Kenan review: Kenan Thompson’s primetime debut was worth the wait

Kenan Thompson (Photo by J. Countess/Getty Images)
Kenan Thompson (Photo by J. Countess/Getty Images) /

Kenan Thompson has gone prime-time! Saturday Night Live’s longest-running cast member just had his own aptly-titled sitcom Kenan premiere on NBC.

To commemorate the premiere, the Saturday Night Live Youtube channel live-streamed an hour of Kenan Thompson’s best sketches including his original character Diondre Cole, the host of the recurring sketch, “What Up with That”, his impersonation of former MLB player David Ortiz, who can be frequently seen at the “Weekend Update” desk, and my personal favorite, his impersonation of Steve Harvey in the Family Feud parody sketches.

It was very cool to see highlights of how much Thompson has contributed to the show throughout the years. Check out the video below to see if your favorite sketch made the cut:

It has been a while since we’ve seen Kenan Thompson outside of the sketch comedy world. The Georgia-native got his start working as a child actor on Nickelodeon shows such as All That and Kenan and Kel where he was able to cut his teeth in the world of sketch comedy for a younger audience. In his new show, Thompson takes on a more serious tone in his work while still showcasing his goofy sensibilities.

In Kenan, the comedian plays a widowed dad trying to raise his daughters Aubrey and Birdie alongside his father-in-law Rick, played by Don Johnson, and brother Gary, played by fellow SNL castmate Chris Redd.

Kenan Thompson’s primetime debut: Kenan starts off sorrowful

In the first episode, we’re introduced to Thompson as Kenan Williams, the host of a popular Atlanta, GA morning news show, Wake Up with Kenan. Following the death of his wife, he seeks advice from his father-in-law and brother from which he tries to keep his feelings of grief bottled up. Both characters act as Kenan’s support system even as the two share differing opinions about how he should move forward with raising his children while maintaining his life on the job at the news show.

The most interesting moment of this first episode occurs when Kenan agrees to, as a way to boost the ratings, talk about his wife on-air during a guest segment. He messes up his words and haphazardly offends his entire audience by insulting stay-at-home mothers and singer Beyonce leading his producer, Mika (Kimrie Lewis), to force him to make an apology.

Kenan then realizes how dishonest he’s being and  throws out the script written for him so he can confess the truth to his viewers.  Even though he never wanted to talk about his wife in the first place, he feels like it was necessary for him as a way to  move on. While this scene is obviously not the most “dramatic” way to deliver the subject matter that has to be addressed, it was lighthearted even as it read as a moment of conflict for Kenan.

At the end of the episode, he and his family are watching  a blooper reel from his old show. It’s where he first met his wife in which she plays his mom. Kind of an odd note to end the episode on but I appreciate any show of awkward absurdity, especially in prime time television. That being said, since the show is so new, we’re only able to see the dynamic between a few characters. Hopefully, in later episodes, we’ll get a better feel of where each of the main characters comes from and what motivates them to act the way they do.

Kenan Thompson in primetime: Thoughts on the first episode

What I appreciated about this first episode is something that I’m glad to know won’t be utilized throughout the run of the show: there was no laugh track. While it has been a common practice in primetime sitcoms, other NBC programs such as The Good Place and Superstore have found success by not utilizing a laugh-track/live studio audience. I was glad to know that Kenan would follow suit with this new norm for sitcoms. For a series that uses the “show within a show” trope, I believe not having a laugh track adds more realism to this introductory storyline and allows for audiences to connect to the characters more than purely on a surface level.

Thompson’s fellow Saturday Night Live cast member Chris Redd definitely stood out to me. He plays Williams’ brother, Gary. He acts as a perfect sidekick who seems to be involved in antics of his own doing. It was heartwarming to see the two transfer their comedic chemistry from late night to prime time. Other stand out cast members include former Broadway actress Taylor Louderman, who portrays a cooking segment host on the show, and Kimrie Lewis who plays Mika, the executive producer of Wake Up with Kenan and who was last seen in a recurring role as reporter Ashley Davidson on ABC’s Scandal.

Since Kenan is promoted as a family sitcom, my hopes are that the writing incorporates even more silliness and absurdity between the main characters and implement ways to prove that Kenan Thompson can be appreciated by audiences beyond the Saturday Night Live fan community. I’m also curious to see if the show will last given Thompson and Redd plan to still be cast members at SNL. The two cast mates have been bi-coastal and have since wrapped filming for the first few episodes. I’m excited to see what the future looks like for Thompson and Redd as they juggle taping SNL in New York and Kenan in Los Angeles.

For current SNL fans, the humor in Kenan might not be what you’re used to seeing weekly on Saturday nights. But if you’re a long-time fan of Kenan Thompson’s presence at Studio 8H, you’ll be able to see him showcase another set of skills as the lead of his own project.

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What did you think of Kenan’s first episode? Do you think Kenan Thompson has a hit on his hands? Share your thoughts below in the comments!