Arthur, the longest-running children's animated series in the United States, kicked off its 22nd season Monday and while the beloved PBS Kids series is well-known for taking on the real-life issues and situations families face, this latest season premiere is making a big move with a significant reveal for one of the series' most-beloved characters. Mr. Ratburn, Arthur's teacher, is gay.
The season premiere, entitled "Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone", sees Arthur and his friends stunned to discover that the well-liked teacher is engaged. This is troubling for the kids as they believe teachers don't have lives outside of school, but it only gets worse from there when they see Mr. Ratburn talking to a woman, they think will make him miserable should he marry her. The kids decide they will sabotage the wedding, but ultimately decide not to when they arrive at the big day and discover that the woman is Mr. Ratburn's sister just trying to help her brother, but also find out that Mr. Ratburn is very happy with his new husband.
Mr. Ratburn being revealed as both gay and happily married isn't the first time that a show within the Arthur world has featured a gay character. In 2005, the spinoff series Postcards from Buster had Buster the Rabbit visiting Vermont and, in the process, met several kids with lesbian parents. However, it's worth noting that in the case of the Buster episode, PBS never actually aired it. At the time Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings made a demand that PBS return all federal funding used in the production of the episode as well as asked PBS to pull the episode due to the "lifestyle" content. Some public television member stations chose to air the episode anyway and it was included in the DVD collection "Buster's Outdoor Journeys". With this history in mind, it's a huge step for Arthur to have a significant character portrayed as both gay and happily married, even though the world "gay" is never mentioned in the episode.
Arthur is just the latest PBS-aired series to highlight characters and themes that help portray the real world to its young viewers. Sesame Street brought their first ever homeless puppet to the series back in December. Lily, who was first introduced in 2011 in conjunction with the topic of food insecurity, was featured a new initiative from Sesame Workshop's Sesame Street in Communities program, confiding in Elmo that she and her family no longer have a place to live. While Sesame Street's Lily's situation is different than Mr. Ratburn being gay, the general concept of showing the experiences young viewers themselves may share or recognize within their own communities is the same and it's something that Arthur creator Marc Brown noted back in 2005 regarding the Buster controversy.
"What we are trying to do in the series is connect kids with other kids by reflecting their lives," Brown said (via Out). "In some episodes, as in the Vermont one, we are validating children who are seldom validated. We believe that 'Postcards From Buster' does this in a very natural way -- and, as always, from the point of view of children."
You can see "Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone" in full here.7comments
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[ H/T: TV Line ]