete the play.


Are you kidding?!

Gerald you gotta be kidding! Think of Helga, and her play, and all the kids back at school who we're letting down!

Overall this is a wonderful episode and is an instant classic. No fan can resist this episode, especially with that adorable “It’s Fruits!” song at the end!

Really Boss Quotes

“Do vegetables have souls?” -Curly

“Slow down! This strawberry really chafes!” -Gerald

Helga: “First the legumes.” Pea Pod Kid: “Legumes? I thought we were beans.” Helga: “You are, genius!” -Helga and Pea Pod Kid

Gerald: “The journey is the destination man.” Arnold: “What’s that mean?”      Gerald: “I don’t know, I heard it in a hippy movie.” -Arnold and Gerald

“Wow, people downtown are really nice!” -Arnold

Helga: “If I ever get my hands on that Arnold I’ll…I’ll…soothe his fevered brow. Oh my poor lost sweetheart. How I love you, and yet I hate you! And yet I love you! And yet I hate you!” Brainy: “Breathe breathe breathe.” Helga: *punch* -Helga and Brainy

“Come on, we’ve got a karmic energy field to fix.” -Arnold

It’s fruits, it’s fruits, that really makes us toots;
It’s fruits, it’s fruits, that give us all a hoot!
It’s not like other food gorups aren’t important;
In fact, you need us all to make your fingernails and eyes and organs-
Fruits, it’s fruits, you gotta have your fruits;
That’s what the folks with scurvy say;
‘Cause it’s fruits, us fruits, that really makes us sing;
This is the end of our play! -Students of PS 118

“Wait till I get my hands on you Arnold, you…beautiful creature.” -Helga


“Move it, Football Head!  I mean Arnold!  I mean Hir Boy!  I mean…”

Not sure what Helga should be calling Arnold when writing your dialogue?  The following is a guide on whether or not Helga should be calling Arnold “Arnold” or “Football Head, ect.”

Summer love

Helga Calls Arnold by his Normal Name When…

  • She is caught off guard by Arnold (i.e. when Arnold interrupts one of her soliloquies: “Helga?” “Arnold?!”)
  • She is trying to be sincere / serious with Arnold (e.g. when she was trying to tell Arnold that she thinks he is okay in “Monkey business”)
  • She is being non-aggressive
  • She is leading Arnold on (e.g. in “Arnold’s Thanksgiving” when Arnold was talking about how Thanksgiving could be perfect like their school’s Thanksgiving play, Helga replies, “You’re right, Arnold, except for just one thing…”)
  • She feels that she is in danger (e.g. when she fell in the water in “The Flood”)
  • She is trying to be nice to him (e.g. when she was acting like Lila in “Helga’s masquerade”
  • She is trying to comfort Arnold (e.g. in “Arnold and Lila”, Helga asks him, “You okay, Arnold?”)
  • She is in an act of desperation (e.g. “Arnold, wait!”)
  • She is in one of her soliloquies.  She may call him other common names (e.g. Arnold, what a boob!), but hardly, if ever, by the standard names she gives him (i.e. Football Head, Hair boy, ect.).  E.g. she may call Arnold a “stupid football-headed kid”, but never just “Football Head”.
  • Arnold is generally not around her.  No need to keep up an image when nobody is around… Her usage of Arnold’s name is similar to when she is in one of her soliloquies.
  • She is swooning

Monkey business

Helga Calls Arnold Names Like “Football Head”, “Hair Boy”, “Arnoldo”, ect. When…

  • She is trying to insult him
  • She is being sarcastic (e.g. “Gee, you think, Football Head?”)
  • She is mocking him
  • She is trying to regain her reputation as a mean bully after being nice / caught off guard by Arnold
  • She is being uncooperative with Arnold
  • She is venting her anger (e.g. such as when she is upset and telling her problems to Arnold)
  • She is angry with him
  • She is being pessimistic (e.g. in her conversation with Arnold in “Arnold’s Thanksgiving’, she says, “What bright side, Football Head?”)
  • She is generally around Arnold

Egg story

Overall, when Helga is with Arnold, she will use a mixture of both names.

Those who are taking psychology may have noticed that Helga is a prime example of a person who uses defence mechanisms (techniques used to help you reduce anxiety).  Sure, she may be mature for her age, but she still has a lot to learn when it comes to coping with situations that don’t go your way.  The following is a list of some common defence mechanisms that Helga uses.  (You didn’t think “Hey Arnold!” wasn’t applicable to the real world, did you?)


Let’s start off easy, shall we?  Denial is the simple refusal to acknowledge an event as stressful.  For example, a smoker who refuses to believe that smoking is harmful to their lungs is undergoing denial.  Now, because there are many ways to refute an unfriendly fact, the word “denial” is a relatively broad term, which makes it so easy to relate to.  And to only skim the surface, some methods of avoiding a fact can include:

  • Lying (e.g. saying that you’re fine when in fact you are not)
  • Blaming others to avoid responsibility (e.g. a student with poor study habits blaming his/her teacher for making tests that are too hard)
  • Understating a fact (e.g. a person with a large gash across their body calling their injury only a small scratch)
  • Outright refusal to believe a fact (e.g. refusing to believe your doctor when he says you have a cold)

Some examples of Helga demonstrating denial:

  • Helga refusing to believe that she is jealous of Olga and Lila’s relationship in “Big sis”.
  • In “Phoebe takes the fall”, Arnold compliments Helga that she did the right thing in letting Phoebe compete in an all-city tournament.  Helga replies, “I don’t know what you’re talking about”.


Similar to denial, rationalization occurs when you distort reality to justify an unpleasant emotion or behaviour.  In this case, reasoning, or logic, becomes your best friend.  For example, a high school student that doesn’t get accepted into the university that he applied to reasons to himself that “he didn’t want to go into that university anyways, since it’s in a bad city”. 

A good example of Helga using rationalization was in “Helga and the nanny”, where she attempts to justify framing her nanny, Inga, for stealing since she was “ruining her life”.  In addition to that, she also uses arguments such as “I got away with framing Inga” and “Inga probably has a new job by now”.


When you watch situations from an emotionally detached point of view, you are exhibiting intellectualization.  For example, a person who is concentrating on the details of a background in a sad scene of a movie as opposed to the emotions of the characters would be demonstrating intellectualization.

The best example of Helga watching the world from an emotionally detached point of view was in the episode “Helga’s love potion”, where she decides to not love Arnold (or care about anything else for that matter) after drinking an “out-of-love potion”.


Have you ever faced a problem that you couldn’t deal with maturely?  Instead of dealing with it in a professional manner, you did something relatively immature, like crying, throwing a tantrum, or calling names?  If you have, then you have demonstrated something known as regression.  Regression is when you resort to a less mature method of coping when under severe pressure, where your commonly used (and more mature) methods do not work.

If you remember any scenes where Helga has had a sudden burst of emotion (like screaming, “We’re all gonna die!” in episodes such as “Haunted train”) or violently crying (such as in the episode “Ms. Perfect”), then you have seen her demonstrate regression.  And, of course, there’s Helga’s everyday name-calling and bullying.


This defence mechanism might be a little harder to understand, depending on how you define it.  One of the common definitions of projection is that it occurs when “unacceptable feelings are believed to be coming from the environment, and not yourself”.  In other words, it’s simply the blame-game: unpleasant feelings/events are not because of you, but because of someone else.  Losing an argument?  Don’t worry, you’re not stupid, the other side is.

The most prominent example of Helga demonstrating projection is when it comes to her family.  As you already know, Helga has many family problems.  However, she tends to blame her parents and sister for her family problems (such as them not paying enough attention to her), and by doing so, avoids responsibility to her family.  Helga’s actions do in fact have an impact on her family relationships, and when she is uncooperative (e.g. refusing to give thanks during Thanksgiving), she can damage those bonds.  But in some cases as far as Helga is concerned, her relationship with her parents and sister are poor because of them, not her.


I’m sure many of you have heard of the psychological reason why Helga puts so much emotional energy into Arnold.  It’s even posted in Wikipedia!  Perhaps I’ll reiterate it.  Displacement (also called transference) occurs when you transfer an unacceptable desire/feelings to another, less threatening object.  So, in Helga’s case, her unacceptable feelings are those of love towards her family.  These feelings are seen as unacceptable as they are often unrequited and therefore painful.  As a result, she transfers these feelings of affection towards something less threatening: Arnold. 

Reaction Formation

Reaction formation is the replacing of unacceptable feelings/urges with its opposite, which is mainly used to cover up one’s true feelings.  Sound familiar and very applicable to Helga?  It should be.  That’s what we call Helga’s love-hate feelings towards Arnold.  She loves him dearly, but when the matter is brought up face-to-face, she’d rather stick feathers to his butt than to give him a subtle and nice compliment.

Two main reasons why Helga kept her love for Arnold a secret:

Reason #1: Fear of rejection by Arnold

 In the episode “Monkey business”, Helga has a dream that Arnold rejects monkey-Helga after she confesses her love to him.  This scene was part of Helga’s nightmare, meaning rejection is a bad thing for Helga.

Monkey business

– The advice you give is often reflects the beliefs that you hold, and that’s no exception with Helga.  Helga dishes out her advice to some of the gang’s problems in “Deconstructing Arnold”, and that allows us to give us some insight into her personality.  Helga’s advice to Rhonda on how to get rid of her admirer, Curly, was to have Rhonda confess to him, which should “repulse” him and therefore get Curly off her back.  This advice is a parallel to Helga’s view of her relationship with Arnold.  She thinks that by confessing her love for Arnold (and putting him “on the spot”), Arnold, too, will be repulsed and as a result, Helga will lose Arnold forever. 

Helga has to be perfect in order for Arnold to love him; believes Arnold will not love her for who she is

– In “Monkey business”, Arnold’s rejection line to Helga was: “But you’re not Helga.  You’re a monkey!  A monkey-girl!”  Helga believes that Arnold will not love her whole-heartedly, or completely.  She believes she has to be perfect in order for him to love him.  In other words, humans are more perfect than monkeys.

– Remember how Helga is always competing with Lila for Arnold’s love?  It got so bad to the point where Helga tried to act/look like Lila in “Helga’s masquerade”.  Helga thought that by being like Lila, who is practically the personification of perfection, she can win Arnold’s affection.  (Helga’s line of thought during “Helga’s masquerade” was: be more like Lila = be more perfect = win Arnold’s love).  Luckily, Helga had learned her lesson by the end of this episode: that Arnold should love the one who’s perfect for him (i.e. Helga), not one who seems perfect (i.e. Lila).  Helga demonstrates that she has learned this lesson in the episode “Married”, with her soliloquy behind the dumpster.

Helga's masquerade

Therefore, with the last point being said, the Helga after her masquerade is different from the Helga before said masquerade.  She will now try to win Arnold’s affection by getting her to love her for who she is, as opposed to getting him to love a superficially-perfect Helga.

Reason #2: Fear of humiliation by others

– Helga’s soliloquys are always a goldmine to help you understand the characters and themes of “Hey Arnold”.  Taken from her soliloquy in “Monkey business”, she hopes that she will not have to confess her love for Arnold in the near future, as that would be “embarrasing and humiliating”.

– Where did this fear of humiliation come from?  Let’s jump back to Helga’s preschool years in the episode “Helga on the couch”, where she first develops her love for Arnold.  The moment Helga showed public signs of liking Arnold (i.e. swooning after Arnold gave her his cookies), her preschool peers laughed at her.  She immediately decided to stop this barrage of laughter via violence, thus beginning her reign as the school bully.


Given her reputation as a tough school bully, it is now even harder for Helga to overcome her fear of humiliation and fully accept her contrasting, tender feelings for Arnold.  After “Hey Arnold! The Movie”, this fear of humilation will now be her greatest obstacle to overcome in order to  face her feelings for Arnold.