'Big Nate' on the Small Screen | TV Review

Cartoonist Lincoln Peirce’s beloved Big Nate comic strip makes the jump to television in the new Nickelodeon animated series now available on the Paramount+ streaming service. Here’s our review.

Big Nate TV series artCartoonist Lincoln Peirce’s beloved Big Nate comic strip makes the jump to television in the new Nickelodeon animated series now available on the Paramount+ streaming service. The TV series, like the comics, follows the trials and tribulations of the titular Nate Wright, an underachieving sixth grade student with dreams of greatness, and the coterie of colorful characters in his life. 

As Peirce himself is the first to admit, Big Nate originally garnered a small but loyal following when it debuted in newspaper syndicates in 1991. It has only been through the illustrated novels in the last decade or so that Big Nate has really broken into the mainstream. Without a doubt, the comics are a delightful romp that work on multiple levels and speak to both kids and adults. While the original comics take place in a fairly down-to-earth and realistic world, the animated series takes full advantage of the medium by creating a much more exaggerated reality than the source material. That said, it remains true to the spirit of the source material, with relatable situations, from trying to impress a school crush to avoiding after-school detention. 

Whereas the various Peanuts cartoon adaptations sought to almost completely replicate Charles Schulz’s comic strip—which Peirce counts as an inspiration—through stripped-down and limited animation, Big Nate takes a more in-depth approach both in storytelling and with its CG-animation visual design. What distinguishes a number of Nickelodeon cartoons from their competitors is an almost unpolished, DIY style, resembling something created by a kid. Big Nate continues that tradition through the use of mixed-media animation and even incorporates live-action footage. Close-ups of Nate’s pimple, for instance, are depicted as a live performer’s face covered in makeup. Especially innovative is the inclusion of Nate's own comic strip creations, drawn on notebook paper in a more childlike style within the original Big Nate strip, through cutaway gags and fantasy sequences.

Bucking another hallmark of the Peanuts cartoons, the Big Nate voice cast is entirely composed of adult actors rather than actual children. In terms of practicality, this makes complete sense, especially if the show has any long-term ambitions. Ben Giroux, as Nate, and all the actors are seasoned professionals, so as with Bart Simpson and countless other cartoon favorites, viewers completely buy into adults voicing children.  
Children’s media, and media in general, has recently been more conscious about representation. One can’t help but notice how white the cast was in the early years of Big Nate, but Peirce, much like his cartoonist idol Schulz, took steps to address the lack of representation. The animated series furthers the inclusivity of the franchise with not only a more diverse student body but even the depiction of a same-sex lesbian couple.

Considering that this is a Nickelodeon production and gross-out out humor has been baked into the channel's DNA as far back as its heyday in the Ren & Stimpy era, it’s not all that surprising that it’s more plentiful in the animated adaptation than in the source material. Thankfully, the Big Nate cartoon doesn’t go too far, but episodes dealing with puberty and tainted pizza are probably best avoided on a full stomach. 

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the show is making Nate endearing to viewers. He has a number of personality faults including an unchecked ego and a lack of basic social graces. Nevertheless, underneath the flaws there is a good person who is just desperate for attention and eager to win over his peers through his wild antics. Inevitably, it blows up in his face. 

VERDICT In this first batch of episodes, the audience will see the great potential of the show’s protagonist—and of the series itself. While in these initial episodes, the show may be still finding its groove, there’s no doubt both kids and adults will enjoy this series. 


See also: 
Four Funny Read-Alikes for Kids Anticipating Nickelodeon’s Big Nate

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing