- "Move it, Football Head!"
- — Helga teasing Arnold
Helga Geraldine Pataki is the deuteragonist, heroine (and often antagonist) of the TV series Hey Arnold!, and other media related to the series. She is Arnold's frenemy/ archrival/bully whilst being an admirer of Arnold and later his girlfriend. She’s also Phoebe's best friend. Although she’s very beautiful, she’s widely viewed by her peers as a vain, cruel and spoiled bully; yet proving continuously she has had a crush on some of the boys at her school, mostly Arnold.
The name Helga is of Eastern European origin, which means "holy." In the series, Helga's sister is named Olga, which also means "holy." (The names Olga and Helga are variants (respectively, Russian and German) of the same name.)
Helga's second name is Geraldine and is a tribute to former Nickelodeon executive Geraldine Laybourne. This has never been mentioned on the show, only referred to by her initial.
Her surname Pataki is originally a Hungarian surname, meaning "one who lived by a brook or stream."
Helga could be classified as a tomboy, as evidenced by her interest in playing contact sports alongside her male classmates and disregard/dislike for stereotypical female behavior, although this is countered by her fondness of the color pink and otherwise girly clothing choices. She can also be very, cynical, deceitful, violent, tough and bossy, bullying her classmates with an iron fist, and often taking advantage of her best friend, Phoebe, making her a bit of a spoiled brat. She also tends to reply sarcastically to express her annoyance and usually mocks her classmates by calling them nicknames.
However, Helga also has a much softer side, which becomes apparent when she is alone and involved in her school work. She is very emotional, poetic, sometimes caring, and as such, able to comprehend a spectrum of emotions such as love, passion, ambition, affection, concern and care on the one hand and hate, jealousy, frustration, annoyance and spite on the other. She was also portrayed as a villain on occasions while in some of the series. This emotional extremity is a running joke throughout the series.
Although Helga is seen as a "tough girl" by her classmates, she is frequently the first to go into hysterics in times of crisis. Harold is similar to Helga in this regard.
She has also been known to be somewhat materialistic. [citation or explanation or elaboration needed; the Nancy Spumoni boots.
Helga is occasionally clumsy but is also a genius. In the episode "The Aptitude Test", in which the class takes a standardized exam, it's eventually revealed that she achieved a perfect score on the test and the most outstanding result since her perfectionist sister, Olga Pataki, took the test. Presumably, however, the types of grades she receives on an average basis in school vary from low ("Quantity Time") to high ("A Day in the Life of a Classroom"). Her bad grades are most likely caused by her lack of motivation, attention and academic concern. Helga appears to excel academically in literature classes as evidenced by Mr. Simmons' constant praise of her literary work, though he always withholds her name possibly out of respect as she gets embarrassed when he reads them aloud. Helga displays a remarkable gift for poetry and is able to create, often on the spot, dramatic soliloquies expressing a situation or feeling with an impressive use of vocabulary, especially for someone her age. These poems and monologues were simpler in the earlier episodes but grew in their intensity as the series progressed. Aside from poetry, Helga exhibits further evidence of cultural experience, being able to identify the work of Edward Hopper and make reference to George Orwell's 1984 in "Helga on the Couch".
Helga's catchphrase is "criminy", which she apparently picked up from her father.
She's allergic to strawberries (see "Quantity Time"), which causes her to break out in hives.
As seen in "Downtown as Fruits", she names her fist "Old Betsy".
Relationships With Peers
Helga is regarded by most of her peers as a bully. She's mean, rude, tends to sarcastically mock others, and does not hesitate to use or threaten physical force to get her way. As a result, most of the other kids generally tolerate or are indifferent to her.
However, despite her typical behavior, Helga and her classmates do often interact as a friend group and have cooperated in the past, often during situations where they're all facing a common problem (examples: "New Teacher", "Ghost Bride"). Some more specific examples of Helga interacting with other kids are Harold in "Buses, Bikes, and Subways" and Gerald in Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie.
Main article: Helga and Arnold. Helga has had a crush on Arnold ever since they were in preschool.
In contrast to Helga's feelings towards Arnold, she's almost always followed by Brainy in each episode, where he's right behind her, breathing very hard (usually after one of Helga's emotional monologues). Though it's apparent that he is in love with Helga, she never returns the feelings as mutual; on scant occasions, she has kissed him due to something going right for her. Usually, every encounter with Brainy has Helga punching him between the eyes, which became a running gag for the series — indeed, in one episode in which Helga believed she had lost contact with her emotions and simply responded casually to Brainy and left, he became nervous and ended up punching himself]. But after the episode, "Helga On The Couch", the whole punching Brainy in the face had to stop due to the fact that Dr. Bliss caught Helga punching him after he was knocked out on the floor. But in Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie, Helga did hit Brainy but it was only once. However, after Helga gave up on Arnold and threw her locket into the river, he retrieved it and returned it to her, so she gave Brainy a kiss, making him jump for joy and play his pan flute.
Helga is very jealous/resentful of Lila, who Arnold has a crush on from "Arnold & Lila" to "Timberly Loves Arnold". Unlike Helga, Lila displays indiscriminating compassion, intelligence, and stylishness — all qualities Helga both resents and outwardly lacks. The two don't get along very well from Helga's perspective, though Lila is as kind and friendly to Helga as she is to everyone else. Helga's jealousy of Lila worsens when Olga "bonds" with her in a "big sisters" program in the episode "Big Sis".
Lila's one of the few characters to know about Helga's crush on Arnold. In "School Play", Lila's the last girl Helga has to get to drop out of the play so she can be Juliet and have an excuse to kiss Arnold, who's playing Romeo, in the final scene. All of Helga's attempts to get Lila to drop out fail, but Lila reveals that she knows why Helga wants the part of Juliet so badly---and admits that she's always sort of suspected that Helga had a crush on Arnold. Lila says that she'll gladly give up the role if Helga would just admit that she has feelings for him, calling her plot to kiss him "ever so sweet." Helga then admits to Lila that she loves Arnold. Fans have speculated that part of the reason Lila refuses to return Arnold's affections in later episodes is that she doesn’t want to come between him and Helga.
At one point, Lila helps Helga to act nicer towards others when Helga decides that she needs to be more "Lila-like" in order for Arnold to return her affections. All of Lila's advice is disregarded, however, after Arnold mistakenly refers to Helga as "Lila."
After her first appearance, Helga doesn't seem to have any actual negative feelings towards Lila herself (besides finding her sickeningly sweet) when Arnold's not involved, as seen in "Phoebe Skips", when Helga considered Lila as an option for a new assistant, and in "Eugene, Eugene!", when she stops a can of red paint from falling on her when she realizes Arnold won't "get" Lila in the play.
Phoebe is Helga's best friend (and her only one so far). Their unusual friendship is the main plot of episodes such as "Hall Monitor", "Pre-Teen Scream" and "Phoebe Breaks a Leg". Phoebe often follows Helga around, writing down notes and appearing more as an assistant rather than a friend to Helga, rarely thanking her for anything. Phoebe is too shy to stand up to Helga since she's tough, mean and nasty. However, the two do care about each other, as they listen to each other's concerns and help each other out and love each other like sisters. In later seasons, Phoebe knows about Helga's secret crush on Arnold (though it's never shown exactly when or how she finds out) and is understanding of Helga's complicated relationship with her family. Since Phoebe is so kind, Helga is very trusting towards her. A running gag throughout the series involves Helga saying something embarrassing, then ordering Phoebe to forget what she just said, which leads Phoebe to cheerfully state "forgetting!"
Appearance-wise, Helga is 50-50 between her parents. She has her mother's blonde hair, skin and head shape. She has her father's unibrow, nose and ears. She wears her hair in long pigtails without any visible hair ties. In the earlier episodes, her pigtails were longer and thinner, but as the character designs were refined, her pigtails became more short and thick.
Helga usually wears a pink dress with a red stripe over a white shirt and a large pink bow in her hair, along with white shoes. She has made some appearances in other outfits, though (see screenshots section). In the pilot and claymation shorts, Helga's outfit consisted of a dark pink dress with sleeves and a white-collar and matching dark pink shoes and socks.
During Helga's dream in the episode "Married", dream Arnold says this about Helga's eyes, indicating that Helga has blue eyes: "Your eyes are like two diamonds, shining brightly at the mist of sky of pale blue heaven." Based off this episode, Helga will blossom into a beautiful young lady, if her appearance in her dream and Phoebe's imagination at the end (which many have theorized to be a flashforward of Arnold and Helga actually married) is what she'll look like when she grows up, it seems she's just in her "ugly duckling" phase and will become a beautiful swan. Further supporting this, her older sister Olga went through a similar period, as seen in a photo in "Spelling Bee".
- Helga is already very pretty though, having admirers in Brainy, Stinky (Helga's Boyfriend), Harold (Buses, Bikes, and Subways), Arnie (Weird Cousin), a monkey (Monkey Business), Arnold via a version of herself in a dream of Arnold (Arnold Visits Arnie) and even Arnold in real life, not just in The Jungle Movie, but also in Arnold's Valentine, where Arnold admits that he finds Helga ('smart, funny' and) 'beautiful' (when asked by Helga posing as 'Cecile').
In Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie, as an indication of her age, she appears more well-developed physically. Her dress remains similar to the previous one but is more fitting on her figure and has a slightly different design: it's now light pink with a pink stripe and a red stripe at the bottom. She also wears red and white Converse sneakers, and her pigtails are a tad longer and thinner, more or less resembling how they looked in the early episodes. During the field trip to San Lorenzo, she wears an unbuttoned pink dress shirt tied at the waist over a white tank top, a dark brown belt with a gold buckle, light brown shorts, white socks and dark brown hiking boots. She later discards the pink shirt after escaping the prison.
Helga has a very dysfunctional family. Her parents are neglectful and don’t pay much attention to her most of the time, something which has happened since preschool. She also calls them by their first names, as a result of their neglect. The only family member that gives her attention is her perfectionist sister, Olga, who Helga usually can't stand. On occasion, Helga can relate and bond with her family, though this progress is almost always rendered moot shortly after, with everything going back to normal. It is heavily suggested that Helga's home situation is the root cause of her anti-social behavior.
A sort of running gag is for her parents to forget how old she is, with her flatly correcting them. In the episode "Quantity Time", Bob seems to think Helga is about 5-7 years old. In "Beeper Queen", Miriam seems to think she’s 8. When she’s corrected, she seemed horrified to have forgotten how old her daughter is.
Robert "Big Bob" Pataki
Her father, a middle-aged successful beeper salesman who suffers from workaholism, rarely notices her existence, favoring her over-achieving, neurotic college-aged sister Olga, who Helga rarely gets along with. Helga usually refers to him as "Bob" or "Big Bob," indicating she does not really see him as her father and relates poorly to him.
Big Bob does pay more attention to Helga when city contests occur, but only for selfish reasons or to make Helga into a copy of Olga. In "Spelling Bee", Big Bob has much pride in his family name, pushing Helga to win the trophy that belongs to all of the Patakis. In most episodes, Big Bob prefers to watch television than listen to Helga, absentmindedly calling her "Olga" instead. He sometimes calls her "the girl" instead of her full name, another evidence of rarely noticing her.
Although Big Bob is far more boorish in personality, he and Helga share some similarities that occasionally bond them. Both enjoy wrestling, ridiculing melodramatic theater, bullying, and eating. They also share similar speaking patterns, though Helga possesses a better command of language. Helga is deeply resentful of Big Bob's excessive attention to Olga.
Her mother, Miriam, often gives off hints of being an alcoholic: being depressed, forgetful, struggling to stay conscious and frequently drinking "smoothies" and "coffee." Helga also refers to her mother as "Miriam" and relates poorly to her.
Though apathetic at home, it’s suggested in multiple episodes that Miriam is capable, but stunted by her marriage to an overbearing Big Bob Pataki. In "Olga Gets Engaged", Miriam advises Olga not to make the same marital mistake she did, and in "Road Trip", Miriam reveals that she used to be a rodeo queen. Miriam's abilities are showcased in "The Beeper Queen", where she fills in for Big Bob at his Beeper Emporium when he must stay home due to a back injury. Miriam packs Helga an exceptionally nutritious lunch, shares stories and listens to Helga, and helps Helga with her homework — all implying that Miriam is held back by her unemployment and marriage to Big Bob, affecting Helga's own upbringing.
Like Bob, Miriam and Helga share some similarities that occasionally bond them as well, such as sharing stories and playing sports.
Olga is Helga's sister 11-12 years older and suffers from perfectionism. She and Helga don't relate to each other well, causing great conflict and resentment between the two (much of the resentment is exerted by Helga, for Olga doesn't resent her little sister at all). Helga is jealous of Olga's image of perfection and the attention she receives from both of their parents, Big Bob and Miriam. Olga is kind to Helga, but Helga doesn't respond to her kindness because she feels it's insincere, as Olga doesn't listen to Helga's more serious concerns about their family and relationship. Olga condescends to Helga, calling her "baby sister" and refusing to address the problems in their family. Olga admitted to Helga in the midst of a severe breakdown that their parents' constant adulation and favoritism affect her at least as severely as they do Helga and expresses a desire to be ignored and free the way her sister is. However, throughout the series, the sibling relationship is primarily seen from Helga's point of view.
- In the episode "Spelling Bee", Bob tries to encourage Helga to win the spelling bee. By doing that, he tells her how Olga won the city spelling bee. He tells Helga that Olga had to spell the word "qualm" and nailed it by remembering the silent letter "l". Bob then tells Helga that that was Olga's first big win and that after that she won more contests and earned so many trophies that the room as time went on became nearly full of trophies. He then shows Helga an empty space on the shelf and tells her that it's reserved for her own spelling bee trophy. Initially, Helga intends to win the spelling bee. But when she finds out that her dad bribed Arnold, she intentionally forfeits the spelling bee, ironically on the word 'qualm' spelling it "q-u-a-l-...x?"
- In the episode "Big Sis", it's shown that Olga and Lila Sawyer have similar personalities and interests.
There were some episodes where Helga expressed some affection and concern for Olga. Those episodes were:
- "Student Teacher" - In this episode, Olga came home for spring break and surprises Helga by showing up one morning at her school, P.S. 118, to announce that she'll be the new student teacher and decided not to move to Alaska. Throughout the episode, Helga tries to get Olga fired but everything backfires. At one point, Helga unbeknownst to Olga gave her car a flat tire and was annoyed when Olga met her on the bus the following morning. Everything then escalates when Olga reveals to Helga's classmates that she was a bed-wetter until the age of 8. But it's not until Arnold convinces Helga to have a talk with her sister that she actually does so. During the talk, Helga tells a surprised and perplexed Olga that things weren't working out. She tells Olga that the further away she is, the closer they'll be. In the end, Olga moves to Alaska to continue as a student-teacher. Later in the episode, Helga receives a letter from Olga and begins writing back. Initially, Helga signs her letter with the word "From" but after looking at a picture of Olga, she crosses out "From" and signs "Love, Helga."
- "Big Sis" - Olga returns home from college and tells Helga that she joined a Big Sisters, Big Brothers program. Helga is thrilled to hear this because that means that Olga will be preoccupied with some other child. However, Helga is not happy when that child turns out to be her classmate Lila Sawyer. For most of the episode, Helga secretly ruins Olga and Lila's plans. At the end of the episode, Helga approaches Olga and admits that she's jealous of her relationship with Lila. A touched Olga reassures Helga that she'll always be her "baby sis" and that they have a strong bond that only real sisters have that can never be broken.
- "Olga Gets Engaged" - Olga comes home for spring break and announces to her family that she's engaged to a handsome young man named Doug LeSham who turns out to be a con man/pathological liar. Helga is amused by the idea of Olga marrying Doug LeSham because that would mean that Olga would fall from grace with their parents. But on the day of Olga's wedding, Helga catches Doug talking to another woman on the telephone and knows that he isn’t faithful. Helga confronts Doug and begins intervening on Olga's behalf. She threatens to press the redial button to spill the beans about his engagement and wedding to the other woman. Doug panics and Helga tells him to leave basically saying that she'll tie up the loose ends. Upon hearing that, Doug leaves. Helga then writes a note to Olga and signs it with Doug's name saying that he was called to face a crisis in Nambia, and he thought it was unfair to maintain his relationship with Olga whilst he was away.
Canceled Spin-off Series
- Main article: The Patakis
The Patakis was a planned spin-off series based on Hey Arnold! which was originally intended to be aired on Nick at Nite. The series focused on the life of Helga in her teenage years, her family, and her classmates. It was structured like The Simpsons; three acts in a one-half hour, Craig Bartlett wrote a pilot script with Michelle Lamoreaux in 2000. However, Nick rejected it for being "too dark" for the network's target audience. The series was then offered to MTV, but they declined it as well, as it was deemed too similar to Daria.
Some information about The Patakis has leaked through Craig Bartlett's chats and interviews. Most of the kids from Hey Arnold! are in The Patakis except for Arnold, who has moved away, making Helga the star of the series.
- Alsace Solamo, "Toontime: Helga Geraldine Pataki," Sun Star Kidsters (March 11, 2007).
- "Helga G. Pataki (and family)", a Hey Arnold! Character & Episode Guide.
- Helga Geraldine Pataki's IMDb profile
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