Sunday, November 18, 2018

DOC NYC Spotlight: The Orange Years

I’m excited to have been able to screen a few selections from DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, which presented its eighth year in New York City from November 8th-15th.

The Orange Years: The Nickelodeon Story
Directed by Scott Barber and Adam Sweeney
Festival Screenings

Everyone has formative experiences from their childhood, many of which involve sitting down in front of the television to watch their favorite programs. While it’s adults who are making the creative decisions behind what kind of shows make it to air, no matter what age group it’s meant for, kids can be highly affected by television that is both educational and enjoyable. The memories of and feelings that come from watching such shows can live on for years in the minds of those for whom it was a daily or weekly refuge from normal life.

Nickelodeon, first known as Pinwheel during its initial launch in 1977, was a network that dared to be different, offering programming for children that spoke to what their interests might be and which parts of their normative experience they might enjoy both seeing reflected and not reflected on the screen. A need to have morals and good values in the characters and settings portrayed is emphasized, but there is also special attention paid to having relatable characters that represent what’s good and forward-thinking about being a kid. Numerous now-classic series including “Clarissa Explains It All” and “Rugrats” are reviewed from their inception to their tremendously successful runs.

This documentary provides a fairly standard, narrative overview of how Nickelodeon came about when participatory television was becoming big, and how it grew at the height of its popularity. The surprisingly high percentage of female leadership within the company is highlighted through interviews with the many people responsible for the network’s wins, both behind the camera and in front of it. It’s especially informative to hear stars like Kenan Thompson and Melissa Joan Hart reflect on how their own childhoods were shaped by the characters they were playing, partially fictionalized but also very much mirrors of themselves.

This film stood out as interesting to this reviewer, who watched only PBS growing up since his family didn’t have cable, as a way of discouraging him from watching too much TV. Having previously seen only snippets of “The Rugrats,” “Doug,” and “Hey Arnold,” this documentary felt like a decent comprehensive look at what shaped Nickelodeon into what it wanted to be, singling out the “Orange Years” as its growth period before it truly exploded with “Spongebob Squarepants,” the series introduced in this film’s closing moments. For those feeling nostalgic about an active part of their childhoods, this should prove fun and heartwarming, and for those less familiar with Nickelodeon, it’s also plenty enjoyable and cool.


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