NBC’s Kenan is a new sitcom starring the talented Kenan Thompson of SNL fame as a morning show host, recent widower, and now single father of two daughters. Some might wonder about mixing punchlines with emotional loss, but some of the best funerals I ever attended (yes, I said “best”) had me laughing as much as I cried.
So I’m all for the concept. The question is: Is anyone else?
In the past, this emotional contrast has been attempted on TV with varying degrees of success. One of Matthew Perry’s post-Friends projects was Go On, a comedy about a widowed sportscaster who is forced to attend a grief counselling group in order to return to work. I liked it. But I was among the few so it was cancelled after one season.
More recently, The Unicorn starring Walton Goggins as a widower of two daughters started its second season. This show has focused less on everyone’s loss and more on them trying to return to a “normal” life where they don’t survive off donated casseroles and teachers don’t give free grades out of pity.
And now we have Kenan. (Is anyone else wondering why Hollywood writers keep killing off wives? Oh yes, because a woman trying to raise her kids on her own while working full time isn’t anything new.)
Don Johnson stars as the father-in-law – a white dot in the mostly black cast. He’s supportive, if not a little out of touch. And thus far, he hasn’t been used as a black-versus-white punchline or for any “teachable moments” for white viewers. (That will come later, I’m sure.)
Instead, the first episode focuses on Kenan’s refusal to discuss his late wife and his subsequent emotional breakdown at work. At home, he quotes self-help grief books and avoids the word “Mom” at all cost. Fortunately, his family has his number. And while they offer differing approaches on how he should cope, they discuss it like a normal family: openly and without pulling any punches. Even the kids.
Fortunately, 42-year-old Kenan Thompson literally grew up on television. He started out on D2: The Mighty Ducks and moved on to series television with The Steve Harvey Show and Kenan & Kel, a few more movies, and then SNL where he is the longest performing cast member in the show’s history.
Viewers know him. So he can broach subjects that might be stumbling blocks for other, less likeable, actors. And still make us laugh in the process.
Given the hundreds of thousands of families dealing with loss amid the pandemic, this show could be very timely. If people are willing to listen. And that’s a big “if.”
It might be too soon for some viewers. Others might feel the subject matter is too important for the comedic touch of a sitcom.
But Kenan is worth a second look. After all, there’s nothing more healing than a good belly laugh. And we could all use some of both right now.