Figure It Out

Throwback Thursday: Summer, Slime and Lori Beth

Figure It Out

Photo Credit: Nickelodeon

In the late ’90s, Nickelodeon hatched what is one of the most brilliant cross-promotional schemes in modern history: Figure It Out. The game show starred panelists guessing the special talent of one particular kid, but in a twist, all the panelists were Nickelodeon personalities. The whole thing was entertaining on its own, but was also a half-hour advertisement for all the network’s other properties. In many ways, it was one of the first innovators of product placement.

Less cynically and post-childhood, I’d have said that Figure It Out was awesome. Hosted by former sports commentator and Olympic gold medalist (?!) Summer Sanders, the premise was simple and fun. There were lots of opportunities for slime, and almost every episode featured either future DUI magnet Amanda Bynes or the absolutely brilliant Lori Beth Denberg on the panel.

Denberg, if you recall, was the face of the “Vital Information” sketch on All That, and in that role, she defined much of my early childhood. The deadpan delivery, quick one-liners, absurdist premise: all of it was hilarious to me. I was the kind of kid that didn’t laugh too much at gross-out humor (I was a bit of a priss back then), but that was the exact kind of comic style I could appreciate.

On Figure It Out, Denberg was no less hilarious, and she was always a highlight, even when her panel was weighed down by losers like Danny Tamberelli. (Tamberelli was also Denberg’s absolutely miscast replacement on “Vital Information” – whoever thought that was a masterstroke of genius deserves the firing they inevitably received.) She had repartee with the other panelists and with Sanders, and she managed to make every joke land.

The Figure It Out era marked the end of Nick’s ability to really innovate with its programming. Nowadays, everything’s simply a spinoff of everything else, mirroring the Disney Channel formula. However, they’ve brought Figure It Out back, and while it’s not as amusing without the old panelists, the format is exactly the same, right down to the noise they play when someone gets an answer right. In this age of ’90s nostalgia and remakes that’s still winding down, it’s nice to see a rehash that really pays tribute to the original series.

Now, if only we could get Denberg and Sanders back on there. Below, check out one of the best Lori Beth Denberg episodes of Figure It Out.

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Nickelodeon

Nostalgia no longer: The ’90s aren’t ‘All That’

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Nostalgia no longer: The ’90s aren’t ‘All That’ – Los Angeles Loyolan.

Over half a year ago, ’90s nostalgia was at a fever pitch. Nickelodeon launched their block of programming from the decade, designed to celebrate the shows my generation held so dear to our hearts. Magazines like Entertainment Weekly posted tributes to different aspects of the era to their websites every week. It was so popular that for the first “It’s K-OK!” ever in October, I wrote about how the ’90s really were “All That.”

With the recent financial failure of “American Pie” sequel “American Reunion” and the underwhelming performance of “Titanic’s” 3-D rerelease, combined with the blockbuster success of ’80s reboot “21 Jump Street,” however, it looks as though ’90s nostalgia is on its way out of pop culture supremacy as other eras fight for the spotlight.

There were stirs of backlash even in the early days of the ’90s renaissance – mostly critics who said that most things in the period were very trite and wouldn’t stand the test of time. While the defenders of the ’90s fiercely fought back, the truth is those critics were probably far more correct than we’d like to admit. The ’90s were, more than any other decade, the one where fads became incredibly popular.

As a ’90s kid, I loved all these things, but I also have personal connections to all those things. Sure, when the A*Teens’ “Upside Down” comes on at a party, I’m the first one to jump up and start the lip sync. But I can’t defend the song as being particularly good – more the “Call Me Maybe” of its day than a “Somebody That I Used to Know,” speaking in 2012 terms. And while *NSYNC’s Justin Timberlake might’ve been fun in his cute, still-dating-Britney sort of way, 2000s Justin gave us “FutureSex/LoveSounds,” a forward-thinking piece of pop art. Then again, he also gave us “Friends with Benefits,” so take it with a grain of salt.

As far as the relative failures of “American Reunion” and “Titanic 3-D” are concerned, both can be explained away in other terms. “American Pie” was controversial and raunchy when it was first released, but hasn’t Judd Apatow single-handedly neutralized the shock factor of that series? And while our hearts might go on for “Titanic,” why would you pay premium 3-D prices for a movie you can see for free on TNT frequently? It would be the equivalent of a “Mean Girls” rerelease: It’s a great movie that paying 2012 prices for just isn’t worth it.

Even with all these signals of ’90s nostalgia’s untimely demise, there are some signs of life that remain. Witness: The revival of boy bands in the form of British groups One Direction and The Wanted. For quite some time, “The X Factor” judge Simon Cowell has been trying to sell the world on the idea that musical groups are on their way back into fashion. Even before that, Diddy was trying to make it happen on “Making the Band.” We miss you, Danity Kane.

Every facet of the ’90s won’t be remembered with equivalent fondness, and so much of what’s interesting is either oversaturated (like “Titanic”) or has been replaced by something even more extreme (like what happened to “American Pie”). But influences and aspects of every decade have formed the current pop culture landscape – and the ’90s are no exception.

So yes, the ’90s may prove themselves to have been a trivial era filled with silly things and collectibles that we’ll never be able to sell. But the influences of the decade are hardly gone. Years in the future, our children and grandchildren will find “Hey Arnold!” on Netflix or dig up our Britney Spears CDs. They will most certainly think the ’90s were weird. And we’ll agree, all the while beaming with pride.

Nickelodeon

The ‘90s really were all that

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: The ‘90s really were all that – Los Angeles Loyolan.

Nickelodeon

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

There is a Nintendo 64 system sitting below your TV. Said TV is playing an episode of “Hey Arnold!” And you’re left wondering just why they don’t make pop culture like they used to.

You are in the middle of what I like to call a nostalgia trip. This one is a favorite among college students today: a remembrance of the ’90s. Please keep all hands, arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

It’s unclear what exactly caused it – the new decade, perhaps, or the general quarter-life crisis that comes about in college – but this year has been overdosing on ’90s nostalgia.

It all started when Nickelodeon launched its brand new late-night lineup, titled “The ‘90s Are All That,” featuring shows like “Clarissa Explains It All,” “The Amanda Show,” “Doug” and, yes, “All That” every night from midnight to 2 a.m. on its sister channel TeenNick. Nickelodeon explained that major support for the shows on social networking sites like Facebook led to the development of the new programming block that immediately provided a 47 percent boost in viewers after its debut.

College students were reportedly the driving force behind the new programming block, and walking around LMU’s campus, it’s not difficult to see why. Conversations about how much better Nickelodeon’s and Disney Channel’s programming was in the ’90s are plentiful. Several dorm rooms house fervent gamers who, in addition to their “BioShock” games, will indulge in a little “Super Mario 64” to relive the past. Student Netflix queues are filled to the brim with episodes of “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.” Even during the production of this article, a 10-minute conversation about “Pokémon” broke out, with most participants admitting to keeping binders full of the trading cards inspired by the original pocket monsters.

What is it about the ’90s that holds such significance for this generation? Is it just the simple fact that it was our childhood? Or was there something about the period that simply makes it superior?

While the sheer number of collectibles from the ’90s, from said Pokémon cards to the seemingly infinite number of Beanie Babies, may never be explicable (or worth anything at all, so feel free to rip those tags off), some of the music and TV shows really were at a higher standard than those of today.

Where would our generation be without boy bands and girl groups? *NSYNC gave us Justin Timberlake and the addicting “Bye, Bye, Bye.” Destiny’s Child gave us Beyoncé and the kiss-off jam “Bills, Bills, Bills.” (There was a lot of repetition in the ’90s.) And where would we be without the innovator of modern dance-pop, Britney Spears, who first asked us to hit her just one more time in the ’90s? In fact, you can chalk at least four major pop culture icons of our generation to the ’90s version of the Mickey Mouse Club – Ryan Gosling would never have blown us away in “Drive” without that exposure! Sure, these songs were cheesy, but that’s what made them so great!

Before Disney found a strict model for all of its Disney Channel shows to follow (see: “Hannah Montana,” “Sonny with a Chance,” “Good Luck Charlie”), the network created shows with greater heart than any network sitcom. “Lizzie McGuire” made you want your own animated alter ego. “Even Stevens” made having annoying siblings seem fun, and of course, the Nickelodeon shows were what really solidified the ’90s as a golden age. “The ’90s Are All That” could run for years off the brilliance cultivated in that time period. They had game shows (“GUTS,” “Legends of the Hidden Temple”), sketch comedies (“All That,” “Amanda”), brilliant animated sitcoms (“Rugrats,” “Rocko’s Modern Life”) and the horror masterpiece that is “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” There was a diversity of programming not seen before or since, and it’s there that really shows exactly why TV was superior in the ’90s.

The ’90s were the last time the world considered kids more than one homogenous group with exactly the same tastes. If you didn’t like one kind of program, you could easily find another. These days, all Nick and Disney series fit the same model – all far too generic, not really capturing the spirit of yesteryear. That spirit is something our generation can claim that the current generation cannot.

Yes, maybe the music was cheesy. Maybe we put the TV shows on a pedestal they don’t deserve, and maybe we won’t ever get any good bids on eBay for our massive collections of Beanie Babies. But these things had heart, and we can hold those memories in our hearts forever.