For most of the 1990s, there was no cooler place to be on a Saturday night than in front of the television watching SNICK. Those of you who are sadly uninitiated, SNICK stands for “Saturday Night Nickelodeon” and was the kids’ network’s answer to ABC’s ever-popular TGIF. Between the two nights of programming, my weekends were pretty much taken care of. Other kids might have been hanging out at kissing parties or convincing their parents to let them go on group dates to the movies, but I knew better. My only friends who mattered were named Clarissa Darling and Alex Mack and Lori Beth Denberg and occasionally Shelby Woo. SNICK transformed over the years, adding and replacing shows, eventually morphing into TEENick and even more eventually becoming… nothing. But here are the shows from what I consider to be the glory days of Saturday Night Nickelodeon programming:
Clarissa Explains It All
The very first show ever to air on SNICK all the way back in 1992 was the ever popular Clarissa Explains It All. Those of you who know Melissa Joan Hart from Sabrina the Teenage Witch or, heaven forbid, Melissa and Joey, you are soooo missing out on her best work. She played the titular Clarissa, computer genius (way ahead of her time, by the way), fashion maven, schemer, brother-hater, and all around cool girl without being, like, intimidatingly cool. In other words, she was pretty much the awesomest. Her best friend, Sam, pictured above, would use a ladder to sneak into her bedroom and somehow her parents were totally cool with this. Really makes the whole Joey-and-Dawson arrangement seem a little less fresh, doesn’t it? Clarissa was a free spirit and it’s partly because of her that to this day I like to experiment with patterned leggings and unusual hair accessories. At the end of each episode, she would play a video game she created based on her experiences, solidifying her spot as the coolest nerdy-girly-girl in the world.
I think I would probably hate Roundhouse if it were on the air now, but it definitely fascinated me as a kid. Created by one of the In Living Color writers, this sketch comedy series ran for four years and featured skits, sketches, dance performances, and musical numbers about the fictional (duh) Anyfamily. Looking at clips on Youtube now, this show is borderline unwatchable, but mostly because it looks and sounds so incredibly dated. The set easily could have been assembled with cast-offs from the original production of Rent despite the fact that Roundhouse premiered two years earlier. It feels more like a middle schooler’s attempt at writing an SNL sketch than a clever variety show targeted at teens, but I will say that it looks like it would have been a lot of fun to be one of the actors. And not that I remember but apparently there were occasional off-color jokes and a little bit of serious subject matter, so that’s always fun.
Ren & Stimpy
If Roundhouse thought they were edgy and cool, Ren & Stimpy actually was. This manic cartoon about a psychotic chihuahua (Ren) and a less-than-brilliant cat (Stimpy) quickly became famous for its dark jokes, toilet humor, and sexual innuendo. It’s a miracle to me that this ever made it on Nickelodeon at all, let alone as a prominent part of the SNICK lineup. I mean, this show originally premiered as one of the Nicktoons! Along with Doug and Rugrats! Could anything be more dissimilar than the dark violence of Ren & Stimpy and the woe-is-me troubles of the boy who owns a thousand green sweater vests? I love that Nickelodeon managed to hold onto this frightening little gem for a good five years, despite the fact that I was more of a Patty Mayonnaise fan myself.
The Adventures of Pete & Pete
This way, way, way subtly sophisticated show about two brothers named Pete Wrigley was definitely beyond my comprehension as a kid. It wasn’t until one of my professor friends used it as a teaching aid for her college students that I learned just how awesome this show really was. What made it so cool was the seamless incorporation of surreal elements into what appeared to be a regular children’s show about two brothers interacting with family and friends. Another strange aspect of this show was that the writers allowed the characters to be flawed and to stay that way – none of the usual after-school-special lessons or neatly tied-up endings. Little Pete was basically a total dickhead (or “jerkweed” as he might have said), and did horrible things without ever taking responsibility. He also had two tattoos which were never explained. The side characters ranged from Artie the Strongest Man in the world to the plate in Mom’s head (yes, that was a character) with recurring appearances by Heather Matarazzo, Michelle Trachtenburg, Steve Buscemi, and Janeane Garofalo. 90s orgy much?
I think all you need to know about this show is that the theme song was performed by TLC. Yes, that TLC. Another sketch-comedy-variety show somewhat akin to Roundhouse, this one was never my absolute favorite but I definitely watched religiously regardless. Based pretty heavily on the techniques originated in You Can’t Do That On Television and also maybe quite possibly a little show known as Saturday Night Live, All That consisted of silly, tween-targeted sketches (remember “Everyday French with Pierre Escargot”?) and musical numbers. The actors on the show did a lot of impersonations and a lot of gross-out skits. Perhaps most notably, the whole Good Burger franchise was born out of this show, as well as the alcoholic lollipop that is Amanda Bynes.
The Secret World of Alex Mack
Though I was never a big science fiction fan, this show was the bomb dot com. Alex Mack, a typical teenager, is walking home from school when she almost gets hit by a truck from the chemical plant. Looks like it wasn’t “almost” enough, because she still manages to get drenched in a top-secret chemical called GC-161. And wouldn’t you know it, there are side effects. Big ones. Suddenly, she is capable of telekinesis, shooting electricity through her fingers, and (the most memorable by far) morphing into liquid form. SO COOL! When she was liquid, she was a shimmery silver color and she would slide under doors and hide from enemies and generally kick metaphorical ass. Of course, Alex Mack had to hide her secret from her parents (?!?!!) because she lived in fear of what the chemical plant people would do to her if they found out. But she confided in her older sister and her best friend and lots and lots of adventures ensued. I still find myself wishing on a semi-daily basis that I could “Alex Mack” myself into liquid form in order to eavesdrop and generally lurk where I’m not wanted. Now that I’ve reminded you this show exists, you will too. And yes, that is Larisa playing Ken’s wife on Mad Men.
Are You Afraid of the Dark
The show that always took the spooky 9:30PM slot, Are You Afraid of the Dark was the creepy, late night answer to the comparatively bubble-gum worlds of Clarissa Darling and those darn Roundhouse kids. I can freak myself out to this day remembering certain images of this show, even just the crackling fire at the beginning around which kids gathered to tell their scary stories. Yes, this original little show had a framing device, and it was called THE MIDNIGHT SOCIETY (cue crack of scary thunder). Our hosts gathered weekly to tell a story “submitted for the approval of the midnight society.” After uttering those words, they’d throw “midnight dust” onto the fire causing it to flare up and smoke white. Did I mention that Rachel Blanchard and Joanna Garcia were part of the original cast? The stories themselves featured different actors, and while they usually resolved nicely, occasionally there were dark, twisted endings (those were obviously the episodes I lived for). They revamped the series in the 2000s but it was never the same.
Sure, Nickelodeon started re-airing old episodes of some of these shows last year, and sure, I was excited. I obviously recorded and watched all of them, but to be honest I wasn’t really able to recapture that old SNICK high. However, I did recently learn that at one point they shot a pilot for a Clarissa Explains It All spin-off entitled Clarissa Now about her experiences working at a New York city newspaper office, but it was never picked up. A million bucks and a handful of Midnight Dust to whoever finds me a copy.