I have been looking forward to NBC’s new Kenan since new first broke about the sitcom back in 2018. Since then, it has had four title changes (Saving Larry, Saving Kenan, The Kenan Show), three different leadership teams and numerous cast changes. But the initial concept of a widowed father raising two daughters has stayed the same. Originally, Chris Rock was signed on to serve as director and Andy Garcia was to play Kenan’s father-in-law. Those roles have now been filled by Ken Whittingham (who has a history with Parks and Recreation, The Office and 30 Rock) and Don “Miami Vice” Johnson. Now that the show has appeared, it comes with a bit of a disappointment.
Kenan Thompson is the strongest player on Saturday Night Live these days. While he’s known for his wide-eyed looks of expression, his humor is more subtle than say former SNL star Kristen Wiig. Now given his own show, his humor is even more subtle. At least in the pilot episode. That might have more to do with the fact that his character is still grieving the death of his wife. It’s hard to make that type of character funny. But I’m not convinced that the show is playing to Thompson’s strengths.
Right off the bat Kenan feels odd. It looks like the classic single camera comedy, but it was not filmed before a live audience (probably because of COVID-19 social distancing issues) and there is no laugh track. While I hate laugh tracks, the silence of laughter feels odd.
As with most pilots, the show tries to introduce every character in the show in the first few minutes which usually doesn’t work. It doesn’t here either. After going through his morning routine of getting dressed and making lunches for his two daughters Birdie (Dannah Lane) and Aubrey (Dani Lane), Kenan tip toes around the house not wanting to wake up the tykes. He hears a noise and is alarmed. No worries. It’s just Rick (Johnson) his father-in-law who has lived at the house for a year or so. (What is not explained in the pilot – or I just missed it – is that Rick was a musician who was on the road when his daughter was young and regrets that. He wants to make that up with his granddaughters by staying with them.) Rick has a saxophone ready to beat the supposed intruder. Of course, the commotion wakes up Birdie and Aubrey and then Kenan’s brother Gary (Chris Redd) is at the door ready to take Kenan to work.
Kenan is the host of the morning show “Wake Up with Kenan” and Gary is his manager. The show’s tagline is tacky: “I don’t care who you slept with as long as you Wake Up with Kenan!” His show-in-a-show co-star, Tami (Taylor Louderman) is even tackier and annoying. Mika (Kimrie Lewis) is Kenan’s executive producer for the show who has some grave concerns about the show’s ratings. Actually, everyone does. Kenan has shut down emotionally since his wife’s death and is missing that spark of witty banter that the show’s studio audience is used to. Unfortunately, the audience watching Kenan the sitcom is also missing that humor. Now, if the supporting cast were lot funnier, this wouldn’t be a problem. But they have a long way to create an ensemble comedy that works.
In a way, I see some similarities between Kenan and NBC’s former hit show Frasier which also centered on a single, program host with stories that focused on both his family life and his professional one. I think that the show has all of the right components for a great show, but it is in need of some fine tuning. Kenan himself seems believably lost in the whole mess but I think his character should be stronger.
I was so impressed with Johnson’s comedic chops portrayed in the movie, Knives Out that I now he’ll settle into his role in a short while. But for now, he’s a bit goofy. (However, one great bit shown is him betting on the story arcs featured on the This is Us TV show instead of gambling on sports.) Lewis’ take on the Miki character is probably the best. Showing concern for the both the morning show and the star. Perhaps she is interested in a bit more as well? The two daughters are cute, but unlike their dad, they appear to be well-adjusted after the death of their mother which feels a bit off to me. Finally, the show has to do something about Gary and Tami who are both too over-the-top to be realistic even for a sitcom.
All of this to say, Kenan is an okay show and I applaud that it appears to be family-friendly, but it’s not a great show but has all of the makings of becoming one. I hope it gets there.
Featured Image: (l-r) Chris Redd as Gary, Dannah Lockett as Birdie, Kenan Thompson as Kenan, Dani Lockett as Aubrey, Don Johnson as Rick — (Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC)
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.