In a post-Fresh Prince of Bel Air world, the door had been opened for black comedy on network TV in the States. Banking on that success was Kenan and Kel, a show that tried to make that same lightning strike twice.
Hitting children’s mainstay Nickelodeon from 1996 to 2000, Kenan and Kel focussed on two high school guys and their wacky antics.
While most of the shows we’ve looked at so far have played to a general audience, Kenan and Kel mugs far more for its crowds, feeling far more kid focussed than some of its peers.
Most of its gags are exactly that, gags. Whether their physical or verbal, they really play to the basics and stick to making the central twosome look like fools. Like Pink and The Brain but without the mice. Or the cage. Or the plotting for world domination.
Kel is constantly clowning around, playing the fool. Be it eating the entire turkey right before the family’s Thanksgiving dinner or getting stuck in all sorts of places, Kel is always acting first and thinking three scenes later.
Kenan’s the schemer, always coming up with hare-brained ideas on how to get what he wants. They nearly always don’t work. Despite it nearly always being Kel who ruins them, the two are inseparable. The archetypical best buds.
The show had strange, fourth wall defying bookends though featuring the duo talking with an otherwise unseen (but very much heard) audience and opening accepting the presence of cameras, even using them as the punch line for the odd joke now and again. While it may make the whole show an existential headache (with Kenan usually knowing what the episode was about in the show’s opening), it was an interesting concept for kids TV and a real hallmark of the late nineties style of humour.
While it was admirably forward in its approach to putting black culture on screen (hip-hop was embraced and the characters embraced urban fashions), Kenan and Kel, looked at today, does stumble on to a couple of horrific stereotypes.
Kel’s obsession with orange soda and the show’s crazed attitude towards watermelons only went to quantify these terribly out of date stereotypes. While they could be considered innocent asides, cynical viewers may do a double take or two.
The points were never really rammed home though, and the jolly nature of the show usually keeps it afloat. While it offers little to those outside of primary school, Kenan and Kel could probably still feature in a daytime TV line up and not look too out of place.
That the show ran for four seasons also speaks highly of its popularity at the time, with the pair even garnering a film spinoff to try and make the most of the good will surrounding Kenan and Kel.
It may not have aged too well and the stereotypes are a little too obvious, but re-watching Kenan and Kel isn’t a completely memory breaking experience.
FemaleFirst Cameron Smith