Black & White: Picture Perfect

“Helga on the Couch” is my favorite episode of Hey Arnold! because it gives a great deal of development on Helga, what with her dysfunctional home life and what caused her to become a bully and why she fell in love with Arnold in the first place. I can talk so much about the psycholigical depths of Helga in this episode, but maybe some other time. What I really wanted to talk about for the moment is one scene in particular.

As Helga discusses her home life and her relationships with her parents and sister, she mentions what happened the last time Olga came home to visit. The start of the flashback is shown in black and white and acts as a parody of a “picture perfect family” sitcom of the 1950s, complete with a traditional applause-and-laugh track. The entire scene shows Olga and her parents having a sitcom-like moment, in which Olga is portrayed as a perfect, loving daughter with appreciative parents who shower all of their love and attention on her. In a sense, the moment appears to show all three Patakis as a picture perfect family.

However, when Helga enters the scene, the black and white fades back to color and the laugh track ends, as if she had ruined a family moment.

I never understood the purpose of the use of black and white for this scene, but seeing it again years later makes me understand it completely. Although the laugh track is used to make the situation seem more light-hearted and humorous, its true purpose was to show that Helga is being neglected by her parents and that they only give Olga all of their attention. The scene is set up in a way so that it appears that the three Patakis are happy without Helga and treat her like she’s an outsider and unwanted family member. Olga is, again, represented as a totally perfect child and brings happiness to her parents in the scene, which means the sad part is that they might be a “picture perfect family” if Helga didn’t exist. :(

So this whole scene was done as a little joke and for irony, given the dysfunction in the household, to show that a picture perfect family is just what the Patakis aren’t.

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The best episode of the series. You really get to see into Helga’s mind.

I never really noticed how mature the show was when I was younger, especialy Helga’s situation. A neglected child with an inattentive father, a heavily implied alcoholic mother, with an overachieving older sibling who holds the attention and love of her parents.

She’s my favourite, though. Love her.