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Kenan, Kel, Clarissa, Doug: I've missed you, my old friends

All-That-Cannon-KenanImage Credit: Lisa Rose/NickelodeonAs you know, we here at Entertainment Weekly love nostalgia. So when TeenNick announced it would launch its retro programming block, The ’90s Are All That, last night, we were at the party before our RSVP even arrived back at Nickelodeon HQ. Personally, the very thought of seeing Clarissa and Sam… Kenan and Kel… Doug and Patti Mayonnaise again… Oh how it made my heart flutter. So, if you, like me, feel a tingle down your spine every time you hear the familiar chords of Clarissa’s “Na, na, na-na-na…,” if you know how Michael Stipe fits in to The Adventures of Pete & Pete, if you still have your original ticket stub to Good Burger: The Movie, or if the name Roger Klotz makes you shake in your suede boots, read on.

The night appropriately began with this totally tubular promo featuring Kenan Thompson, the most successful actor to come out of ’90s Nickelodeon this side of Melissa Joan Hart and that guy who married Mariah Carey. (Yes, I know his name is Nick Cannon, and for the record, I did see Drum Line… in the theater. But I digress.) Feast your eyes on the memories: Doug! Ren & Stimpy! Family Double Dare! CatDog! All That! Legends of the Hidden Temple! Weinerville! Hey Arnold! Are You Afraid of the Dark?! The Adventures of Pete & Pete! Hey Dude! Clarissa Explains It All! Rugrats! The tween inside me (before that irritating term was even invented, mind you) is squee-ing to get out! So many hours of my youth were spent wishing I was sitting on a traffic-cone orange couch while rockin’ out to some SNICK. And finally, we get a caveat: “Warning: This content may not be suitable for anyone who didn’t grow up on ’90s Nick.” Radical.

The real fun then began with the season 2 opener of All That, which originally aired Oct. 7, 1995. This particular episode served as the launching pad for such cultural landmarks (at least if you’re between the ages of 22 and 32) as “Good Burger” and “The Loud Librarian.” Burning question: What ever happened to Lori Beth? I miss that outsized personality. (Spoiler: Her last credit on IMDB is a straight-to-video project from 2006 called 18 Fingers of Death!) Meanwhile, did you know this show was on the air until 2005? That’s six years ago, y’all. And Jamie Lynn Spears was on it? Perhaps I’m dating myself (oh wait, that’s the whole point of this post), but those were days past my SNICK-ing prime. Either way, I have to admit I was never a huge fan of All That, despite having a massive crush on Josh Server.

Next came, Kenan & Kel, who took their fame from the “Good Burger” sketch and ran with it. I sincerely hope they are getting royalties from the six locations that have since popped up in New York. Kel could probably use them to supplement his voice-over career these days. But in the moment all I can focus in on is the awesomeness that is Coolio circa July 15, 1996, a.k.a. pre-crack arrest Coolio. Those were simpler times. Times when Kenan could work peacefully side-by-side with Arvin from Head of the Class (thanks for the nepotism, Brian Robbins!) before getting fleeced by a used-car salesman. Those kids, they’ll never learn! Like All That, Kenan & Kel suffers from age. Then again, so do the idea of head-to-toe camo and baggy overalls.

Ferg alert! The next show was Clarissa Explains It All’s eighth episode of season 2, ”The Understudy,” which originally aired on Aug. 22, 1992. Full disclosure: Clarissa (aside from The Baby-Sitters Club’s Claudia) was my ultimate ’90s style icon. Alas, I was never brave enough to rock the polka-dot bike shorts. This episode centered around Clarissa landing an understudy role in her school play, and then massively procrastinating. Of course the lead comes down with strep throat. I could recount more plot details, but we all know that Clarissa has the spunk to wiggle her way out of any conundrum (even while wearing an oversized, floppy hat à la Blossom). What struck me (besides the computer as big as Clarissa’s room and oh-so-timely Berlin Wall references) was the amazingly platonic camaraderie between Clarissa and her ladder-climbing pal, Sam. This was pre-Dawson’s Creek. Even if the lines don’t always come off as naturally as you might hope, their innocent banter and friendly jabbing were refreshing. How else do you explain Marshall and Janet Darling’s wildly negligent parenting?

The pièce de résistance came in the form of “Doug Bags a Neematoad,” the debut episode of Doug from Aug. 20, 1991. Twenty years ago, guys. Twenty! All those memories of my adolescence came rushing back to me the minute Doug Funnie began writing in his journal on the way into a new town and a new life. That sweet, nasal-congestion-voiced kid with the pre-pubescent paunch sees the town’s population change from 19,997 to 20,001 and says, “I guess the one is… me.” When he gets his foot stuck in the paint can at the end of the credits, you still feel for him. Even though some of the references betray that Doug clearly arose in the wake of Back to the Future 2, this show holds up the best of The ’90s Are All That slate. With just the right combination of cornball humor and pathos (think My So-Called Life for pre-teens), it’s a classic story of a rather unspectacular kid just wanting to fit in. And who can argue with that?

Well, that’s it for tonight’s line-up. Over time, TeenNick has said it hopes to showcase other ’90s programming and movies in the midnight to 2 a.m. time slot. What are you craving to see next? What could you do without? Who was your SNICK icon growing up? Are you still haunted by the “Girl in the Mirror” episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Read more:
The Must List: What’s Hot for the Week of July 25, 2011
TeenNick teaser for ’90s block: See it here!
TeenNick goes retro with ’90s programming – EXCLUSIVE

Originally posted July 26 2011 — 9:30 AM EDT

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