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Kenan Review: Kenan Thompson's Comedy Finds Joy and Laughter in Grief

Saturday Night Live's longest-running cast member makes viewers feel like they're spending time with good friends.

Diane Gordon

When it comes to NBC sitcoms, there's a certain familiarity to them, usually involving talent that viewers know and love. After growing up on Nickelodeon shows All That and Kenan and Kel and seventeen seasons on Saturday Night Live, Kenan Thompson is already a television fixture and that made him an excellent choice to lead a new NBC sitcom. Happily, Thompson has landed in a smartly crafted show that plays to his many talents and natural warmth. 

In Kenan, Thompson plays Kenan Williams, the host of a morning talk show and widowed dad to two girls. His father-in-law Rick, played by Don Johnson, lives with Kenan and the girls because he didn't do a great job of fathering his own daughter and he wants to do better with his granddaughters. There's also the bonus of Chris Redd, who plays Kenan's brother Gary. Thompson and Redd have an easy rapport and banter that make their onscreen familial connection totally believable. The show also made a solid casting choice with Dani and Dannah Lane, who play Kenan's daughters. The young ladies are skilled at spinning their lines and they're never cloying. Johnson just looks like he's having fun while he works and it's a treat to see him going with the comedy flow. Kimrie Lewis is also a good foil as Kenan's morning show producer Mika. 

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The show feels particularly timely as it freely acknowledges Kenan's grief about the loss of his wife and his struggle to care for his girls and make sure they're happy and thriving. In these pandemic times, when so many people are grieving the loss of loved ones, the show confronts loss in an honest and gentle way. Yes, Kenan is a comedy with heart, and we have writers Jackie Clarke (Superstore, Happy Endings) and David Caspe (Black Monday, Happy Endings) to thank for that. 

As NBC tries to cultivate new comedy hits with the imminent departures of fan-favorites Superstore and Brooklyn 99, it only makes sense to recruit talent in-house. Watching Kenan, we wondered why it took this long for the network to make a show happen for him. Thompson's warmth and humanity shine in this show, as well as his expert ability to land jokes. Though NBC only made the pilot episode available for review, Kenan seems like a natural evolution for Thompson as we've seen him grow up and now, like his real life, he's playing a girl dad on TV.

While Kenan may not be groundbreaking comedy on its face, it provides much needed emotional comfort and laughs and that's invaluable right now. 

TV Guide rating: 4/5

Kenan premieres Tuesday, Feb. 16 on NBC.