How ‘Courage The Cowardly Dog’ Taught Me To Love The Monster [I Saw The TV Show]

Courage The Cowardly Dog

This Pride Month, Dread Central is releasing the three-part video series I Saw the TV Show, inspired by Jane Shoenbrun’s queer horror fantasia, I Saw the TV Glow, from studio A24.

Over three weeks, Dread Central’s queer staff are teaming up to discuss our own versions of “The Pink Opaque,” the life-altering teen genre TV shows that we were obsessed with as young queer kids in the 90s/2000s, a time when otherness was all the more isolating and dangerous. We’ll share our personal relationship with a horror TV series that changed our young lives and unpack how escapism, monstrous allegories, and social isolation shaped us creatively.

Today’s third and final episode of I Saw the TV Show is courtesy of me, Mary Beth McAndrews, editor-in-chief at Dread Central. I also host the Scarred For Life podcast and yell about found footage on social media with alarming frequency. Check out my episode, The Red Opaque: Courage The Cowardly Dog, right here, and then check out my accompanying essay below.

I Saw the TV Show: Part III – Courage The Cowardly Dog

Dread Central Presents
The Red OpaqueCourage the Cowardly Dog
by Mary Beth McAndrews

It should come as no surprise that I was a weird kid. Books, movies, and TV shows were my closest friends, creating worlds where I could escape from divorced parents, new siblings, and an overall distrust of the world. It got to the point where I would tell people I was a werewolf or vampire (depending on the day), howling at classmates on the playground, and eating cold cuts like a dog at lunch. To my young mind, there had to be something better than boring humans out there, a place where I could prove I wasn’t a freak; I was one of them.

I found that, at least briefly, in the Cartoon Network animated series Courage The Cowardly Dog, which followed the titular Courage as he saved his owners, Muriel and Eustace, from all manner of strange creatures. While my parents had The X-Files, I had Courage The Cowardly Dog, my own monster-of-the-week show without the horrific credits sequence. It was a reprieve in a sea of chaotic change for a young kid.

At the age of five, my mom finally left my narcissistic father to provide a better life for both of us. It was her and me against the world for a while, as she worked long hours as a chef at a local hotel while I spent my days with my grandparents, reading books and watching PBS Kids. Then, not much later, my mom moved us in with who would eventually become my stepdad and stepbrother (both of whom I love deeply). That didn’t last long, as we moved into a tiny apartment while we waited to find a new house. That home pushed us all very close together, quite literally. The cherry on top was I was starting at a brand new school where I didn’t know anyone.

As I navigated a sea of change, I found solace in the glow of the only TV in the house. My stepbrother and I often fought over the remote control as we tried to find something to watch together. The one network we could always settle on was Cartoon Network, where we watched Dexter’s Laboratory, Ed, Edd, Eddy, The Powerpuff Girls, and, most importantly, Courage The Cowardly Dog. Yes, I wanted to be Blossom and fight all the bad guys, but even more than that, I wanted to be the little purple jellybean-like dog living in a town named Nowhere.

Courage was just like me: anxious, scared, and on edge. I saw a character who was always scared, but yet he was also incredibly brave. He pushed through the fear to save his loved ones, no matter how scared he got. Specifically, Muriel was his person and true loved one, while Eustace was merely grumpy baggage. Whether confronted with Ramses’ Curse, a devious cat, or a twisted barber, Courage was ready to do whatever possible to save the day, no matter how terrified he was. That, in turn, gave me Courage.

But the episode that affected me the most was none of the scariest episodes, but in fact, the series’ most heart-warming: “The Hunchback Of Nowhere.” This was episode eight of the first season, where a cartoon rendition of the Hunchback of Notre Dame knocks on their door, asking for shelter from the rain. Eustace slams the door in his face because of his physical appearance, forcing the man to hide in the barn.

From here, Courage actually strikes up a friendship with the hunchback. Courage goes to bring him a jacket in the barn and finds the hunchback ringing bells. The visitor shows Courage that you can never judge a book by its cover and that while someone may appear monstrous to you, they’re much more than their physical appearance.

Eustace continues to taunt the hunchback, who keeps pushing back against the old man’s verbal abuse. He’s confident enough to read Eustace to filth and show him what real fear looks like when he puts on an Eustace mask. Everything about this episode eschews expectations of a Courage The Cowardly Dog as the “monster” of the week is actually just a man who looks different from the societal norm. And as a young kid who was already a weirdo and subconsciously grappling with her identity, this episode really changed my life.

It showed me that no matter what others think of you, whether it be due to your sexuality, physical appearance, or gender identity, nothing should ever keep you from being yourself. And now more than ever, that episode’s message feels deeply relevant. Eustace showcased bigoted hatred spewed without any sort of critical thinking. It’s a reactionary and fearful response in contrast with Courage, who himself showed … well … both courage and empathy. We all need a bit of courage (and Courage) in our lives right now.

Every day, I’m thankful for that little purple dog with an anxiety disorder. Courage The Cowardly Dog was a great way to watch horror and taught me that, no matter who I am, I am worth something. I’m not a monster because I’m queer. I’m a person who deserves love, compassion, and empathy. So thank you, Courage. You gave this little girl something to believe in all those years ago.



Sign up for The Harbinger a Dread Central Newsletter