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Fifteen years later, Kel Mitchell can’t escape orange soda.
The actor, who got his big break on Nickelodeon in the ‘90s on beloved hit shows like All That, Kenan & Kel and the movie Good Burger (based on a popular All That sketch), has gone on to do voice work, serious roles, directing and more since his days on the teen shows. But no matter where he goes or what he does, someone always asks him about orange soda.
“I did this serious, dramatic movie, Honeydripper [in 2007] with Danny Glover, Gary Clark Jr., and we did this Q&A after a screening of the film,” Mitchell tells The Hollywood Reporter. “There were all these serious questions. And then someone gets up and goes, ‘Question for Kel: Who loves orange soda?’ (Laughs.) Everyone cracked up. It never really left me. It never will.”
And that’s why Mitchell is leaning into what his fan base knows and loves from him: returning to Nickelodeon for a comedy series. He’s set to star in Game Shakers, which bows Saturday. (Watch the first 11 minutes of the premiere exclusively, above.) The series hails from Dan Schneider, aka the man behind all of Mitchell’s hit roles.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Mitchell about why the time was right for the actor to go back to his roots, how the TV landscape has changed since he first hit it big, the potential for a Kenan & Kel reboot in the wake the wave of TV remakes and more.
The idea behind Game Shakers seems so fresh and truly unique. Was that a major draw for you in taking this role?
That’s definitely what drew me to the show. I mean, it’s about two girls who code this amazing game app and it explodes overnight and they become millionaires. But the only problem is, they used music from this big, huge superstar named Double G, played by myself, and he’s a mix between Diddy and Kanye and so over-the-top. It’s a fun world to play in. So I go to sue them and so they offer me half the company to work along with them. My only demand is that they hire my son. So together we make games, I continue to make music, and it’s a really fun world to play a hip-hop character who sings and dances.
How will this role will be different from what we’ve seen from you in the past?
If you know me from the ‘90s, you’re going to love this. It still has that craziness like my old characters like [All That‘s] Coach Cretin, and [Good Burger‘s] Ed, because Dan created all of them. I know that people know me for my physical comedy and there’s a ton of that with this character. He’s pretty over-the-top. But the difference is going to be in the coding, which is just a sign of the times. We didn’t have that in the ‘90s so it’s cool to have that involved in the show. And kids can actually download the games on the show in real life. If I could have done that with Thundercats or something like that when I was kid, that would have been awesome. There’s also music as well. Playing a hip-hop mogul, I get to perform and people will get to download the original music from the show.
You’re about to come full circle, returning to Nickelodeon with your first series regular role 15 years after Kenan & Kel. Why come back now?
It’s the place where I got started, so it’s cool to be back. Dan Schneider and I have had so much fun together with the shows that we’ve done in the past. He’s a hitmaker. On set, we’ve had so much fun ad-libbing and doing improv and adding to the writing. I worked on Sam & Cat three years ago and had so much fun on that, and I saw Dan’s wheels turning. We had to do something together again after that.
So that guest-starring role on Sam & Cat, that was the inspiration for Game Shakers?
Definitely. The character I played on that is very similar to Double G. I don’t think this would have happened without that.
What has surprised you the most about how has the TV industry changed from when you first broke out to now?
Social media has been the biggest change. Now, actors have the chance to respond to people, and that can be a good thing or a really, really bad thing. (Laughs.) It’s more interactive now. You can communicate with your fans so fast. Within minutes. We add an element of that to this show. The two young girls who star on this show, they’re going to get to see everything take off in real time. When I was just getting started on All That, it wasn’t so immediate.
So if Kenan & Kel premiered today, would it still be the same show, or do you think it would be different because of that social media aspect?
I think it would still be the same. Kel will always love orange soda. (Laughs.) He still loves orange soda, but maybe he’d drink a low-calorie one now. Diet orange soda. (Laughs.) But their friendship was so amazing. That was timeless. It would still work today.
The power of nostalgia is huge on TV right now. We’re seeing old, classic shows getting rebooted left and right. Do you see that happening with Kenan & Kel or All That, or do you envision some kind of a future team-up with Kenan Thompson?
I would be into that! (Laughs.) I don’t know, I could totally see that happening.(Laughs.) I know the fans would want that too, so we’ll see what happens in the future.
Why do you think people are so into nostalgic ideas and shows right now?
I had a fan once tell me that they loved rushing home and watching the show. No matter what was going on or what they were going through, Kenan and I would make them laugh and make their day so much better. I think it’s moments like that that make us nostalgic. Watching a show when it was airing, eating your favorite food, with family or friends, it just takes them back to that place. It’s such a humbling feeling and cool to be a part of people’s lives like that.
Will we see you drink any orange soda on Game Shakers?
[Laughs.] I knew that was coming! There are some jokes that will be in there about orange soda. Double G doesn’t really drink orange soda but there are some jokes in there, a few jokes from some of my prior shows that we slipped in there. The older crowd will get it for sure.
Game Shakers premieres Saturday, Sept. 12, at 8:30 p.m. on Nickelodeon. Will you watch?
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