Tuesday, February 16, 2021

REVIEW: 'Kenan' - Kenan Feels the Pressure to Talk About Life After His Wife's Death on His Morning Show in 'Pilot'

NBC's Kenan - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

Kenan thinks he's adjusted to life as a busy, single parent but after everyone confronts him about denying his grief, he realizes it's time to make some changes. Gary thinks it's time for Rick to move out of the house.

In 2020, the television industry aired 493 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of NBC's Kenan.

"Pilot" was written by Jackie Clarke & David Caspe and directed by Ken Whittingham

Kenan Thompson has been a member of Saturday Night Live for almost 20 years. He only earned his first Emmy nomination for the late night sketch series in 2018. He has long been the glue that has kept the show together though. And now, he confidently moves to primetime where he gets to be the lead of his own show. He hasn't left the veteran series either. He is given the freedom to be on NBC two nights during the week. He is blessed with a number of opportunities. This show itself has undergone a number of revisions as well. It has been in the works for a couple of years now. It had one premise centered around Kenan. It was picked up to series only to be redeveloped and recast. The new version had to start production under strict COVID-19 protocols. But the show has finally made it to air. It still feels like it needs a little more retooling though. It almost plays as a multi-camera sitcom instead of a single camera comedy. Both formats have their own benefits. They each have their potential drawbacks as well. This show presents a certain rhythm with the humor. It may simply be because Kenan has grown accustomed to how SNL sketches are told. This show offers something new from him while still promising what has always been great. The charm from his performance should be enough to carry the viewer forward as the season figures out what it's strengths actually are. Kenan is the only character given a whole lot of specificity at the moment as well. Nothing in this premiere is inherently funny. However, the genre has basically learned over the last decade or so that if a premiere can't be funny it at least has to be charming. That's the only way to convince the audience that it will hopefully get better and the laughs will follow. That has been true for a number of comedies on the broadcast networks. Sometimes, the gamble does payoff. It's not always a guarantee though. Here, the audience may want more because of how consistent a performer Kenan has always been. And yes, he delivers the big moment of this premiere. It works because he grounds the story in emotion as he genuinely reflects on what has happened in his life lately. The show mines personal grief as a way to introduce these characters. The premise could essentially be summarized as three men trying to take care of two girls. Humor can be found in that circumstance. But it's also about the grief Kenan has experienced following the death of his wife. He loves sharing stories about his personal life at work. His colleagues acknowledge that and even welcome it. That has changed over the past year. They push for more. He is reluctant to give it. When he eventually does, he explodes. The apology that ensues afterwards has gravitas to it because he is being honest with the audience he is performing to. He wants people to understand and connect with his struggles. He is sincerely apologetic. It is genuine. People can see that and embrace it easily. That moment works incredibly well. Again, it's not designed to be the funniest moment of this comedy. Other moments stretch to prove that point. That's what this show can reliably deliver. It's still a work-in-progress. None of the jokes are said with much confidence at the moment. The strength of the cast may allow the writing to get there at some point. It's still a big unknown. And yet, a show centered around Kenan should work. It will simply take time to deliver a deeper connection. One that is more confident with the stories being told and how they inform all of these characters. Right now, Kenan has the focus. He should as the titular character. Don Johnson and Chris Redd are equally deserving of having meaningful moments of entertainment. That will probably come at some point. Here, Gary is annoyed that Rick still lives with Kenan. He brings that up only for nothing to really come from it. It's strange. Kenan has simply grown accustomed to having his father-in-law in the house. It makes it easier for caring for the girls. That is Kenan's priority above all else. He doesn't always succeed in parenting. He struggles with how to do things the right way. He is stiff and awkward. People give him the freedom to have that complicated set of emotions. That freedom is apparent. It could easily be spread around a bit more. That will be a welcome development to ensure that Kenan has a world that can interact with him on the same energy level that he constantly provides.