PBS’ “Arthur” reveals Mr. Ratburn is gay and getting married

Twin Cities PBS

Updated on December 10, 2021

It’s not breaking news at this point, but as everyone on Monday learned, the 22nd(!) season premiere of PBS’ “Arthur” saw two big events: the revelation that the kids’ teacher, Mr. Nigel Ratburn, is gay; and that he was getting married.

Twitter exploded with a positive response over this episode (titled “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone”), with “Mr. Ratburn” trending for most of the day. The episode also features as a guest voice actress Jane Lynch (who’s openly lesbian) as Nigel’s bossy sister.

TV cartoons are slowly adding more LGBTQ characters; however, it’s still rare to see said characters actually wed. The only other kids’ cartoon with such I can think of is the wedding of Ruby and Sapphire on “Steven Universe.” Adult-oriented cartoons such as “The Simpsons” and “South Park” have shown same-sex weddings; however, said weddings were mostly used for jokes.

“Arthur” has depicted same-sex couples before. A 2004 episode of the spin-off “Postcards From Buster” showed Buster visiting a family in Vermont. Said family featured two mothers, which doesn’t get commented on beyond Buster observing “that’s a lot of Moms!” The episode was pulled from PBS’ national distribution after President Bush’s Secretary of Education complained; however, a few stations opted to air the episode. Fortunately, DVD releases of the show included the episode.

Why the fuss over Mr. Ratburn?

A few other reasons Mr. Ratburn’s wedding (and “Arthur”) stands out:

  • Mr. Ratburn’s a main character in the series, and the most prominent adult besides Arthur’s parents. Thus, he appears in most episodes, and is harder to ignore than, say, the parents of Lincoln Loud’s pal in “The Loud House.”
  • The long-running nature of “Arthur” means those that grew up with the show carry much nostalgia for the aardvark. Either that, or they’re just surprised that it’s still airing new episodes (the other main response I saw).
  • “Arthur” showed the wedding in a normalized and accepting fashion. No stopping to explain or justify Nigel’s sexuality to anyone, including the kids attending the wedding.
  • This isn’t the final episode of the season (it’s actually the season premiere), nor is PBS cancelling the show. At this point, “Arthur” has become “Simpsons”-esque in how long it’s been running, though the aardvark seems to be handling modernity a bit better.
  • It seems impressive “Arthur” chose to show Mr. Ratburn get married, given the show’s on PBS, a broadcaster that’s constantly attacked by conservatives over funding.

LGBTQ characters are now on all major cartoon-airing outlets

The McBrides from "The Loud House"
The McBrides from “The Loud House.” (Nickelodeon)

As for those calling for a broad boycott of all PBS shows over “Arthur,” they don’t have many alternatives at this point. Pretty much all of the major cartoon-airing networks and streaming services currently or recently have featured at least one LGBTQ character. To wit:

  • Cartoon Network: “Steven Universe.”
  • Nickelodeon: “The Loud House.”
  • Disney Channel: “Andi Mack” (a live-action show, but still prominent), “Doc McStuffins.”
  • Netflix: the “She-Ra” reboot.
  • Amazon Video: “Danger & Eggs,” a 2017 cartoon, featured one episode centered around a family-friendly Pride festival.
  • Hulu: features shows from most of the aforementioned networks.
  • And of course, pretty much all adult-oriented cartoons (with varying treatment/quality).

The only alternative I can think of might be Boomerang, if such people are OK with decades-old cartoons. Though that’s assuming none of their original shows ever show or mention LGBT characters, or “Steven Universe” doesn’t eventually appear.

Photo by Michael Hicks. (Flickr / CC BY / cropped from original)

Anthony Dean

Anthony Dean is the owner of Diverse Tech Geek and Diverse Media Notes.

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