The sitcom showcase for the veteran of SNL and Kenan and Kel offers "a bittersweet streak of tenderness that could make the show stand out should it decide to lean in," says Caroline Framke, adding: "Everyone does the jobs assigned to them in the pilot, which is about as much as you can ask, given that the cast is still figuring out its strongest dynamics. Otherwise, and unsurprisingly, it’s Thompson who acts as the show’s anchor and glue. Making him the face of a chipper morning show is a sharp choice, as it gives Thompson plenty of room to indulge his hammier comedy instincts. A scene in which Kenan verbally trips all over himself trying to tell a relatable story about his wife’s childbirth experiences, only to offend every shade of mother and also somehow Beyoncé, wouldn’t work unless it had someone like Thompson guiding it to the ultimate punchline of his outsized humiliation. There are enough moments in the first episode, however, that make it feel like Kenan was originally meant to be a multi-cam sitcom; the rhythms of the jokes make it all too easy to imagine that the cast is pausing for audible laughter that never comes."
Kenan is a comedy with heart: "The show feels particularly timely as it freely acknowledges Kenan's grief about the loss of his wife and his struggle to care for his girls and make sure they're happy and thriving," says Diane Gordon. "In these pandemic times, when so many people are grieving the loss of loved ones, the show confronts loss in an honest and gentle way. Yes, Kenan is a comedy with heart, and we have writers Jackie Clarke (Superstore, Happy Endings) and David Caspe (Black Monday, Happy Endings) to thank for that. As NBC tries to cultivate new comedy hits with the imminent departures of fan-favorites Superstore and Brooklyn 99, it only makes sense to recruit talent in-house. Watching Kenan, we wondered why it took this long for the network to make a show happen for him. Thompson's warmth and humanity shine in this show, as well as his expert ability to land jokes. Though NBC only made the pilot episode available for review, Kenan seems like a natural evolution for Thompson as we've seen him grow up and now, like his real life, he's playing a girl dad on TV."
Kenan Thompson is conscious of making sure he’s offering a proper representation of a young Black father on Kenan: It's not lost on Thompson that Kenan is airing on NBC, once home to The Cosby Show. (Thompson famously impersonated Bill Cosby on SNL.) “In its time, The Cosby Show was probably one of the greatest shows that had lived,” Thompson says. “It was a show that brought everybody together, and it was all positive. It’s tough to separate the man from the art. That’s the thing about a lot of subjects lately, unfortunately. But what can you say about that subject that doesn’t wind you in a world of shit? You leave it for the history books. My show won’t have drama attached to it like that.”