After decades in the basic cable business, Nickelodeon knows when it has something valuable and how to exploit the holy hell out of it. The kidvid network must have realized it had stumbled onto a goldmine two decades ago with the youthful duo of Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell. These two child stars were frequently paired up on the tween-friendly skitcom All That, especially in sketches revolving around the fictional “Good Burger” fast food joint. Those skits eventually became a feature film in 1997, but even before then, Nick decided to showcase Mitchell and Thompson in a sitcom of their own. Kenan & Kel cast the two as wisecracking, hijinks-prone Chicago teenagers who frequently found themselves in trouble with parents, teachers, and other exasperated adult authority figures. A great favorite of ’90s kids, Kenan & Kel ran for four seasons and helped launch Thompson’s television career. After a few years in the showbiz wilderness, Thompson signed on as a cast member of NBC’s Saturday Night Live in 2003 and has been there ever since. Mitchell has stayed busy, too, often finding work as a voice actor.
In looking back on two decades of Kenan & Kel, there is some great ephemera related to the show. Hardcore K&K fans will certainly remember, for instance, that each episode of the sitcom began with the stars standing in front of a red velvet curtain, talking directly to the studio audience. These preambles would invariably conclude with Mitchell’s catchphrase: “Aw, here it goes!” Someone at Slacktory took the time to assemble a six-minute supercut containing every single recitation of that line. Notice the appearance of Coolio, who says the line during the theme song.
Being a child actor is often described as a horror story, and Thompson has expressed mixed emotions about his Nickelodeon legacy. He seems to have come to peace with it and has appeared with Mitchell in both a Tonight Show sketch and a Fandango ad. Thompson and Mitchell seemed to be having a good time making the show. Evidence for that comes from this delightful blooper reel from the show’s first season. Here, Thompson so strongly identifies with his costar that he forgets which one is which.
From 1996 to 1997 Kenan & Kel was filmed at Nickelodeon Studios in Orlando, Florida rather than in California. (Production thereafter moved to Hollywood.) Nick’s colorful Florida facility was quite the tourist attraction in its grunge-era heyday. It closed down in 2005 and was left abandoned but intact for years. The site currently houses an attraction centered around The Blue Man Group, but for a while there, it was like a creepy haunted amusement park from Scooby-Doo and attracted nosy YouTubers by the score.