Recess

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Yup... they're up to something.[1]
"Hey, watch it! I've got a Black Belt in Origami!"

Recess was an American animated television series that was created by Paul Germain and Joe Ansolabehere (who worked on Rugrats until the show was originally supposed to end in 1994), and produced by Walt Disney Television Animation. It ran from September 13, 1997 to November 21, 2001 on ABC. Recess focused on six elementary school students and their interaction with other classmates and teachers. In many respects, it serves as an animated knock-off of prisoner-of-war movies such as The Great Escape... combined with a generally positive depiction of the elementary school experience.

The main characters were:

Many plots would deal with the kid's Serious Business attitude about simple grade school life, mostly, among other aspects, recess. This includes having a designated 'King', nicknames for each other based on their main 'quality' (Swinger Girl, The Diggers, Pale Kids ect.) and the concept of popular fads quickly taking over playground demographics. The series was also well known for its large Periphery Demographic, due to every episode having at least one Parental Bonus.

The series was notably the only show to premiere in the initial season of Disney's One Saturday Morning that would last the entirety of the block's run, going on well into the first two years of ABC Kids. It was also rerun the most out of all the shows on One Saturday Morning, pretty much being on all of Disney Channel's affiliates at one point or another. It was one of the few older shows to air on Disney XD after Toon Disney shut down, and it has recently returned to the network. Yes, it was that good folks.

In 2001, Recess: School's Out was released in theaters to positive reception. Please put all tropes relating to the movie there.


Tropes used in Recess include:
  • Absentee Actor: Gus wasn't in "The Great Jungle Gym Standoff", though he made his debut a few episodes prior. (He was edited into the picture book adaptation, though.) Although someone with a good eye can see that he's actually drawn in the background in a few shots, likely as an animation goof.
  • Absurdly Powerful Student Council
    • Not exactly Student Council President, but King Bob rules the playground with an iron fist.
    • The Board of Education is also absurdly powerful, acting very much like the FBI or the CIA.
  • The Ace: A new student named Jared. He comes up with better plans than T.J., he's stronger than Spinelli, a better poet than Mikey, smarter than Gretchen, has been to more schools than Gus, he's faster than Vince, can burp louder than Tubby so loud it shakes windows, and is a government agent.
    • Broken Ace: He eventually explains that he doesn't have any friends, because people think he's a show-off or get jealous.
  • Achilles in His Tent: In "Dodgeball City", Gus refuses to take sides in a dodgeball fight, despite being a dodgeball virtuoso at one of his older schools.[2] Upon seeing a younger student (a.k.a. a kindergarten kid who he was keeping an eye on) getting clobbered, however, he enters rage mode and proceeds to wipe out the opposing team single-handedly.
  • Actor Allusion: The old lady in "The Lost Ball" is named Dot and is voiced by Tress MacNeille... who's played another character named Dot.
  • Adorably Precocious Child: T.J.; Gus
  • Adorkable: Gus, Gretchen, Mikey, Miss Grotke, and the Pale Kids. T.J. himself has his moments.
  • Adult Child: Principal Prickly clearly went into the right line of work. He's an absolute kid at heart.
  • Adults Are Useless: Adults are often the antagonist, although they are mostly a recurring obstacle with some exceptions. When they aren't, they're worthless—Ms. Finster doesn't seem to be interested in Gus being bullied every single day despite telling the bully not to do it again. Subverted in The Movie, where all of the teachers show up to help fight the bad guy and his Mooks. There were some exceptions to this, notable the single-episode teachers Mr. E and Mr. Dude.
  • Adults Dressed as Children: The episode "The Spy who Came into the Playground" involved said spy disguising as a 10-year-old to get into the school.
  • An Aesop: Mostly in the earlier episodes, and then sometimes after the first season. Season six cranked them Up to Eleven.
  • Air Vent Passageway
  • All in The Manual: Various additional information was given about the characters on the original page for the show on Disney's website (before taken down). Some info includes that:
    • T.J.'s favorite food is "everything and anything except Tomato Surprise";
    • Michael Jordan is Vince's idol;
    • Spinelli's goal in life was to become an ace fighter pilot;
    • Gretchen having a crush on "The whiz kid in Smart Guy";
    • According to a few press releases/promotional material, Miss Grotke's first name is Alordyne. This isn't mentioned in the show itself, but it was in a few foreign dubs.
  • Alliterative Name: Gus Griswold, Gretchen Grundler, Principal Peter Prickly (also his brother Paul Prickly), Ashley "Ashley A" Armbruster, Thaddeus T. Third III.
  • Almighty Janitor: Hank, who turns out to be a mathematics genius. He was once offered high-profile jobs by NASA and the military, but he'd rather be a janitor at the school.
  • Alpha Bitch: The Ashleys, with Ashley A. being the Alpha Ashley.
  • Always Someone Better: One episode introduces a new kid who's better at everything than everybody else at Third Street. In the end it turns out he's better at literally everything than everybody else in the country, and that the government has him on call. Interestingly, the episode deconstructs the concept of a Marty Stu by making the perfect kid a nice guy who despises being the best because it inevitably makes everyone else hate him and means he can't aspire to anything.
  • Animation Bump: The Movie has better animation than the cartoon, but then again it had a much larger budget and didn't have the deadlines as the animated series has. You can spot some Animation Goofs in the series, such as Gus apparently showing up in a crowd before he actually transferred to school, and Gretchen vanishing in mid-air.
  • Art Evolution
    • Originally, the main six characters were given more realistic designs. When the show premiered, they had a more "cutesy" design.
    • In season three onwards, some episodes were made with digital coloring instead of the hand-painted cels. This was odd considering that it would go back and forth between digital and hand-painted, ending with "Bonkey Fever", the final episode to use digital coloring until the movie.
    • And T.J. lost the slight puppy-dog sparkle in his eyes after season one. There wasn't much explanation why, but it could've been because he was the only character with it and it looked odd compared to the others. He was also a bit chubbier as well.
    • Gus and T.J. are a bit taller in the later episodes, showing that the kids are getting a little older.
    • The colors got a lot more vibrant in season two.
  • Art Shift: One episode had the kids become part of a government experiment to see if getting rid of recess would improve standardized test scores. As everyone lost time to blow off steam, the color palate of the animation becomes more drab. At the end of the episode, the government allows the school to have recess again, and everything becomes vibrant as the children play outside in the sun.
  • Assumed Win: In 'Principal For A Day." When the faculty draws a student's name out of a box to be principal for a day Randall stands up thinking he won (because he stuffed the box). The actaul winner is TJ.
  • Backstabbing the Alpha Bitch: "Outcast Ashley"
  • Badass Adorable: Arguably, the main kids, especially in the movie, but mainly Spinelli (for already being a Cute Bruiser) and T.J. (for being the team leader).
  • Badass Crew: The main six.
  • Badass Teacher: Mr E. He's so awesome, no-one can even know what the E stands for. Also counts as a very Stern Teacher. There were rumors going around with the kids that he physically tore down the Berlin Wall, and even made a kid repeat the fifth grade for stammering during a book report.
  • Begone Bribe: In one episode, Mikey imagines himself as a bard/minstrel when he's older. He serenades a couple, making the lady swoon and prompting her date to pay him to move on.
  • Berserk Button: The six main characters, except Vince, each have one.
    • T.J.: Don't mess with recess.
    • Spinelli: Never refer to her by her first name.
    • Gretchen: Never suggest that she's dumb.
    • Mikey: Don't mistake his kindness as a sign of weakness.
    • Gus: Don't harm a little kid.
    • It's suggested that Upside-Down Girl's berserk button is being turned right-side-up.

Upside-Down Girl: If I have to come down from here, no one will be happy.

  • Beware the Nice Ones
    • Mikey (the tall, fat kid who's into poetry and art) does have a nasty streak when provoked (as seen in the episode where he fakes a rumor stating that he beat up a boy and shoved him into the girls' bathroom, or the one where Mikey is picked to be a soccer goalie and his friends think he can't do it).
    • Gus with dodgeballs in his hands brutally knocked out an entire fifth grade class on his own.
  • Be Yourself: Spinelli in "The Beauty Contest".
  • Big Eater: Mikey; Kurst
  • Big No: Spinelli and TJ after they finished drawing straws knowing that they'll experiment a "kiss" in "The Experiment".
  • Big Whomping Movie: The plot of the movie revolves around the kids and faculty uniting to stop a madman from plunging the Earth into an eternal winter and thus eliminating summer vacation. The series, meanwhile, focuses on mostly playground antics.
  • Black Bead Eyes: Gus, one of a few characters with this eye style.
  • Black Best Friend: Vince
  • Book Ends: The 2003 DTV movie Taking the Fifth Grade was the official Series Finale (All Growed Down doesn't count, as it's a prequel/clip show), and it ended the same way the theme song ended: Miss Finster telling the main six that recess was over and them coming inside, with her following them. Right before she closes the door, T.J. comes out from behind and waves to the audience and then she slams the door shut.
  • Bowdlerization
    • The scene in "I Will Kick No More Forever" when Ashley Q. kicks the kickball all the way to Communist China was changed so that she kicked it in a nearby dumpster when it aired in certain countries (by using stock footage), which somewhat ruined the humor of the scene (although the U.S., as well as other countries like the U.K. keeps it).
    • In "Parents' Night", when Spinelli's dad is showing the other five kids pictures of her as a baby, he says, "Look at her on the rug with her fanny in the air". The "fanny in the air" part was cut after it's original airing on ABC, but Toon Disney added it back in (except in the U.K.).
  • Brick Joke: When Spinelli calls Miss Grotke "Mama" by mistake the gang come up with several crazy schemes to help her out such as playing subliminal messages over the PA system. This is forgotten about until the end of the episode when Gretchen says "I wonder why the subliminal messages didn't work" and it cuts to Prickly and Miss Finster calling each other "Mama" and "Daddy" without thinking.
  • Broken Bird: Kurst the Worst may or may not fall under this trope: she's considered one of, if not the meanest girl at school, yet seems geniunelly unhappy when people call her by her nickname and never seems to take that much pride in her mean acts, unlike most of the other bad kids at 3rd Street.
  • Butt Monkey: Gus
  • Calvin Ball: The Pokémon-esque card game Ajimbo. Just how do you play it, anyway?

"It doesn't make sense! Some of the rules are completely inconsistent!"

  • The Cameo
    • Pluto the Pup appears in T.J.'s nightmare in "Rainy Days"
    • Owl appears briefly in "Bachelor Gus". What makes it obvious that it's him is from his markings and design.
  • Cassandra Truth
  • Cast of Snowflakes: Most of the time.
  • Catch Phrase: Several.
    • TJ has "Ten-der!"
    • The Ashleys have a loud "SCANDALOUS!" said in unison, and their little brothers do the same with "NOTORIOUS!".
    • Mr. "The Dude" Dudakoff apparently used to use "Sup-ple!" in much the same way TJ uses "Ten-der!"
    • And of course, any variation of "this whomps!" is shared among the main six characters, mostly TJ and Vince since they invented the word.
  • Chain of Deals: Mikey wanting to be a safety ranger.
  • Chekhov's Classroom: Almost every lesson the kids learn in school is important to the rest of the episode.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Gretchen's voice-changing device first appears in "The Army Navy Game" and is later used twice in The Movie.
  • Christmas Episode: "Yes, Mikey, Santa Does Shave". Then it was released in a Compliation Movie released directly to DVD and video, Recess Christmas: Miracle on Third Street".
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome
    • After "The Terrifying Tales of Recess" (the first episode of season six, and the stories in the episodes were non-cannon), Miss Grotke is completely AWOL for the rest of the series.
    • There was another teacher's pet to be Randall's rival named Douglas. He only appeared once and was mentioned another time, however.
    • The Tylers, the little brothers of the Ashleys, only appear in one episode and never show up in the series again.
    • T.J.'s older sister Becky is mentioned infrequently throughout the series, but was only seen once, and it was in the movie.
  • Class Trip: In the episodes "Operation Field Trip" and "The Great State Fair".
  • Clip Show
    • The Christmas special released on video. All but one of the episodes featured had nothing to do with Christmas at all, although one admittedly was about Thanksgiving.
    • Same with "All Growed Down", except for the last segment, which was most likely an unaired episode.
  • Comic Book Time: Actually averted, as it's been established that while the show aired from 1997 to 2001, the show is taking place over the course of Fall 1997 and Spring/Summer 1998 (with Taking the Fifth Grade taking place in Fall 1998)
  • Competence Zone: Kindergarteners are portrayed as wild savages, and adults frequently can't comprehend their children's problems.
  • Concert Kiss: The episode "The Experiment" has T.J. and Spinelli kiss, as an experiment, in front of all their friends and all the kids in the playground, despite T.J. and Spinelli's request in not wanting to kiss in public in the first place, thanks to their friends inability to keep a secret about it.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: King Bob's version of capital punishment. "Let him feel the rubbery thunder of the Dodgeball Wall!"
  • Cool Teacher
    • Franklin "The Dude" Dudakoff. Known as a legendary student of Third Street School who was the prankster prince, the king of the playground before he became a sixth grader, and an all around badass wanted to become a teacher because he thinks science is interesting.
    • Miss Grotke's a pretty cool teacher herself.
  • Crossover: With Liloand Stitch, where the cast had a somewhat clashing animation style and some different voice actors.
  • Crowd Chant: The opinion of the student body can sway violently, and at the drop of a hat, so this happens a lot.
  • Cucumber Facial
  • Cute Bruiser: Spinelli. And surprisingly, Cornchip Girl.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Many characters get at least one episode centered on them. Let's see...
    • The Ashleys: "First Name Ashley", "Jinxed", "Beauty Contest", "Outcast Ashley", "The Ratings Game", and "No Strings Attatched";
    • Guru Kid: "Don't Ask Me";
    • The Diggers: "Diggers Split Up";
    • Gordy: "Nobody Doesn`t Like T.J.";
    • Kurst the Worst: "Kurst the Not So Bad";
    • Mundy: "Mundy, Mundy";
    • The Kindergarteners: "Legend of The Big Kid", "Wild Child", and "Kindergarten Derby";
    • Swinger Girl: "Swing on Thru to the Other Side";
    • King Bob: "Pharoh Bob", "Prince Randall", "The Big Prank", and "The Madness of King Bob";
    • The Pale Kids: "Lord of the Nerds";
    • Menlo: "Partners in Crime" and "Some Friend";
    • Randall: "Randall's Reform", "The Trial", "Stand Up Randall", "Randall's Friends", "Partners in Crime", and "Prince Randall";
    • Hustler Kid: "Huslter's Apprentice";
    • Miss Finster: "To Finster with Love", "Weekend at Muriel's", and "The Fuss over Finster";
    • Miss Grotke: "The Secret Life of Grotke";
    • Lawson: "Fort Tender" and "Lawson and His Crew";
    • Cornchip Girl: "The Army-Navy Game".
  • A Dog Ate My Homework: The begining of "This Brain for Hire", which involves Spinelli saying that her dog ate her homework, T.J. ripping up his homework with his mouth and then saying his dog ate it (he still had a scrap of paper on his lip, however), and Vince said that his brother ate it.
  • Deadpan Snarker
    • Half of the main group is this: T.J. (moreso in the earlier episodes), Vince and Spinelli.
    • T.J.'s older sister, Becky, is even more of one than her brother.
    • Miss Grotke can be one when she needs to be.
  • Decided by One Vote: Gretchen won the election against Vince this way; Vince was the last person to vote for her. Which, considering that it was stated that the class had an equal amount of boys and girl, would actually be winning by two votes.
  • Demoted to Extra
    • Chucko was only a major character for one episode, then he started to fade into the background until disapearing altogether.
    • In Recess Schools Out, Lawson only appears once to give a thumbs up (after being sprayed with silly string) to someone preparing to save T.J. with the other kids. He's still listed in the credits, however. He was probably going to have a bigger role, and then his scenes were cut. At least he had it better than Cornchip Girl or Swinger Girl, who don't show up at all in the movie.
    • In Recess: Taking the Fifth Grade, Miss Grotke only gets two lines in the entire movie and doesn't show up after that. Justified, as the main kids all moved up to fifth grade and weren't in her class anymore.
  • Digging to China: The Diggers. Who actually do it once.
  • Direct to Video: Recess: Taking the Fifth Grade, Recess: All Growed Down, and most of Recess Christmas: Miracle on Third Street were all released directly to video and DVD in 2003 (except for the latter, released in 2001).
  • The Ditz: T.J. (especially in later seasons) and Lawson.
  • The Documentary: "Kids in the Mist", where a child psychologist films the kids.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: In "Economics of Recess", the American Monsticker currency eventually gets overtaken by the Japanese Lick-and-Stick Alien Stamp currency.
  • Do Not Call Me Paul: Thaddeus T. Third V (the grandson of the man who Third Street is named after) is always mistakenly called "Mr. Fifth", much to his chagrin.
  • Don't Ask: About Mikey's Uncle Mary.
  • Doppelganger: In an episode where the gang goes to a school for a kickball game (due to a bet of their principals as they're also brothers), the rival school is a near copy of the group's school with their opponents being copies of the gang themselves.
  • Double Entendre: This is true anyone over the age of 12 who watches the episode "All the Principles Men"
  • The Dragon: While there is no real main antagonist to the series (since the role is often shared by Principal Prickly, Lawson, and Ms. Finster), there is an obvious dragon amongst several of them. The Dragon to Prickly is either Ms. Finster or Menlo, while Ms. Finster's dragon is Randall.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Season one might fall under this. Both Miss Finster and Principal Prickly were more sadistic, Miss Grotke wasn't as sympathetic, and everyone's voice was higher, as well as T.J. being played by a completely different kid. It was much more Off-Model as well. Not to mention that the main six were more of anti-heroes, Vince was more of a Sour Supporter, and the show was a bit more cartoony.
  • Elementary School Hustler: T.J. definitely has his moments, among them being able to provide a convincing forged prescription for chewing gum. Hustler Kid is also a prime candidate, but mostly he just provides the goods while the main gang does the planning and executing, Although in First Name Ashley we see him selling phony documents and committing, what is essentially, multiple cases of identity fraud.
  • Embarrassing First Name
    • Ashley Spinelli (see the entries for Girl Posse and I Am Spartacus below).
    • Theodore Jasper Detweiler.
    • The Hustler Kid's first name is Francis.
    • Conrad "Connie" Mundy
    • Erwin Lawson
    • Alordyne Grotke
  • Embarrassing Middle Name
    • Theodore Jasper Detweiler. No wonder he goes by his initials T.J.
    • Don't forget Ashley Funicello Spinelli.
  • Endangered Soufflé
  • Establishing Character Moment: The opening theme tells us all we need to know about the main characters. Everyone looking at TJ, who nods at them before they set off. Gus getting gum splattered over his face, tripping, and getting a ball stuck to his head. Vince kicking a ball up into the air. Spinelli threatening Randall for snitching. Gretchen working on an experiment. Mikey eating a whole sandwich in one gulp.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: There are some punishments that even Miss Finster thinks go too far. Like in "The Biggest Trouble Ever" when the Mayor planned to separate the gang to six different schools.
    • In "The Fuss Over Finster" T.J. calls all the kids out for taking advantage of the injured Miss Finster and they all feel bad, including Lawson.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Characters such as "Swinger Girl" or "Guru Kid".
  • Everyone Went to School Together: Well, obviously. Less apparent, All Growed Down revealed Gus was at Third Street for a period of Kindergarten as well (which was retconned in).
  • Everything's Better with Plushies: The main six all got stuffed dolls of them released towards the end of the `90s going into the early 2000s, at The Disney Store and Toys "R" Us. T.J., Gretchen, and Gus were released first, with Vince, Spinelli, and Mikey released later.
  • Face Your Fears: T.J. is forced to do this to overcome the terror of the Box... which was just a white square drawn on the playground tarmac.
  • Fan Disservice
    • On the episode where Ms. Finster babysits Spinelli for the weekend, Ms. Finster arranges a luau after overhearing Spinelli talk about how boring Ms. Finster is outside of school, featuring the elderly and hunched Ms. Finster and the under-aged Spinelli in coconut bras and hula skirts. This is even lampshaded:

T.J.: (after watching them hula and is apparently grossed out) ...Guys, we're never going to talk about this again.

Vince: If we lose, Lawson's going to make us look like dummies!
T.J.: Ooh, don't wanna look like no dummies.

  • I Am Spartacus: Used twice for Spinelli. In one episode, the Ashleys find out what her first name is and makes her join them. Her friends get everyone to change their name to Ashley, even the boys. (They do forget that Ashley was originally a boy's name.) In another episode, Spinelli gets made fun of for accidentally calling a teacher "Mama". Her friends start calling the teacher "Mama" to take the heat off her.
  • I'm Going for a Closer Look
  • Informed Obscenity: In one episode, T.J. is brought to court for use of his Catch Phrase "This whomps". The judge decided that "whomps" was not dirty in and of itself, and that only a dirty-minded person would think it was.
  • Ink Suit Actor: This wasn't intended at all, but...saying Andy Lawrence looks like T.J. is like saying fish enjoy water.
  • In My Language, That Sounds Like...: Spinelli literally means "spliffs" in Italian. And it wasn't changed in the Italian dub. Awkward moments with parents ensued.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Spinelli, who's nine, and Miss Grotke, who's most likely in her early-to-mid 30s.
  • I Owe You My Life: "Copycat Kid" starts out as this kind of plot when Mikey thinks Vince saved his life, but it soon changes into more of an I Just Want to Be You scenario.
  • Irritation Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery: Geoffrey to Gretchen.
  • I See London
    • In one episode Mikey rips his pants while bending, and the others try to hide him from Miss Finster, knowing that she will take him into an office to sew his pants back together. They are afraid that the knowledge Miss Finster saw his underwear will cause the rest of the school to mercilessly tease Mikey. In the end, T.J., Vince, and Gus decide to have their pants ripped as well. All four boys end up in their underwear while Miss Finster sews their pants. King Bob who understands what the other boys did for Mikey recognizes the selfless nature of it, and insists no one mock them for it.
    • T.J. himself is seen in his boxers in a few episodes.
  • Jerkass: Randall, despite (or possibly in part due to) what some might see as his personal crowning moment of funny: the Mikey refrigerator spelling joke ("O-I-C-U-R-M-T"). And while he does a I Just Want to Be You rant on T.J., he kicks the dog on him as well. Only this can come from Randall.

Randall: You're fat, you're ugly, you wear that stupid jacket, but everyone wants to play with you!

  • The Jimmy Hart Version: The theme is an obvious parody of the Hogans Heroes theme. Which in turn, as pointed out above, is an obvious parody of the march from The Great Escape.
  • Karma Houdini: Ashley A and her Girl Posse. (Hey, that rhymes!) They exploit Gus's Honour Before Reason approach by tricking him into a "jinx" such that he doesn't talk at all, just to toy with him for their own amusement. When Gus holds back from talking at all, even to the point where the school staff is threatening to take him to the police station over it, they STILL enjoy causing him to get into this kind of trouble. Eventually it's announced that Gus was jinxed, and the main characters retaliate against the Girl Posse by tricking them into a jinx. However, the episode ends there, and if you just think about the logic of the episode, you will realize there's no way in the world that Girl Posse has the "honor" within them to obey said "jinx."
  • Kid Com
  • Kid Detective: Parodied when TJ and Vince become fans of a book series in "The Barnaby Boys" and have the gang go around snooping.
  • Large Ham
    • Mikey, through and through.
    • King Bob
  • Last-Name Basis
    • Spinelli, of course.
    • And then there's Lawson, Skeens, Gelman, Kurst (the Worst), Mundy, etc.
  • Leitmotif: A few characters have one, such as Butch, the Diggers, the Ashleys, the kindergarteners, and the music that plays whenever T.J. has a plan.
  • Let There Be Snow
  • Little Professor Dialog: All the kids in the show talk like 1980's businessmen.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Even the fashion-conscious Ashleys rarely change clothes.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: About 105 appeared in the series, and only a few are on the character page.
  • Long Runners: Averted, as the show had a normal run for a Disney cartoon (1997 to 2001 with 65 episodes and three movies), but Disney's refusal to stop rerunning the show (which they did end up doing from July 2010 until October 2011) made it seem like it ran longer.
  • Look on My Works Ye Mighty and Despair: King Bob attempts to build a pyramid of mud. It rains.
  • Madness Mantra: In "The Box", T.J. singing This Old Man when he's in the box and repeatedly saying he'll be a good boy.
  • The Merch: T-shirts, coffee mugs, toys, backpacks, and various other pieces of merchandise. Most of it was only sold at The Disney Store.
  • The Messiah: T.J. and Mikey.
  • Military Brat
    • Gus, whose father is in the Army.
    • One episode reveals that Theresa "Cornchip Girl" LaMaize's father is in the Navy.
  • Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold: Done quite a bit with:
    • Principal Prickly.
    • Muriel Finster.
    • The old woman who lives next to the school.
    • The Yo-Yo instructor.
    • The Pale kids.
  • Moe Couplet: Gus and Cornchip Girl.
  • Moral Guardians: Not in real life, but used as a plot point: the Unusual Euphemism described below is taken by some of the adults to be profanity, and things escalate until T.J. is in a courtroom defending himself. A good chunk of the trial goes along without anyone willing to utter the word in question... until T.J. finally does. Upon realizing this whole thing is over the word "whomps", the judge promptly laughs the Moral Guardians out of the courtroom for wasting his time.
  • The Movie: One theatrical movie and three direct-to-video episode compilations with linking material, one of which was notably made from unaired episodes.
  • Mythology Gag: There's a background character that pops up from time to time that slightly resembles T.J. in the unnaired pilot.
  • Naive Newcomer: Gus
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Inverted. "Anyone named Gustov is bound to be trouble."
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name
    • Principal Slicer was a shockingly unsubtle example. There was even one part where Randall says he's going to have the jungle gym torn down and replaced with a guard tower. And that old cannon outside the school? He wants it to work.
    • The Fun Police in the episode "The Rules". In order for the old, previously lost rules of King Mortimer to be enforced, King Bob employed Fun Police, who even had red armbands with "Fun" on them. There were also higher-up Secret Fun Police.
  • Never Say "Die"
    • Averted twice in "Yes, Mikey, Santa Does Shave" when the deaths of St. Nicholas and Elvis are mentioned.
    • Averted again in Taking the Fifth Grade in which Prickly saves T.J from falling off his roof and tells him he could have been killed by doing something so reckless.
    • Lampshaded / mocked in "Speedy, We Hardly Knew Ye": The episode is about the death of the class' hamster; the word "death" is tossed around freely by the children, but Ms. Grotke always says it in a hushed whisper because she's afraid the kids couldn't handle the concept.
  • New Transfer Student: Gus again.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Gretchen, for trying to calm an increasingly mysophobic Gus by saying that germs are everywhere (including on his skin).
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Phillium Benedict was most likely named for former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett.
  • Noir Episode: "The Girl was Trouble"
  • Noodle Incident: Twice, in the Christmas episode: "It's the Tooth Fairy incident all over again" and "Get me out of here! I don't want another Arbor Day incident!"
    • Also in the episode "King Gus" they refer to an eggnog incident.
  • Not So Different: Mostly involving Principal Prickly, in a good way, though.
  • Now Which One Was That Voice?: Only the cast for the main six and the three main teachers (most of the time—the writers can't make up their minds on whether Miss Grotke's a main or supporting character) are credited for which character they played. Everyone else is listed as "additional voices", with only the names of the voice actors/actresses and not their characters. Averted with the movie.
  • Off-Model
    • The episode "Buried Treasure" was sent to a different overseas animation department, and the animation suffered. At various times, the outlines became very inky, to the point of becoming Thick Line Animation, the animation was much more cartoony, more colorization errors than the usual episodes, characters having off-model appearences, Spinelli's pigtails constantly changing position, and other mistakes. Only one more episode was made with this overseas animation department and never again, and the episode is considered to have the worst animation out of the entire series.
    • The Lilo & Stitch crossover was bad about this as well. Because the episode (as with most L & S episodes) was animated by Toon City than Sunwoo Animation or Plus One Animation as Recess usually was animated at, the gang looked a bit different. T.J. was chubbier and Spinelli's eyes were too farly spaced apart. The animation was also much more cartoony.
    • Most of the digitally colored episodes were full of mistakes.
  • One of Us: In-Universe example: One episode has the kids discovering that Principal Prickly is a huge fan of the series' Captain Ersatz Superman, Señor Fusion.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted with the Ashleys (and their brothers). (Spinelli shares their name, but doesn't want to be associated with them.)
  • Only Child Syndrome: Mikey, Gus, and Gretchen are all only children. The other three have older siblings.
  • Only Known by Initials
    • T.J. (usually); also substitute teacher Mr. E.
    • The Ashleys initialize their surnames: Ashley A., Ashley B., Ashley T., etc.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Several characters, to the point where even the teachers don't seem to know their real names.
  • Opening Shout-Out: In "Lawson and His Crew".
  • Orbital Kiss: In "The Experiment".
  • Orphaned Punchline: The ending of "Teachers' Lounge" had Principal Prickly delivering the punchline, "...and so I said, 'That's no kindergartner, that's my wife!'," to great reception among his peers. The second short of the episode, "Randall's Reform", has his opposite number, T.J., delivering the same punchline to his own peers and getting a similar reception. Not So Different indeed
  • Out of Focus
    • Aside from Gretchen, the other five members of the gang aren't in the spotlight in "The Girl was Trouble".
    • "More Like Gretchen" focuses more on Spinelli and Gretchen than the rest of the main six.
    • "Weekend at Muriel's" has Spinelli as the major focus, and the rest of the main six only appear in the begining and at the end of the episode.
    • "Bad Hair Day" sends the two girls in the team to a science convention, causing them not to appear until the very end of the episode
    • "League of Randalls" puts the main six out of focus, then brings them in briefly for their plan, then they're gone for the rest of the episode.
    • This would end up happening to Miss Grotke in the later episodes
  • Panty Shot: Subverted by Upside-Down Girl, who wears thigh-length leggings under her skirt as she hangs from the monkey bar.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise
  • Parental Bonus: Many.
  • Parent Ex Machina
  • The Password Is Always Swordfish
  • Perfectly Cromulent Word: "Whomp" (used in the same context as "stinks", "sucks", or "blows" to describe an unfair or unpleasant situation or person).
  • Picked Last: Explored at least a couple times. Played with a bit by having the second-to-last pick actually be the worst sports player (e.g. a random kid with a broken leg and crutches, or Gus), but the one picked last is being socially snubbed.
  • Picture Day: "One Stayed Clean"
  • Pilot: "The Break-In", which was made in 1996 to get the show on the air. It was re-made into the first episode in 1997, though changing the character designs from the pilot to the ones in the series proper.
  • Planet of Steves: The four Ashleys (five actually, Spinelli's first name is Ashley, too). And their little brothers are all named Tyler. Especially used in First Name Ashley where the whole playground changes its name to Ashley.
  • Playground Song: Being a show that takes place at an elementary school, expect these to pop up every now and again.
  • Playing Sick: Used in "Omega Kids" where Gretchen looks up an illness to keep the gang out of school by drawing green dots on everyone with marker and having them lick blue lollypops so that their tounges looked blue. It worked too well, as Gretchen mixed up the colors and they ended up looking like they had an even more serious disease.
  • Potty Dance: Mikey, after T.J. makes him drink water from a hosepipe.
  • Positive Discrimination: Subverted in "The Candidates". Spinelli tries to use girl power to get Gretchen votes, but Gretchen says herself that being a girl is immaterial to being president. In the end, Gretchen wins partly because of the girl vote, but also because Vince voted for her.
  • The Power of Friendship: Subverted.
    • Though it's most often played straight.
  • Practice Kiss: "The Experiment"
  • Prequel: Recess: All Growed Down
  • Punishment Box: it's just a square drawn on the playground floor. T.J. at first laughs it off, but eventually it breaks him.
  • Punny Name: Guy McMahon, the representative of Kiddie Cosmetics.
  • Putting on the Reich: The anti-germ movement in "Germ Warfare". Seriously, the banners and the speech are almost identical to the Nuremberg rallies.
  • Reading Foreign Signs Out Loud: Used on the German version, Grosse Pause (Big Recess), at least.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Principal Prickly
  • Recycled: the Series: For some reason, in Spanish-speaking countries, the show is called (translated from Spanish): Recess: The Animated Series. No, really.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Split into three groups of two with the main characters.
    • T.J. and Vince.
    • Mikey and Gus.
    • Spinelli and Gretchen.
    • If we talk teachers, then its Ms. Finster and Ms. Grotke.
  • The Renaissance Age of Animation
  • Reunion Show
    • The Lilo & Stitch: The Series crossover. By that point, Recess had ended its run and the cast had come back to reprise their roles... at least most of them. T.J., Mikey, and Gus were all replaced.
    • Lloyd in Space, which was made by the same creators, counts in a way. Pretty much every voice actor from Recess came to do voices on the show, including Ross Malinger, who only played T.J. for season one and two episodes of season two.
  • Rich Bitch: The Ashleys have a dose of this.
  • Running Gag: Gus always needed to go to the bathroom at the absolute worst time.
  • Sadist Teacher
    • Implied to be Ms. Finster, although she's only seen grading in one episode; she mostly seems to just be in charge of Recess. The DTV "epilogue", Taking The Fifth Grade, shows her to be the fifth grade teacher, something never hinted at anywhere in the rest of the series.
    • Dr. Slicer is definetly this, put emphasis on the sadist part.
  • School Play: The Holiday pageant in the Christmas special.
  • The Scottish Trope: El Diablo. *Whip cracks*
  • Scout Out: The Woodchuck Scouts
  • Secret Test of Character: The "C Note" episode.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: With the four male main characters, each role is shared by two of them.
    • Sensitive Guys: Mikey and Gus.
    • Manly Men: TJ and Vince.
  • Series Continuity Error
    • Cornchip Girl could be in either 1st or 2nd grade, but in "One Stayed Clean" she's nowhere to be seen when those grades are getting their picture taken and she seems to be in kindergarten since she spends most of her screentime with them, even though other episodes have shown that all kindergartners dress and act like savages and she's never been shown in kindergarten before.
    • Gus is shown to be a new kid in school in grade 4, yet All Growed Down shows him in Kindergarten. The Great Jungle Gym standoff also apparently takes place before Gus transferred to school yet he appears in a few shots (probably an animation goof—happens all the time). They explain Gus being the new kid again in fourth grade by the very canon fact he transferred many times over the past four years. The fact that he went to 3rd Street for a few days then transfered out fits his backstory well. Nobody (except Finster) remembered him because everybody who would actually have a reason to remember him was too young to remember. His friends think Gus made the whole thing up mostly because he helps over half of them become who they are today.
    • And on a similar note, despite that it was established that Old Rusty had fallen down and replaced with what T.J christened "New Rusty", the jungle gym is still referred to as "Old Rusty".
    • Menlo is revealed to have been T.J's best friend in the past, except for some reason another episode shows him speaking about him like he just heard about him.
    • The Great Can Drive episode shows The Ashleys being in a separate class from Mikey and the gang, yet other episodes show all four being in Ms. Grotke's class.
  • Series Fauxnale: "Lawson and his Crew" was intended to be the final episode to air on TV, and The Movie was supposed to be the true finale. However, the show was so popular that it was renewed for another season [3]...which, thanks to Disney's sixty-five episode limit, didn't last long. There were the DTV movies, however.
  • Serious Business: Recess itself is like this, as is everything else—and who honestly didn't have this happen when they went to elementary school? The Monstickers and Ajimbo game especially take the cake.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Gretchen
  • Shallow Love Interest: Johnny V. was this for Spinelli in "That Stinking Feeling". Due to him not appearing after the episode, it's pretty much confirmed that he only existed as a temporary love interest.
  • Shout-Out
    • Ashley Spinelli's last name is a reference to Maniac Magee novelist Jerry Spinelli.
    • Mikey's last name, Blumberg, is named after Barry Blumberg, a producer at Disney Television Animation who convinced the company to give the series the greenlight. Not to mention, he also appears to have a Great Uncle Merry.
    • Ever notice that Upside-Down Girl looks and dresses an awful lot like a certain someone? She even has the same voice actress, who plays several characters on the show, but specifically uses her Helga voice for Upside-Down Girl.
    • Also, King Bob may be a reference to another character from Hey Arnold!: Big Bob Pataki, The Beeper King. They have similar appearances: unibrow, dark hair, perpetual scowl, and are both bossy and don't like being distracted from whatever has their attention.
    • The "Terrifying Tales of Recess" segment with Mikey's living bike starts out as a parody of Stephen King's Christine and later when the other kids' bikes come to life it turns into a parody of Maximum Overdrive.
    • The series is literally littered with shout outs to Hogans Heroes, but one episode takes the cake with a senior citizen that TJ is visiting recalling the POW camp he was in during the war to be filled with Expies of the cast of Hogan's Heroes. The flashback ends with the Kommandant yelling, "ROOOOOGAN!"
    • One of the Ashleys in particular looks like Heather Duke.
    • Vince's nightmare about turning into a geek in "Big Brother Chad" is a parody of the opening of A Goofy Movie, with Max's nightmare about turning into Goofy.
    • Principal Prickly's secretary is named Ms. Lemon.
    • The prequel-movie All Growed Down is named after the Rugrats movie All Growed Up and, as one may expect from the name, has an inverted premise. All Growed Up was a sort of look-ahead to the future of the Rugrats characters' lives, while All Growed Down shows us the Recess gang when they were in kindergarden. The main difference is that Rugrats turned it into a full spinoff, while Recess did not. This is also funny when you remember that the creators of Recess worked on Rugrats before the show was supposed to end in 1994.
    • Ashley A. owns a Hello Kitty lunchbox.
  • Shown Their Work: In the episode where Prickly is hypnotized into thinking he's 6 years old, when the kids tell him he's not really a child and has to go back to being a grown-up he gets upset, climbs up Old Rusty and strips down to his underwear for seemingly no reason. It's typical for 6-year-olds to take off their clothes when upset.
  • Similar Squad: The Principal's brother runs a school with characters who are counterparts of the regular gang. There's only one Distaff Counterpart: T.J.'s opposite is a girl named C.J. For the rest of the gang, their counterparts are all race swaps (or almost all, depending on what you consider Spinelli).
  • Sitcom Arch Nemesis: Lawson, to both TJ and Vince. He is often described as the arch-rival of TJ, but he doesn't really seem to single him out; however, we frequently see him butting heads specifically with Vince.
  • Six-Student Clique
    • The Main Character: TJ.
    • The Muscle: Vince.
    • The Quirk: Gus.
    • The Pretty One: Mikey (gender flip).
    • The Smart One: Gretchen.
    • The Wild One: Spinelli.
  • Sleeper Hit: No-one expected the show to be as sucessful as it became.
  • Soapbox Sadie: Miss Grotke in some of her lessons.
  • Somebody Doesn't Love Raymond: One episode has T.J. trying to get a black kid named Gordon to like him, only to learn by the episode's end that he can't force anybody to like him.
  • Sophisticated As Hell: King Bob
  • Spiritual Successor: To Rugrats, which the creators worked on before it was cancelled in 1994 (Though it was Uncancelled shortly before Recess premiered).
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Gus and Corn Chip Girl.
  • Stealth Pun: From Spinelli when she's suddenly wracked with guilt: "Man, I feel like a bad-guy wrestler."
  • Strong Family Resemblance: T.J. looks like his mom, Vince looks like his dad, Spinelli doesn't really look like any of her parents but looks a bit more like her dad, Gretchen looks like both of her parents, Mikey looks like his mom (and has the same hair color as his dad), Gus looks like a smaller, less rugged version of his dad (and has his mom's eyes and glasses), the Ashleys all look like their moms, and Hustler Kid looks like his dad.
  • Swivel Chair Antics: When T.J. wins the "Principal for a Day" drawing and first sits down in Principal Prickly's chair:

T.J.: Wow, this is one big chair.
Prickly: Yes it is. And it takes a big man to fill it.
T.J.: (immediately starts spinning) WOOHOOOOOO!

  • The Talk: In "Dance Lessons", we see Miss Grotke finish up a lesson on sex (which Gordy asked her about). Granted, we don't hear the actual discussion (thanks to the TV-G rating), but... yeah.
  • Test Kiss: The whole plot of the episode "The Experiment".
  • Those Two Guys: The Diggers (Sam and Dave), as well as King Bob's right hand men, Jerome and Jordan.
  • Those Wacky Nazis

Digger Dave: Me, bossy? I'm not bossy! Am I bossy?
Spinelli: Jawohl, mein Kommandant.

  • Throwing Out the Script: Invoked. Mikey starts overly structuring his life and loses his knack for poetry. So his friends write on his schedule to tear up the horrible bit he had written to be performed (though not in those words). And in his anxiety, he starts winging it, winning the competition.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Spinelli and Gretchen without a doubt. You just got to look at em.
  • Tomboyish Name: Subverted.
  • Totally Radical
    • Miss Grotke is prone to this
    • Sometimes the kids might talk like this, but very rarely, and it depended on the writer.
  • True Companions: The main six.
  • Tuckerization
    • T.J.'s original name, P.J., stood for the first initials of the creators, Paul (Germain) and Joe (Ansolabehere). Before animation was done on the pilot, his name was changed for unknown reasons.
    • Mikey's last name, Blumberg, comes from Barry Blumberg, a producer at Walt Disney Television who convinced the executives to give the show the greenlight.
    • In a fantasy sequence in "The Lost Ball", Paul Germain's son, Thomas Germain, was mentioned.
    • One of the science teachers in the show is named Mr. Germain
    • In "The Challenge", the landscaping crew that came to the school was "Paul & Joe's Landscaping".
    • "Paul and Joe" are once referenced as undesirable names.
  • Tunnel King: The Diggers
  • Two Girls to a Team: Gretchen and Spinelli are the only girls in the main six.
  • Unintentional Period Piece: The earlier episodes came off as this at times.
  • Unspoken Plan
  • Unusual Euphemism
    • "This whomps!"
    • As well as "froopin`", but not as often.
  • Vignette Episode: The Halloween special.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Mundy in "Mundy, Mundy" after he inadvertently saves a kindergartener from getting hit by a ball.
  • Vocal Evolution: Because the kids in the show are all voiced by real kids, their voices ended up getting lower throught the show's run. Vince's voice broke half-way through the first season, Mikey's voice got a little lower in season five (and then completely broke in the 2003 DTV movies), Gus, Randall, and Digger Dave all had lower voices in the DTV movies, and Digger Sam's voice broke in the DTV movie Taking the Fifth Grade (due to this, we never hear him speak in All Growed Down). Which was lampshaded at the end of the movie:

Digger Sam:: My voice! What happened to my voice?

Averted with T.J., unlike the other male characters. Because the creators wanted his voice to always sound cute and youthful, he was replaced three times.
  • Wacky Homeroom
  • Wanting Is Better Than Having: One episode had the kids build a cool fort to hang out in, only to have it promptly stolen from them by bullies. After spending the whole episode trying to win it back, afterwards they realize that it was more fun trying to take back the fort than actually hanging out in it. They promptly call up the bullies to try and take it back from them.
  • Welcome Episode: "The New Kid", for Gus, and as a rare example, aired as episode 1B (first episode; second story after the commercial break).
  • Wham! Episode: "The Biggest Trouble Ever", where the gang accidentally breaks a priceless statue and become town scapegoats, to the point where the Smug Snake of a Mayor plans to break them up and send them to six different schools. Sure, you know it'll be resolved and nothing will change, but it's easily the most dramatic story Recess ever did.
  • What Do You Mean It's Not Heinous?: The Unwritten Code of the Playground.
  • Whoopi Epiphany Speech: Subverted.
  • Why Are You Not My Daughter?: "More Like Gretchen"
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Gus in "King Gus" and "Hustler's Apprentice", and TJ in "Principal For A Day" and "Economics Of Recess". And "Pharaoh Bob" to an extent but he already had great power, he just overdid the ego.
  • Wrench Wench: Spinelli and Gretchen.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: "No Strings Attached". Basically, the Ashleys give Spinelli six tickets to a wrestling match. Knowing what the Ashleys are like, Spinelli and the others become suspicious, and when Mikey and Gus decide that the tickets are real, the rest of the gang dismiss the idea as naïve. By the time they find out that Mikey and Gus were right all along, they end up locked inside the Ashley's clubhouse....
  • Yes, Virginia: The title of the Christmas Episode (which sort of gives away the plot twist) is "Yes, Mikey, Santa Does Shave".
  • You Are Fat: Randall says this to T.J. in his I Just Want to Be You (and Kick the Dog) rant.
  • You Meddling Kids: In the Barnaby boys episode, the janitor that the gang follows turns out to be a criminal and responds with "I would have gotten away with it too if it weren't for you meddling kids" after Spinelli shows up with the police.
  • Your Tomcat Is Pregnant: Happened in one episode. Turned out Stuart was a Stella.
  • Zettai Ryouiki: The Ashleys. Not something one would expect elementary school kids to wear, but then...
  1. Counter-clockwise from bottom right: T.J., Mikey, Vince, Gus, Gretchen, and Spinelli
  2. He was so feared, he got the nickname El Diablo
  3. Which was actually made up of unfinished episodes in between seasons three and five