A Look Back: Kenan & Kel (Season One)

(Editor's Note: The following piece is not a normal news article. It is the first in a possible new line of opinion/retrospective features that we here at TV Rage are testing out. The author is one of you, a TV Rage member and reader named Jonathan Moore. So, without further ado, here's Jonathan:)

                              Kenan and Kel

Everybody knows Nickelodeon, everybody grew up with Nickelodeon and more importantly, everybody is familiar with what Nickelodeon symbolizes: creativity, goofiness and their most importan

t ingredient: getting slimed. I think the fact that these ingredients define and parallel Nickelodeon so harmoniously is a testament to the effect that the network has had on children's culture, media and humor for the past two decades. But how did this come to be? Well, sliming came from Nickelodeon syndicating You Can't Do That on Television, a Canadian show that first aired on the CJOH-TV channel. After it became the highest rated Nickelodeon program of the time, sliming was Nickelodeon's theme song, it was what The Simpsons was to Fox... and it wasn't just their thing in the United States. Nickeloeon UK picked up on this humor vehicle, hosting events and pre-program sections where kids would get slimed also, needless to say... it was everywhere.

But between the sliming, the creativity of Nickelodeon's early animated shows such as The Rugrats, Doug etc and the just straight up bizarre goofiness of Ren & Stimpy and Rocko's Modern Life, I firmly hold the belief that the only glimpse of Nickelodeon's magnum opus thus far was the show All That. The show in actuality bared more of a resemblance to Saturday Night Live than any show already on Nick, except from a thrillingly new, hyperactive and adolescent perspective. The stars of All That, not unlike Saturday Night Live, would end up having their own programs on the channel and would end up being major players for Nick. The man that made these actors and their talents really shine? Dan Schneider. Dan Schneider was the creative force from the start of All That up until his exit of the show at season four and ever since has been Nickelodeon's go to man for taking the rising stars of All That and introducing them to their own shows... and no-one could have done it better. The amount of shows that this man has managed to steer into his own little secluded humor-land is astounding, essentially known as the godfather of children's programming and according to a New York Times article “has become the Norman Lear of children's television”, Dan Schneider is unprecedented in his line of work.

Which brings us to Schneider's first piece of Nickelodeon history: Kenan & Kel. If you were a young teenager in the 1990's, this was your generations Abbot and Costello, your Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, your Scooby and Shaggy. If you were born within the 1990's and are a teenager now, this was our Drake & Josh. They were the kids that managed to be who you wanted to dress like, talk like, act like... and they still managed to be the most ridiculously clueless, clumsy and witless bunch... and they did it in style. I think the definite element that made this duo stick out however, was their chemistry. They had been friends and worked on All That together previous to starting the show and it showed from the first episode until the last of the season. It was a fantastic synthesis of personalities that only served to shine brighter and brighter as the season went on.
                                Kenan and Kel

Another aspect not to be forgotten (and I think a lot of the time can be underestimated) is the impact that this had on children's programs in terms of diversification. Kenan and Kel really brought the urban culture of the 90's aesthetically to the screen and more importantly, to the children. This is a culture and representation of middle class black teenagers that all children and teens could appreciate and didn't in any way pander to or alter. Visually it was certainly a representation of the times, with backwards caps, baggy jeans and baggy t-shirts a-plenty, but also sonically brought Hip-Hop to the forefront, with a theme-song performed by Coolio. With not enough comedies catering to a universal audience and even less catering to a black audience, Kenan and Kel only had so many comedies to research (The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince, etc).

Definite episode standouts from the season are Mo Sweater Blues, Tainting of the Screw, Dial 0 for Oops and Doing Things the Hemmingway. All of these episodes include absolute gut-busters. In Mo-Sweater Blues, Kel accidentally gets Orange Soda on Kenan's date Brianna's sweater that was knitted by her dead grandmother before she passed on. What ensues is absolute classic slapstick. Dial 0 for Oops has Kenan and Kel discussing Kenan's Dad's boss in a less than complimenting manner... then realizing that the whole conversation has been caught on telephone and now lies in Brianna's family's answering machine. Doing Things the Hemmingway has Kenan trying to seize the day and tell Brianna that he loves her in the most dramatic of fashions, of course only to capsize and Tainting of the Screw has maybe the most famous scene of the whole series, however I won't divulge the ending, not for the world. But to be honest, singling out episodes isn't necessary. Kenan and Kel's first season is an incredible compilation of side-splitting episodes that deserve a look back and don't deserve to be kept on the back-burner of Nickelodeon's history for too long (PS: Nickelodeon, where are those Kenan and Kel season box-sets?).

I think a problem Nickelodeon has faced in it's recent years is not getting too winded up in a culture that tells kids they can shine no matter what they can do and that no-matter what you look like or act like, as long as you have friendship you can do anything. I'm not saying that kids don't need to be shielded from the world, but not in the way we are... and unfortunately children's television is a grand representation of this era right now. Shows such as Victorious (and yes, I am using a Dan Schneider show as a reference, I'm not just criticizing shows I think are bad) are showing kids this exact message... and what do they do? They get absolutely gorgeous kids to play these roles and aesthetically make them impervious to physical faults. Not to mention the fact that they are all skilled and know exactly what they want to do in life. Kenan and Kel seems like the EXACT opposite of this present trend. Kenan and Kel don't know what they want to be, hell they don't know what they are doing that DAY, never-mind worrying about the future. They are not George Clooney's of a generation. Their adventures don't always end up going their way... actually, to be honest, they almost NEVER do. They are just kids with no particular skill-set, getting in wacky adventures, mostly for the worse... and you know what? Sometimes, that's all you want.

- Kenan Thompson
- Kel Mitchell
- Kenan & Kel

Written by: JonathanAshleyMoore
Aug 22nd, 2012, 7:52 am

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