Welcome to “One Moment of Fear,” a hopefully recurring feature on this blog where I highlight a single strange or scary moment from pop culture- usually one that made a big impression on us growing up. Today, we’re taking a trip through space, so hold on, Major Toms.
When I was a kid, I loved The Magic School Bus. Books, cartoons, toys- you name it. I ate it up, and wasn’t sure if I wanted Miss Frizzle to be my teacher, or I wanted to eventually become Miss Frizzle. I know many of you have fond memories of this franchise too, but there’s one moment that really sticks out when we think about Magic School Bus, isn’t there? The moment that had us yell “NO!” at the TV, but somehow, we couldn’t look away when it happened? That’s right. The big one. It was the climax of the very first episode of the show, originally airing on September 10, 1994: “The Magic School Bus Gets Lost In Space.” Right out of the gate, Magic School Bus taught us the most important lesson of all: Do not, under any circumstances, fuck around with science.
In this episode, we met the closest thing Miss Frizzle’s class had to an arch-nemesis: Janet, the cousin of the show’s beleaguered everyman, Arnold. In a pattern that would become familiar to all fans of The Magic School Bus, the kids are ready to go on a normal field trip to the planetarium. But it’s closed, and in a badass turn of events, Miss Frizzle turns the bus into a rocket so the gang can explore space. Janet is along for the ride, and her smug know-it-all attitude does nothing but fuck up this whimsical journey six ways from Sunday. She insists they need tons of ‘proof’ of their voyage, all so she can show off to her own class when she gets home. When she tries to nab a damn ASTEROID for a souvenir, she gets Miss Frizzle separated from the group. By the time the class reaches Pluto and Miss Frizzle, Arnold’s had enough of Janet’s crap. Janet refusing to leave Pluto without her pile o’ proof drives him over the edge, and he pulls the stunt that made the jaws of all red-blooded 90’s kids drop clear to the floor. He says there’s no hope for her if she stays on Pluto. To prove it, Arnold, who is outside on the planet’s surface, takes his space helmet off.
What happens? Not instant death. This.
Jesus Christ. Yes, in real life, your skin will freeze in space(just one of many factors that will kill you) but Arnold’s head instantly froze into a solid block of ice! Granted, this was meant as a G-rated version of what would actually happen to someone who removed their helmet in space, and the showrunners had to allow Arnold to live another day (though this wouldn’t be his last brush with death on the show), but when you’re a kid, this is one hell of a loaded image. Notice the detail of the fog/ice on Arnold’s glasses turning blood red- when I was little, this made the image a lot scarier. It looked like lovable old Arnold, whose catchphrase was “I should have stayed home today,” had just had his eye sockets fill with blood. At least they didn’t show his eyes exploding.
Oh sure, at the end, all Arnold has is a cold, so no need to fear. But then they do the bit where they explain what was scientifically accurate in the episode and what wasn’t. Knowing that the real world would be a lot rougher on Arnold, or anyone…well, that day we learned that science is a cruel mistress.
Stay a little less frosty, Arnold.