By Whitney McIntosh and Andrew Rabin
Season 3, Episode 5: “Tyra Banks/Blackstreet”
Originally aired: Dec. 14, 1996
Andrew: To me, All That stands with Rugrats, Blue’s Clues, and iCarly as the tent pole shows of various eras of Nickelodeon (you could convince me to put Hey Dude, SpongeBob SquarePants, and Dora the Explorer in there as well, depending on how many poles you feel are needed to hold up this tent.) There is a reason TeenNick’s 90s throwback block is called “The 90s are All That,” rather than “The 90s are Pete & Pete” or “The 90s are Angry Beavers.” Part of this is because of how Nickelodeon set it apart; it got a prime spot in the SNICK lineup from day one and a feature film spinoff- Nickelodeon’s second movie and first based on a series- during the midseason hiatus in season three. But a good deal of All That‘s success is pure quality.
There are many things that go into All That which we must discuss before getting to its quality. All That clearly wants to be Saturday Night Live Junior, so to speak. But the guest host is barely featured (an incredibly young looking Tyra Banks appears in only the Good Burger sketch in this episode), and sketches rarely touch on current events or pop culture of the moment. Almost every single sketch is a recurring sketch, and the rotation is pretty small. Here we get a Green Room, a Good Burger, a Vital Information, an Ask Ashley, a Ms. Fingerly, and a Peter & Flem; none of those sketches appear fewer than four times in season three alone. Put another way, season three of All That featured eight Good Burger sketches, while SNL has only ever had six appearances by The Californians. And then there is the biggest thing about All That, the age of the cast. At the time this episode aired, these were the ages of the cast members: Lori Beth was 20, Kenan and Kel were 18, Josh was 17, Alisa and Katrina were 15, and Amanda was 10.
And that brings us to All That‘s biggest breakout star in its ten year run, Amanda Bynes. Season three was Bynes’ debut season, and this was the first appearance of her most memorable sketch, Ask Ashley. Her comedic timing is impeccable. She immediately sells the studio audience on this character, before the audience is even familiar with her standard “that’s me!” and every-letter tirade. Now is not the time to get into what has occurred in Bynes’ personal life the last few years, but in her performance in this, her fifth episode of television as a ten year-old, it is easy to see her professional future, with her own Nickelodeon series, a four season run on a network sitcom, and a solid movie career.
Whitney: All That was the first exposure I had to any sort of sketch comedy show in full. Apart from my parents showing me old SNL sketches from time to time Nickelodeon and Disney programming was about as broad as my horizons got. So the opportunity to see kids rather than adults perform in improv situations and comedic riffing was great. I would compare watching Amanda Bynes performing then as I would to a professional tennis player you realize is the same age as you are now and feeling like you’ve done nothing with your life. A five year old watching a 10 year old perform obviously feels like a much larger gap than half a decade, but the level Amanda is working at here is still impressive looking back now. I wasn’t a fan of Ask Ashley, and actually much preferred her sketches on The Amanda Show as opposed to All That, but the sheer talent is so impressive that the importance of young comedians and actors having this type of outlet to show off their skills is made that much more apparent.
Tyra being involved as the guest host is unnerving only because we know where her post-modeling career has gone. She’s a little bit more unbearable in her antics and celebrity appearances (all in the name of staying relevant) and her appearance has changed slightly. Plus this just reminds me of the Disney movie she did with Lindsay Lohan and that just makes me sad for both of their careers all over again. I would compare her hosting and acting here to be on par with any model who was or now is in her same sphere of fame, similar to Brooklyn Decker today (or if Kate Upton ever hosts SNL which is probably coming sooner rather than later). Tyra had charisma and charm that are pretty necessary when acting opposite someone five years your junior, as Kel was at the time. Regardless, even if Tyra bombed in the one sketch she was involved in this episode would have been A+ since it had a Blackstreet performance. I’m always happy when Blackstreet is involved.
Kenan & Kel
Season 2, Episode 4: “Who Loves Orange Soda?”
Original airdate: Sept. 27, 1997
Andrew: If Amanda Bynes was All That‘s biggest breakout star, Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell were the show’s first breakout stars. Kenan & Kel debuted in 1996, Good Burger hit theaters in 1997, and Thompson and Mitchell remained on All That until 2000. Nickelodeon stretched these two stars thin, and I think it is clear that scripted comedy was not their strength. “Who Loves Orange Soda?” may not work at all for those without prior familiarity with Kel’s love of orange soda. Unlike Bynes’, whose star shined so bright for me in just one sketch on All That, half an hour with Thompson would never leave me guessing he would become SNL‘s 5th longest tenured cast member ever. Still, kudos to Nickelodeon for airing a series about two African American teenagers with a mostly African American cast. Network television could still learn from this today.
I do want to add, however, that the best thing about Kenan & Kel is its theme song. I ranked “Aw Here It Goes” seventh in my Nick theme song rankings (with All That up at number five). Does Coolio make this show feel dated, or does he bring you guys back to the mid-90s?
Whitney: I know it was supposed to be humorous to small children but both as a kid and watching the show now, I really can’t stand “I love orange soda!” more than once or twice an episode nonetheless the countless amount of times it actually occurs. I know it is an episode specifically about his love of orange soda but still, it gets old fast. It isn’t a surprise to me than Kenan made it farther than Kel as a comedian as Kel generally was one note in everything he did, some things landing and some things falling flat. Kenan, however, showed more range in his performance and was consistently able to gauge how to tell a joke. As a show Kenan & Kel was definitely the perfect vehicle for both of these guys at this point in their careers.
The notable thing about the structure of the show was that even though it was clearly a traditional sitcom approach to the characters and the writing, there was still a sense of each scene being a different sketch of a larger comedy show with one tenuous connection tying everything together. Whether this was a result of both of the title characters having background in sketch comedy or a result of the writers being from the same area but it interrupts the flow in just the slightest as to make it apparent the choppiness of everything happening. Regardless, still one of my favorite shows from the golden age of Nickelodeon.