Disney’s Recess is a great show, and one that I can always turn to in times of boredom.
I have seen each episode of Recess more times than I care to admit, and I would happily double that number. It never gets old to me; there’s always something to uncover.
Watching Disney’s Recess as a child vs. watching is as an adult is a completely different experience. Now, on top of being purely entertained, I’m peeling back layers of the show I didn’t even realize existed. The show is such a continued discovery that, in my final year of college, I wrote a paper on it (and got an A!).
Here are my favourite 10 episodes of Disney’s Recess:
10. Kindergarten Derby
Original air date: September 25, 1999
It’s the 25th anniversary of the Kindergarten Derby: each year the Big Kids get to choose one kindergartner to compete in a race among themselves, and the winner gets a wish from King Bob. Among the Big Kids, Mickey, who remembers loathing the experience when he was younger, refuses to participate in the “debasement of kindergartners.” Yes, debasement. But, the other side contests, they’ve been doing it for years and it’s tradition. Within the first minute the sponsors begin examining the kindergartners based on their physical merits, and what you’re left with is a classic human depreciation story that our world knows so well.
9. Speedy, we hardly knew ye
Original air date: October 18, 1997
When the fourth grade class hamster passes away, the gang decides to throw a funeral for him out of honour. When word spreads that the beloved Speedy has died, people from all different ages and walks of life ends up at the funeral. But since hamsters only live to be a few years old, how could all of these people know the same hamster? This is the only episode in the series that deals with the prospect of death, and the hamster montage at the end is my favourite thing.
8. Some Friend
Original air date: July 17, 2000
The group grows suspicious of T.J. when it’s revealed that he has a secret friend, and they vow to find out who it is. This episode tells the story of two friends who grew apart in a massive way, but appreciate a promise made and the idea of “once was” enough to honour the past one day a year. It’s a sweet episode with call-backs to Stand By Me, and a reality that most of us can relate to.
7. The Girl Was Trouble
Original air date: November 7, 1998
This entirely black and white episode emulates the style of Film Noir as Gretchen sees herself taking a trip to the dark side in hopes of retrieving her Galileo PDA. The other characters in the group take a back seat as this entire episode is narrated and told from Gretchen’s perspective. It’s one of the more stylistically divergent episodes, and deserves a mention for that alone.
Original air date: November 21, 1999
Third Street gets a new technology system installed dubbed SAL 3000 that is able to control every function within the school. This episode is one of the only (if not the sole) sci-fi episodes in the bunch, and parodies 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL 9000. Upon installation, the students and teachers alike love the new system, but things quickly take a turn when SAL 3000 starts going against the kids’ wishes.
5. Buried Treasure
Original air date: January 15, 2000
After T.J. stumbles onto an old Treasure map that he finds in a history book that claims “man will never walk on the moon,” he, and a bunch of kids on the playground go searching for what they hope is bankable treasure. The closer they get to finding the treasure, the more greedy people grow. Once the treasure’s found, however, it’s not quite what they’d hoped for. I love this episode, and its showcase of childhood innocence through generations.
4. The Trial
Original air date: November 8, 1997
In a dirt-clod war, Randall accuses Spinelli of throwing a rock at him, which is a punishable offense. Spinelli, on the contrary, insists that she didn’t do it, but won’t say what really happened. This results in a school-wide trial where everyone called to the stand presents a slightly different version of events. It also includes one of my favourite quotes from the franchise, with Mickey yelling “When will you people learn?! War is not a game! It’s not a game!” and the crowd looking at each other in confusion saying variations of, “I thought it was a game?”
3. Swing on Thru To The Other Side
Original air date: January 17, 1998
After Spinelli thinks she sees Swinger Girl swing over the top and “swing to the other side,” she begins a cult around the beliefs and teachings of Swinger Girl. A lot of students on the playground, including Mikey and Gus, begin to take faith in her teachings, and each day they vowed to do as the Swinger Girl once did. This episode is an obvious reference to religion, which I’m surprised they were even able to take on. It’s definitely an interesting watch with that realization.
2. The Ratings Game
Original air date: January 22, 2000
In this episode, the Ashleys implement a rating system on the playground that works shockingly well. Those rated well quickly begin to get bloated egos, and those rated poorly quickly grow insecure about their standing. It sees those of the same rating, or “status”, if you will, deciding to ditch their friends to hang out with each other. Classism, everyone!
1. Economics of Recess
Original air date: December 12, 1998
After being out of school for a week due to an illness, T.J. finds out that the playground has a new currency: Monstickers. Now, to enjoy anything on the playground, one must have X amount to pay for each activity. This episode takes on global economics as T.J. goes from rags to riches, and at one point owns 80% of Monstickers. It’s a very interesting episode, and was the primary episode that my college paper revolved around, fyi!
Let me end by saying that the construct of the cartoon is absolutely genius: a complete societal hierarchy contained to a playground. This set up has made it both digestible to children, and easy for the show to take on real issues that were/ are happening in the real world. The older I get, the more I appreciate the thought put into it, and it remains to be one of my favourite shows.