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Holy Hell! Good Burger Turns 20

Holy Hell! Good Burger Turns 20

Believe it or not, kids, Good Burger is 20 years old.

Believe it or not, kids, Good Burger is 20 years old. The byproduct of “All That,” the “Saturday Night Live” equivalent for the children’s comedy market, the movie originated from a simple recurring sketch about a fast food burger joint and two teen friends who worked there, Dexter (Kenan Thompson) and Ed (Kel Mitchell). What could be more ’90s. Revisited today, it serves as flashpoint for ’90s Nickelodeon nostalgia and the good ole days of sketch comedy—in a time sans “Mad TV” with people regularly bemoaning “SNL” for not living up to its Bill Murray- or Tina Fey-era heydays. Surprisingly after 14 years, the current cast of “SNL” still features Kenan Thompson, and Good Burger makes you wonder, yet again, what ever happened to Kel.

These days, many “SNL” sketches have a political bent, with the news of the day serving as a better guarantee of grabbing audiences than sheer comedy. But Good Burger sits firmly in the realm of absurdist comedy for comedy’s sake. The movie opens with Ed dreaming of talking burgers, for crying out loud! It’s tempting to say that the concept is rooted in reality, with so many teens regularly taking jobs in food service, but actually watching the movie borne out of the Nickelodeon show, it’s less and less based in reality. The plot, in short, involves a rival fast food chain, Mondo Burger, opening up across the street from Good Burger and claiming to serve better burgers (chemically modified to create enlarged patties). But Kel has brewed up a secret sauce that keeps the restaurant in business, at least as long as Mondo’s manager fails to steal the recipe.

Eliciting laughs from foiled plots, cross dressing and Kel’s thin grasp on sanity, Good Burger is one of those nostalgic gems full of childish humor. But it also aims for the bizarre, such as Mondo Burgers’ futuristic aesthetic, militaristic management and harsh punishment for trespassing thieves: the asylum. Not to mention Abe Vigoda as Otis, the Good Burger fry cook, Sinbad as Dexter’s teacher with quite the eclectic fashion sense and Linda Cardellini as an insane girl in the asylum. But one thing’s for sure: the success of Good Burger as a sketch and a movie relies on Kel Mitchell. His inept Ed is a lovable idiot who alternates between singing mindless songs (“I’m a dude/ He’s a dude/ She’s a dude/ We’re all dudes!”) and talking in circles because he takes everything so literally. It’s not very far removed from Kel’s persona on “Kenan & Kel,” where he famously loved orange soda. Unlike Kenan Thompson, whose childhood roles were fairly well-adapted kids and who holds the “SNL” record for most impressions, Kel Mitchell consistently portrayed total oddballs. And his work these days is largely as a voice actor on animated children’s shows.

Good Burger is decidedly a product of its time, but it remains a hilarious romp through teen employment and restaurant competition. Compared to contemporary kids’ comedies, Good Burger holds up in the way that many ’90s comedies unafraid of embracing the absurd do. How many summer job hijinks movies would venture into the world of modified foods? For such a popular sketch, it’s unsurprising that Good Burger produced a movie and even less surprising that it succeeded in capturing the best aspects of not only the sketch but the comedic duo of Kenan and Kel. It’s just a shame that Kel’s comedic talents aren’t still on display.

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