PBS Kids made a historic move with the season 22 premiere of its long-running kid’s show Arthur. As first reported by Deadline, the kids in Mr. Ratburn’s class, along with the viewers, were in for a huge surprise when during the episode “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone,” it was found that the “special someone” whom Mr. Ratburn was marrying was, in fact, not a bride but a groom: an aardvark named Patrick to be exact.
In the episode, the students see Mr. Ratburn answering a call on his cell phone while he is about to pass out a pop quiz. The students overhear him talking about flower arrangements, and from this, deduce he is going to get married. As seems to be the case with most children, the students are shocked that their teacher actually has a life outside of school. “When they go home, they sharpen pencils, eat kale and dream up homework assignments,” Buster states. “They don’t even sleep! They just go into low-power mode and watch documentaries.”
After this discovery, the characters Arthur, Buster, Muffy and Francine become determined to know just who their teacher is marrying and begin spying on Mr. Ratburn. They catch him with a female rat who comes off as a bit overbearing. The students then decide to intervene by convincing Mrs. Lancaster, the librarian, that their teacher is in love with her, as they feel the two would make a better match. However, their plans fall through.
Then, the students get a bright idea. They attempt to disguise themselves as adults to attend the wedding, but as usual are easily found out. It is there that they again see the female rat only to discover that she is actually Mr. Ratburn’s sister. “If Patty is his sister,” Arthur questions, “then who is Mr. Ratburn marrying?” Muffy asks, finishing Arthur’s thought.
In an unprecedented move for popular youth-centered public television, Mr. Ratburn is shown arm-in-arm with Patrick as they make their way down the aisle. Ratburn gives a wink to his students as he and his future husband pass by them. Although this isn’t the first time a gay couple was married on a kids cartoon (Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe also showed a gay marriage), it was a first for such a longstanding, popular show that many generations can claim to have watched in their childhood.
The word “gay” is never used in the episode, just as in prior episodes of Arthur that featured gay and lesbian characters, but the message of acceptance and diversity is clear.
The only comment the characters make concerning their shocking experience is their disbelief that their teacher is married, with a hint of the changes that this episode might bring about for the future.
“Mr. Ratburn is married. I still can’t believe it,” Arthur states.
“Yep. It’s a brand new world,” says Francine.
The show ends with a comment by Francine as to the one thing teachers should never do: dance.