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randy the dinosaur headlining a concert Image: Netflix

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Kyle Mooney’s Netflix show Saturday Morning All Star Hits! is a specific nostalgia rush

This hybrid live-action/animation experiment is for, like, five people

Netflix’s latest adult animated comedy isn’t quite any of those things. From comedian Kyle Mooney, Saturday Morning All Star Hits! is a hybrid live-action and adult-animated comedy, paying tribute to the Saturday morning cartoon experience of the late 1980s and early 1990s. It’s not simply adult, animated, or comedy: It’s using live action segments to frame cartoons, which are very clearly parodies of old shows, but with more serious adult themes.

As someone whose childhood nostalgia is for a decade later, I can appreciate what the show is doing, but it is clearly not made for my generation of viewers. This is a very specific window of recollection. But the particular attention to detail and the very specific homages definitely spark my interest, even if I only have a faint idea of what they’re paying tribute to.

[Ed. note: This post contains slight spoilers for Saturday Morning All Star Hits!]

skip and treybor, the long-haired twin hosts, surrounded by totally tubular 1980s graphics of blocky neon colored shapes Image: Netflix

Each episode of Saturday Morning All Star Hits! (or SMASH as it’s called in-universe) is framed with twin live-action hosts Skip (Kyle Mooney) and Treybor (also Kyle Mooney) riffing a bit, before segueing into the next cartoon segment. Within the episodes, the cartoon segments serve as micro-episodes of in-universe series, each one seemingly reflecting a real world show. And in between the cartoons and Skip and Treybor’s segments, SMASH also includes fake commercials for in-universe movies, sitcoms, and celebrity gossip.

It is very detailed — probably more so to a very particular audience, that was just before my time. Unlike WandaVision, which both drew on a broader palette of inspiration and rooted possibly unfamiliar pop culture touchstones in established characters, Saturday Morning All-Star Hits! homes in on a very specific time frame of television. Because the humor comes from seeing something familiar in an unexpected and more mature storyline, if you don’t know what that familiarity is, it just feels lacking. I can objectively see how this would be funny to someone about 10 years older than me — someone who grew up with the original Thundercats and Care Bears, and Denver the Last Dinosaur. But because it is not an era of TV I feel particular nostalgia for (even if I am vaguely familiar with the specific genre of programming block it references) I don’t feel compelled by it.

a man surrounded by care bears knock offs Image: Netflix

The Care Bears-inspired cartoon segment, for instance, follows a graphic designer in a midlife crisis who struggles with a rocky marriage and a crossroads in his career. It’s not a Family Guy-level edginess where it swings so hard that even if you don’t get reference you might still chuckle; in fact, the situation is often played quite straight and serious. The big work project is redesigning a single letter, but the characters treat it with overwhelming gravitas, which is doubly surreal when most of the cast is colorful bears. The humor feels like it is supposed to be taking the fun cartoon and juxtaposing it with an adult storyline, as the characters wax on about selling out their creativities to corporations or trying to fix failing marriages, but without any special fondness for the show it’s supposed to be parodying, the cartoon falls flat.

The live action segments are a little more universal, since the teen celebrity culture of the Mickey Mouse Club days still trickled into later children’s programming. It’s the live action segments of Saturday Morning All-Star Hits! that feel the strongest, all connected by an overarching narrative. At first the gags are simply funny; the commercial for the season finale of Lottie, an in-universe sitcom reveals a typical coming-of-age storyline — with a Bigfoot character in the background who’s never acknowledged as out of place. But slowly, the live action segments turn more sinister. Treybor’s insecurities grow as Skip catapults to fame, and the light celebrity gossip segments about the Lottie stars turn into harrowing news reports about missing persons cases. This part of the show feels like it is always on the verge of catapulting into something surreal, but it holds back. Instead, Saturday Morning All Star Hits! teases along with increasingly absurd situations while staying fully within the gnarly late-’80s, early-’90s vortex. For those familiar with the era, it probably resonates more.

a fake in universe news broadcast about two missing actors Image: Netflix

Ultimately, my biggest disappointment with Saturday Morning All Star Hits! is a personal one — the scope is so limited that it’s hard to appreciate if you’re not part of the designated audience. I wish there was a show in the similar vein, but drawing from the era of Disney Channel that I grew up with, because I do love what it is doing. Saturday Morning All Star Hits! is a parody, but it doesn’t ridicule the source material. The humor comes from lovingly reimaging old shows and culture touchpoints in completely different scenarios. This nostalgia hit is not for me, but Saturday Morning All Star Hits! does something special for that specific audience it was tailored for.

Saturday Morning All Star Hits! is available on Netflix now.