90s kid comedy nickelodeon recommendations roundhouse tv vulture recommends

Justice for Roundhouse!

Maybe my elder-millennial roots are showing, but I still see YouTube as the omnipotent, defining digital deity of my generation. Whereas TikTok just makes me feel ancient, YouTube can — unlike its dystopian counterparts in the social-media stratosphere — legitimately inspire, urging me to make more, to create, to continue beyond the web series and viral videos that defined my own early career. And I know that we, as a people, are far beyond the Remember the 90s? phase of nostalgia that turned the entire internet into one giant BuzzFeed quiz not long ago.

But recently, YouTube has seemingly hacked into the deepest recesses of my memory bank and resuscitated hidden gems from my youth: Susan Powter infomercials, news footage from local kidnappings and clips of Caryl and Marilyn: Real Friends, a short-lived talk show hosted by two cool moms (and a clear, less chaotic predecessor to The View.) While most of it is cultural ephemera floating in a stew of inconsequential nonsense, footage from one Nickelodeon TV show has popped up on my algorithm and made a prominent reemergence in my life: Roundhouse.

If that doesn’t ring a bell, it’s likely because most ’90s kids and Nickelodeon devotees would point to All That as the defining comedy of the era. It launched the careers of Kenan Thompson and Amanda Bynes — and I personally, never cared. Because Roundhouse, the scrappy little step-sister to All That (which launched in 1994, two years after Roundhouse), was markedly different. With all due respect, Roundhouse veered away from the shtick of All That, perhaps to its detriment. It never found its devotees in the same way as equally quirky, unconventional Nickelodeon gems Ren & Stimpy and The Adventures of Pete & Pete. Roundhouse seemed to follow the unlikely instinct to never go too broad, and even dealt directly with episodically themed topics — puberty, idealism, politics — without shying away from the true-to-life, slow-revealing horror of being a preteen.

Instead of looking slick and overly produced, the show had more of an underground “alternative” vibe, choosing a minimalist set and visible house band that was frankly giving Rent, but with a younger cast and less crying jags. Even the opening credits featured the cast seemingly sneaking onto set! The show ran at lightning speed (always peaking in an icy R&B-fused soft-rock ballad), and the material challenged the viewer to keep up, which is invariably how kids actually want to be treated. Roundhouse never tried to be SNL or MadTV or The Carol Burnett Show. Roundhouse was a beast all its own, replete with only two recurring characters: Mom and Dad, the latter of whom zipped around in a motorized recliner. Even that, though, didn’t rely on the chair being the joke. The joke was the crank who refused to get out of it.

Maybe it’s partly due to the full-circle moment of writing on the unexpectedly bawdy reboot of Nickelodeon classic iCarly, but, for me, watching episodes of Roundhouse on YouTube provides more than a sense of nostalgic ease. It’s not merely about the televisual equivalent of a warm blanket soothing my inner child, either — The Golden Girls historically checked all those boxes for me already. What’s truly bewildering is admiring just how prescient the material is, how remarkably mature and ahead of its time it reads. When I was young, I couldn’t be bothered with All That; even then, I thought the jokes were hacky, that the humor was meant, frankly, for kids. Watching clips of the show now validates for me the fact that the satirical elements — specifically when the cast acts out TV commercials — never punched down. The references are notably adult, too: Citibank Visa confessionals, Calvin Klein Obsession ads, and 1-900 phone lines. And even though they were Nickelodeon-employed actors living in Orlando, the cast really sold the material without ever coming off cloying. They had pep, but not hyperactive improviser pep (there’s a difference). Although they never had their own Kenan-level breakout, I still remember catching putty-faced, Jim Carrey–esque Julene Renee in Avatar and Micki Duran in Showgirls. Even a later cast member, Jennifer Cihi, became famous for singing the Sailor Moon theme song. Easily the most famous alum, however, is Crystal Lewis, a massively gifted singer who became a superstar in Christian music. (I’m Jewish and I can attest.) In retrospect, their wardrobe choices were also quite dope, too. I haven’t a sartorial bone in my body, but I can appreciate a good sunflower-hat-flannel–and-denim combo. I even understand now just why and how a ’60s revival in the ’90s could actually look cool. (It’s no coincidence that my go-to lewk is serving Lilith Fair tailgate.)

It’s not like I ever forgot about Roundhouse, either. The show’s iconic theme song — an earworm if there ever were one — has never left my brain. But All That certainly soaked up all the glory. Even in The Orange Years, the documentary about the history of Nickelodeon, there’s no mention of Roundhouse! The film refers to the ’90s as “the golden age” of Nickelodeon programming where creatives and executives purposely aimed high, reveling in thoughtful, engaging, subversive material that parents could enjoy, too, and yet Roundhouse goes completely forgotten. Even the avant-garde animation that colored the network’s unforgettable bumpers and interstitials get memorialized and yet, remarkably, Roundhouse is the show that time forgot.

Luckily, however, I never did, nor did podcast Splat, which organized a reunion of former cast members. Somehow, behind-the-scenes footage has surfaced on YouTube, too, which restored my faith in Roundhouse’s cultural importance (as did 33 commenters singing the show’s praises). One superfan, Black Sheep Mo, has even spearheaded a campaign to convince Paramount+ (the corporate streamer that hosts most Viacom properties) to add Roundhouse to its library, and I don’t think it’s too much to hail him as my own personal hero. If you’re not familiar with the show, the following seven words may not resonate: Reprise the theme song and roll the credits! If you are familiar with the show, bask in its glory, then let’s spread the good word and get the damn thing back onto air. (And if Caryl and Marilyn can somehow get involved, too, I wouldn’t be mad at that.)


  • Kenan Thompson Talks About a Potential Final Season for SNL
  • Emma Stone’s All That Audition Sounds Kind of Amazing

Eliot Glazer , 2024-03-12 16:49:07

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