Get ready for a nostalgia trip. A new documentary, The Orange Years, is charting the rise of Nickelodeon in the 1990s and celebrating a network that shaped youth culture as significantly as MTV changed music in the 1980s. With its profusion of green slime and gently subversive programming, Nickelodeon in its heyday was required after-school viewing for many millennials. As actress Larisa Oleynik (The Secret World of Alex Mack) puts it in the trailer: “It didn’t feel like the version of what an adult was telling a kid to watch. It felt, like, really what kids were into.”
The Orange Years features reminiscences from tons of former (and current) Nickelodeon stars, including Kenan and Kel Thompson, Melissa Joan Hart, and the guy who voices Spongebob Squarepants (Tom Kenny). It also looks like it’ll be full of nostalgia-stoking clips of old shows like Rugrats, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and All That.
“Nickelodeon, if you want to know about it, it’s a kid-owned environment,” Kenan Thompson notes in the trailer. To that point, it seems like the documentary will celebrate Nickelodeon’s naughty side. It’s stuffed with soundbites from former network executives and showrunners, who gleefully reminisce about the “insane” stuff they “got away with” at “the anti-Disney.”
As the trailer goes on to point out, Nickelodeon’s popularity in the mid-90s stemmed from its refusal to pander to kids. The goal was to give them entertainment that felt true-to-life and made them laugh. The rise of the network also coincided with significant cultural shifts in America: “Mothers were going to work for the first time, divorce rates were high, kids were either coming home alone or in after school programs — they needed a place where they could just be kids,” Nickelodeon’s longtime chief, Geraldine Laybourne, explains in the film.
Those once-young viewers are now dealing with the trials and tribulations of adulthood. But The Orange Years seems like a welcome throwback to the halcyon days of the 90s. You better bet we’ll have Dunkaroos and Squeezit on hand when the documentary hits on-demand services on November 17.