“Saturday Night Live’s” longest-tenured actor of all time has starred in and executive produced the pilot episode of his very own show, “Kenan.”
Kenan Thompson plays a fictionalized version of himself, Kenan Williams, a recently widowed man and morning show anchor with two daughters. The first episode sees Kenan attempt to recuperate emotionally in the wake of his wife’s passing, while also dealing with the responsibilities that come with being a father and the star of “Get Up with Kenan.” Kenan’s ex-father-in-law, Rick (Don Johnson, “Watchmen”), encourages him to push forward with his life as if everything is normal, while his daughters, Aubrey (Dani Lane) and Birdie (Dannah Lane), and brother, Gary (Chris Redd, “SNL”), implore him to allocate the necessary time and acknowledgment to properly grieve his wife’s death. Meanwhile, Kenan’s colleagues fear a reduction in ratings as his shaky emotional state negatively impacts his typically upbeat anchoring style.
The show’s humor is typical of the average sitcom, complete with consistent one-liners and meticulously-timed dialogue. At the start of the episode, Gary returns home after a night of clubbing and joins the family’s daily morning embrace before Kenan leaves for work by announcing, “Just in time for the hug!” In addition to this relatively wholesome brand of humor, the chemistry between Thompson and Redd, as exemplified by this great “SNL” sketch, should be further utilized in future episodes. Despite “Kenan’s” distinct, sitcom-based approach to comedy, there is no live studio audience or laugh track, leaving many jokes to fall flat.
Unfortunately for its charismatic star, many characters on “Kenan” are underdeveloped. The daughters’ personalities are fairly indistinguishable, an issue exacerbated by their unnatural dialogue which often sounds more like the speech of witty adults rather than kids. Rick’s relationship with Kenan is not adequately established, and the only distinct trait of Tami (Taylor Louderman, “Evil”), Kenan’s unempathetic and career-driven co-host, is her unlikability. Introducing seven multidimensional characters within the span of 21 minutes is a difficult task, and it will be essential that more character development follows in future episodes.
As expected, Thompson carries the pilot of the show, not only with his refined comedic chops but with his heart and dramatic acting abilities, not always on display on “SNL.” The funniest and most endearing moment of the episode is when Thompson takes center stage. Kenan is directed by his boss Mika (Kimrie Lewis, “Single Parents”) to make an on-air apology after accidentally offending viewers on his new segment. Kenan starts to read an amusingly stereotypical public apology off of a teleprompter but then forgoes that strategy with an earnest explanation of the grief he has been dealing with.
During this brief but climactic scene, the potential of “Kenan” shines through: a show that can incorporate the comedic abilities of Thompson with a relatively heavy premise. “Kenan” had a far-from-stellar premiere. Nevertheless, there is significant hope that this show could be a success, as long as it capitalizes off of its talented supporting cast, intriguing and touching narrative and most importantly, its star and namesake, Thompson himself.
Daily Arts Contributor Aidan Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.