We recently saw a treasure trove of classic Nickelodeon TV shows (that are also available on Paramount+) added to Netflix - including the sketch comedy series All That, the zany middle school sitcom Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide, and the comparatively more grounded, but still quite hilarious, teen comedy Zoey 101. However, none of these titles had me more excited than Kenan & Kel. Created by In Loving Color writer Kim Bass and airing from 1996 to 2000, the sitcom starred future Saturday Night Live cast member Kenan Thompson and his All That co-star and real-life friend, Kel Mitchell, as a pair of teens who are constantly getting themselves into trouble.
Because the series was a major highlight of my childhood, I immediately jumped on the chance to relive those memories by binging as many episodes as possible, which did not take long, since only the first two seasons are available on the platform at the moment. However, the binge still left me with a wonderful feeling of nostalgia and also inspired some unexpected thoughts and hard-pressing questions that had never crossed my adolescent mind. The following is an exploration of what my present-day adult mind conjured during my recent revisit of Kenan & Kel.
Kenan Was Just As Hilarious Then As He Is Now
Few would argue against the belief that Kenan Thompson is one of the most talented performers on Saturday Night Live today (if not ever), with an Emmy Award and a record-breaking 19 seasons under his belt, so far, to prove it. The secret to his success is getting an early start as a founding member of the All That cast when he was just 16 and simultaneously headlining Kenan & Kel, which provides an equally plentiful display of his greatest talents. For instance, his character, Kenan Rockmore, also has a knack for funny impersonations (often to mock his peers) and dazzling facial expressions - such as when he cracks a potentially troublesome idea, much to Kel’s chagrin.
What Has Kel Been Up To Lately?
Speaking of which, I believe Kel Mitchell did, admittedly, upstage his co-star a number of times on Kenan & Kel and rewatching the show reminded me that he is an extraordinarily funny and versatile performer - which begs the question, Where the hell has he been? Despite past rumors that he was dead, Mitchell is alive and well and has even collaborated with Thompson a couple times, such as when they reprised All That characters, Good Burger cashier Ed and construction worker Lester Oaks, on The Tonight Show in 2015. Mitchell has also led a steady voice acting career for years, returned to Nickelodeon as a series regular on Game Shakers from 2015 to 2019, and more recently appeared on HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show in 2022.
What Has Coolio Been Up To Lately?
Kenan & Kel also had me curious about the current whereabouts of Coolio, who performs the show’s theme song that I managed to have almost perfectly memorized by the end of my binge.
The Grammy-winning rap star - also known for “Gangsta’s Paradise,” the de facto theme song from Dangerous Minds - has not released a studio album since From the Bottom 2 the Top in 2009, but is still relatively active in the industry, having recently appeared on tracks by the Irish hip hop group Versatile. He also has been known to act in various projects over the years and often as himself, such as in the hit Disney Channel cartoon, Gravity Falls, as his own wax figure, or in the irreverent Adult Swim sitcom, Black Jesus.
I Could Really Go For Some Orange Soda Right Now
Just like any other time I revisit a show from my childhood, Kenan & Kel also reminded me about a very important slice of knowledge: Kel loves orange soda. It’s true, as seen by how often he utters his immortal catchphrase, and key moments like when he fantasizes about dancing under a downpour of orange rain or fails to keep his end of a bet with Kenan to stay off the stuff for a week. By the end of my binge, I had developed an intense craving for a bottle of carbonated, orangey goodness myself and I, genuinely, would not be surprised if the show’s recent appearance on Netflix would inspire an uptick in the beverage’s profits.
Is Kyra’s Crush On Kel Really Her Only Character Trait?
The only thing that could potentially rival Kel’s love for orange soda could be Kenan’s little sister, Kyra (Vanessa Baden), and her undying, unrequited infatuation with Kel, which is referenced in just about every episode she appears in.
Yet, I never saw much character growth beyond that - at least in the episodes of Kenan & Kel that are available on Netflix - and, since her screen time become more of a rarity in later seasons, it looks like she was never really given that opportunity, anyway. However, Baden’s career since is a different story, as she would eventually find behind-the-camera work on shows like Netflix’s Ozark as a showrunner’s assistant and HBO Max’s The Sex Lives of College Girls as a staff writer, and even won a Daytime Emmy in 2019 as the star of the YouTube series Giants, which she also writes for.
How Do Kenan & Kel’s Meta Audience Interactions Work Exactly?
As satisfying as my Kenan & Kel binge proved to be, I was left a little confused by one aspect that I never really noticed before: each episode begins and ends with the titular duo speaking directly to a live studio audience - not as the real Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell, but actually in character.
In one episode outro, Kel even refers to himself as a TV character, so they appear to be aware of their fictional existence, but only when presenting to the audience, and once the curtains part, they seem to forget they are on a show and treat the situations they encounter as real life. The question is, are they truly always aware of their fictional existence and intentionally play up the drama for the audience? Do Kenan’s parents know they are on a show, too? Or did the writers just not take full consideration of this scenario?
I am not going to dwell on that hang-up, though, because the show’s meta nature is actually one of the reasons I love it so much - and that is only one item out of a considerably long list. If there is any concern that I do have and will continue to dwell on, it is the fact that there are still only two seasons of Kenan & Kel available to stream on Netflix. In the words of Kenan, “WHYYYYYYYYYY?!!”
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Jason Wiese writes feature stories for CinemaBlend. His occupation results from years dreaming of a filmmaking career, settling on a "professional film fan" career, studying journalism at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO (where he served as Culture Editor for its student-run print and online publications), and a brief stint of reviewing movies for fun. He would later continue that side-hustle of film criticism on TikTok (@wiesewisdom), where he posts videos on a semi-weekly basis. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.