If we had to choose a Golden Era of children’s television, there wouldn’t be many worthwhile contenders to challenge the late-90’s-to-early-aughts for the throne. That generation gave us SpongeBob, Hey Arnold!, The Powerpuff Girls, and so many more shows that defined the childhoods of mid-to-late millennials and cemented the dominance of those showrunners who demonstrated just how ambitious, creative, and stupidly fun the genre of kid-focused entertainment could be. And I’m definitely not just saying that because I was a kid when these programs were on the air – those were objectively the best children’s shows of all time.

Another objectively true fact is that The Amanda Show, which ran for just three glorious seasons from 1999-2002, can go head-to-head, pound-for-pound against any sketch show ever produced, including Saturday Night Live, the long-reigning sovereign of sketch. 

Although The Amanda Show didn’t have the longevity, the illustrious alumni list, the massive cultural impact, or the record for both nominations and wins at the Emmys that SNL enjoys, it did have a completely unique charm, surprisingly sharp writing, and an unmatched devotion to fun that introduced a younger generation to the world of satire. However, twenty years later, The Amanda Show leaves behind a complicated legacy.

The Amanda Show was the brainchild of controversial television magnate Dan Schneider, who wrote for the show’s predecessor All That before spinning off with a 13-year-old Amanda Bynes as the lead and star of a similarly-styled sketch program. 

Since Dan Schneider’s puzzling departure from Nickelodeon in 2018, there has been much speculation about the dark side of Schneider’s behavior during his many years as the undisputed king of kid’s TV. Accusations of mistreatment and sexualization of child actors have surrounded the split, and many former colleagues have spoken out against Schneider, describing the hitmaker as “unreasonably demanding, controlling, belittling and vindictive with a willful disregard for boundaries or workplace appropriateness.”

But in 1999, Schneider was just getting started as the dominant, domineering producer of Nickelodeon’s most popular programs. The Amanda Show brought back All That alumni Josh Peck, Nancy Sullivan, and Drake Bell (whose dark side was indisputably confirmed in court) for a show-within-a-show style sketch program with running gags, recurring characters, and timely pop culture parodies that perfectly catered to a younger audience whose attention spans and vocabulary didn’t allow for any high-concept, overwritten, or obnoxiously self-aware sketches that might appear on more “mature” programs.

That’s not to say that The Amanda Show didn’t have room for more long-form style comedy – one of the most popular recurring segments was the over-the-top “Moody’s Point”, a parody of the popular teen dramas of the time which had such on-the-nose taglines like “Dawson Had A Creek, Moody Had A Point." The Amanda Show skewered the sort of pop culture properties that were familiar to pre-teens of the pre-Facebook era with surprising wit.

The Amanda Show relied heavily on stupid, silly, mostly foot-based humor, but with enough structure and forethought to avoid becoming an incoherent mess of fart jokes and gross gags that begs parents to ban the program. The show’s writers shied away from wordplay that would alienate a younger audience, but they still made room for a couple of dirty jokes just for the grown ups– like when Amanda’s in-universe superfan named “Penelope Taynt” brought a bloodhound to track down Amanda, only to be led to the famous dancing lobsters, prompting the line “I ask for Amanda and you give me crabs?”

Nickelodeon had a bona fide hit with The Amanda Show, but the show came to an abrupt end in 2002 after only three seasons. Amanda Bynes said of her departure, ''I knew I didn't want to be a Nickelodeon kid when I was 30. I was having fun but at 15, you don't want to be doing what you did when you were 12.'' The child star quickly transitioned to a successful film career, with hits like Big Fat Liar, She’s The Man, and the 2007 film adaptation of the popular Broadway musical, Hairspray.

Amanda Bynes’ personal life since her years as Nickelodeon’s preteen Carol Burnett has been very publicly marred by substance abuse and mental health issues, resulting in an almost decade long conservatorship that just ended this past March. Between Bynes’ struggles, Dan Schneider’s murky pattern of misbehavior, and Drake Bell’s admitted crimes, the legacy of The Amanda Show is disappointingly sordid considering what an important piece of television the series was for so many kids of the millennial generation.

But the memories that those of us who loved The Amanda Show have of our first experience with sketch comedy shouldn’t have to be sullied by the seedier side of children’s entertainment. We can choose to remember “Judge Trudy”, “Who Wants To Win Five Dollars?”, and “Blockblister” for what they were at the time – an accessible window into the world of sketch and satire that showed kids how to engage with pop culture in a stupid, silly, and sarcastic new way. The Amanda Show and its predecessor All That should be remembered as important pieces in the history of sketch comedy for the way they allowed a new generation to take part in the fun.

I mean, Saturday Night Live doesn’t have dancing lobsters.

Top Image: Nickelodeon Productions

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