As people continue to complain about the current season of “Game of Thrones,” consider redirecting your attention to another series: the 22nd season of “Arthur.”
In the season premiere, which aired Monday, Arthur and the rest of his ageless classmates learn that their third-grade teacher, Nigel Ratburn, is getting married. Good for him! The episode quickly gained traction online among grown “Arthur” fans, eliciting two major reactions: First, who among the non-parents knew PBS was still airing new episodes? But more importantly, fans joined the Lakewood Elementary kids in being pleasantly surprised by whom Ratburn had chosen to marry: an aardvark named Patrick.
The kids had worried that Ratburn, whom they had overheard talking about floral arrangements, was engaged to a bossy stranger named Patty. They spend several minutes of the show channeling their disappointment into playing matchmaker, only to discover at the wedding ceremony that Patty (voiced by Jane Lynch) isn’t actually their teacher’s fiance, but a sibling. Muffy squeaks the question on all of our minds: “If Patty’s his sister, then who is Mr. Ratburn marrying?”
In comes the man of the hour, walking arm in arm with Patrick, a local chocolatier – straight out of a Nora Ephron movie, no? Cut to the dance floor, where Buster approaches his friends with a plate of “the best cake I’ve ever had,” a nod to Ratburn’s famous love of the dessert.
After Arthur exclaims, “Mr. Ratburn is married! I still can’t believe it,” Francine responds that it’s “a brand-new world.” There is no explicit reference made to Patrick’s gender, furthering the message of acceptance. GLAAD was among many who congratulated the beloved teacher on Twitter. Several users referred to him as a gay icon.
Ratburn and “the Special Someone,” as Patrick is referred to in the episode’s title, join a small group of LGBTQ figures to appear in the “Arthur” universe. In 2005, PBS pulled an episode of the spinoff “Postcards From Buster,” which followed Arthur’s rabbit friend as he visited different cities across North America. Margaret Spellings, a secretary of education under former president George W. Bush, had denounced the episode featuring the children of two lesbians living in Vermont because, according to a New York Times article from the time, she believed many parents wouldn’t want to “expose” their children to a same-sex couple.
“I am disappointed by PBS’s decision,” Marc Brown, author of the “Arthur” books and creator of both television series, said to the Times in a statement. He added that “Postcards From Buster” existed to “connect kids with other kids by reflecting their lives. In some episodes, as in the Vermont one, we are validating children who are seldom validated.”
The only sense of discomfort in “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone” comes from Francine, and it has nothing to do with her teacher’s choice of partner. She looks to the other end of the dance floor and says with wide eyes, “But there’s one thing that teachers should never, ever do.”
“What?” Buster asks.
“Dance,” Francine responds, pointing to Ratburn and Patrick as they wow the crowd with their moves.