Friday, March 11, 2011

Nickelodeon Banks Late-Night On Your 90s Nostalgia

allthatIn case you missed it on your social media feeds yesterday, allow me to inform you that this fall Nickelodeon will revive much of its 90s programming in a late-night block dubbed “The ‘90s Are All That.”

Entertainment Weekly broke the story with comments from senior VP and general manager of TeenNick Keith Dawkins. “At the time, we were completely devoted to that audience ages 9, 10, and 11. It was ground-breaking and for the young viewers, a powerful and pivotal time in their lives. Those kids who are now 22, 23 and 24 want to bring that back.”

Hey, I’m 24! I’m one of those kids! I spent a good portion of my pre-adolescence watching Nickelodeon. The combination of charming animation and kid-friendly live-action all fell under an offbeat umbrella that spoke to an age group still willing to embark on flights of fancy despite being increasingly aware of the looming “real world.”

In fitting with my generation’s freakish dependence on our inner children, I couldn’t be more excited.

What We’re Getting

EW reports that the “The ‘90s Are All That” block will include favorites such as Rugrats, Clarissa Explains It All, Pete & Pete, Kenan & Kel, The Amanda Show, and All That. Other outlets are tossing in Salute Your Shorts for good measure.

Rugrats seems like an outlier. The Nicktoons staple lacked the edge of The Ren & Stimpy Show, the adventurous character designs of Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, or the postmodern mindfucks of Rocko’s Modern Life. Give me a block of those three (perhaps with some Angry Beavers) and I’d be happy. I wonder if an executive just looked at the books, saw that Rugrats was the longest-running of any Nicktoon (it has yet to be eclipsed by SpongeBob Squarepants), and demanded it be included.

The live-action selections are, for the most part, no-brainers. I missed The Amanda Show by a year or two, so I can’t comment on how well it will play. I have a hunch, though, that it and All That won’t hold up as well as Nickelodeon hopes. Is my memory playing tricks on me or did a disproportionate amount of All That’s jokes rely on ham? If I want to be bored/mildly amused by sketch comedy, I can just watch SNL. Kenan’s on that show, too.

It’s the off-kilter stuff I’ll be tuning in for. Clarissa Explains It All was Daria before Daria. Clarissa liked rock music, kept a pet crocodile, and antagonized her square of a brother (kid was in a Dan Quayle fan club!). She also dealt with each episode’s main problem by creating and playing her own videogame version of it. Not only was this the first show with a female protagonist I remember watching regularly (snippets of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman at my friend’s house don’t count), it’s also one of the earliest shows I can remember depicting gaming as a potential positive. “Look, she made a platformer that helps her better understand her grumpy aunt!”

Kenan & Kel is worth a brief revisiting, even just to see if Kel’s brand of Laurel still plays to Kenan’s tried and true Hardy. I’m having trouble remembering if I actually found that show funny at the time. Salute Your Shorts would be fun to watch again just to clarify some of the more ridiculous plots that I think transpired (looking them up on Wikipedia would ruin the fun).

peteandpeteOf course, it all pales in comparison to Pete & Pete. I watched Pete & Pete a number of years ago with some college friends (a practice Nickelodeon’s surely hoping will continue with this block), and it held up well. The lack of a studio audience feels right at home in a world of The Office and Modern Family. Its characters were outlandish yet possessing of a certain playground logic.

I imagine Pete & Pete spoke differently to kids who had brothers. Growing up with older sisters, I never related specifically to the Petes’ dynamic. Wisely, the show separated them often enough so that I could digest them as distinct entities. Old Pete, with his wacky maybe-girlfriend Ellen, struggled to extract himself from heightened situations. Young Pete, with uber-mensch Artie and a young Michelle Trachtenberg at his side, created crazy adventures of his own.

With its mixing of settings both surreal and suburban, themes both childish and mature, Pete & Pete seemed to be playing just a year above my head – and I liked it. I enjoyed getting the distinct impression that I was supposed to be feeling feelings I couldn’t quite articulate. And look at me now, articulating them.

How We’ll Get It

Here’s the biggest bummer: this dedicated block won’t be airing on regular old Nickelodeon. That’s what “Nick at Nite” is for. Anyone who wants to feel old (or just confused) should just take a look at what they’re airing nowadays.

“The ‘90s Are All That” will air on TeenNick, Nickelodeon’s answer to Disney’s tween-focused programming and home to teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation. TeenNick being part of Viacom’s expanded channel family, you will likely need a digital cable subscription to watch Pete & Pete on TV. My basic cable package through Comcast lacks TeenNick, though it does pop up in the guide and in the OnDemand menu. Comcast, you’re such a tease.

Have hope, non-cable folks. A Hulu search for Degrassi yields up-to-date results. It stands to reason that Viacom would also distribute other TeenNick programming on Hulu. According to, Hulu’s largest audience lies in the 18-34 age bracket, which includes pretty much everyone who cares about this block of shows from a decade-and-a-half ago.

If all of this Nickelodeon talk is getting you excited and you simply cannot wait, you could head over to Amazon, I suppose.

Why We’re Getting It

facebook90s nostalgia is here. VH1’s I Love The 90s arrived a few years early, riding a successful wave of 80s nostalgia. The commenters on I Love The 80s, fresh from mocking a decade they actually had nostalgia for, steamrolled through the next one carelessly. But now the kids who grew up in the 90s are old enough to spend money to relive the supposed glory years (see above Amazon suggestion).

A quick search of Thought Catalog’s archive reveals scores of essays dedicated to 90s culture: movies, blundered attempts to appear cool or sexy, the geek pride of early Internet usage. Thought Catalog is a site written mostly by/for twentysomethings. Sites like this are all over the Internet. In fact, you’re reading one of them right now.

My generation entered adulthood with the Internet stuffed snugly in our back pocket. Facebook exploded while we attended college; Twitter blew up as we graduated. This global digital echo chamber feels like it’s ours for the taking. Hell, we made Betty White host SNL because we were bored.

Entertainment Weeklywisely points out the scores of people liking these old shows on Facebook. Nearly 40,000 people subscribe to this Pete & Pete fan page. Over 50,000 people have professed their love for Clarissa Explains It All. What does Nickelodeon have to lose in creating an Adult Swim-like block to cater to these thousands of fans?

Internet hype rarely guarantees success, but hopefully the viewers will tune in. I’ll be watching – at least until they resort to showing CatDog, anyway.