I’m laying my cards out on the table: I have an unconditional love for Nickelodeon. The network defined my childhood, helped diversify my media and sense of humour, and it was an outlet for truly unique entertainment. As much as I tried to enter Scott Barber and Adam Sweeney’s documentary The Orange Years: The Nickelodeon Story without an enamouring bias, it was impossible.
The Orange Years: The Nickelodeon Story is a standardly structured documentary that establishes the origin of the children’s network, which led to its evolution as television’s underdog for children’s programming. There’s brief talk about Nickelodeon becoming the enterprise it is now, but the film would much rather focus on the early eras of outrageous game shows, groundbreaking animation, and live action shows that were identifiable for young audiences. These pieces are maybe too segmented (it’s clear where the chapter markers would be placed on the DVD), but the attempts made by Barber and Sweeney to recapture the nostalgic excitement for these shows, as well as build on the legacies with amusing modern interviews, are very successful. However, The Orange Years: The Nickelodeon Story is very much a “happy” film; there’s no mention of producer Dan Schneider and his oddball behaviour or Ren & Stimpy’s creator John K (the latter is researched more in Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story). These are glaring omissions, but they’re eclipsed by highlighting Nickelodeon’s diverse and encouraging strengths – notably the overall inclusion of strong women in front of and behind the camera.
While the documentary certainly plays towards people like me who are feeling nostalgic, The Orange Years: The Nickelodeon Story does a fantastic job highlighting why its keystone programs worked, and how considerate producers and imaginative creators were able to collaborate and apply their lovely observations about kids to their craft. Though the process of creating Nickelodeon’s business model seems a little too easy according to the documentary, the movie does a good job commemorating the efforts that made the network iconic.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie