Like any ’90s kid who was allowed to spend countless hours in front of the television, I am a child of the Nickelodeon generation. And for all of the wacky cartoons and All That sketches and slime-drenched game shows, no cultural artifact from the network lingers in my imagination quite like Good Burger. I was 10 years old when it was released in 1997, a time when there were no two humans on Earth funnier than Dex (Kenan Thompson) and Ed (Kel Mitchell), at least in my eyes.
After the film’s debut and multiple seasons of their show Kenan and Kel, the comedic duo split, leaving many millennials to question the on-screen friendship. As time marched on, Thompson became the longest-running cast member on Saturday Night Live, and Good Burger faded out of the public consciousness. Which is why I am thrilled to see that the duo is reuniting for Good Burger 2, set for release on Paramount+ on November 22. The first trailer for the film came out this week, and at an early glance, it seems to have the same amount of heart and goofball hijinks as its progenitor. But it also appears that Good Burger 2 could be just as sharply critical as the first film, which on some level, beyond the rivers of spilled milkshakes, is a cautionary tale about corporatization, the death of the mom-and-pop restaurant, and the exploitation of fast-food workers. Before you start rolling your eyes and insist that I’m trying to inject meaning into a silly child’s movie, hear me out.
Good Burger is pretty up-front about its anti-corporate message. On its surface, the movie follows what happens after Good Burger’s future is threatened by the opening of Mondo Burger, a chain slinging massive burgers pumped full of an addictive chemical. It’s worth noting that this storyline was written a full decade before Subway (and other fast-food chains) removed a chemical commonly used in yoga mats from its bread, and American food manufacturers were required to phase out the use of trans fats, which have been linked to chronic conditions like dementia and heart disease. It’s not that Good Burger revealed for the first time that food companies sometimes use shady chemicals to make their products, but it was almost assuredly the first time that I remember a film making it a priority to talk to me, a Capri-Sun-swilling kid, about the problems of the world. Behind the slapstick gas and neon-colored condiment splatters was a film that knew that kids were smart enough to handle these kinds of conversations.
And then you have sweet, naive Ed, the hero of the film who doesn’t quite get the credit he deserves. The sunshiny 16-year-old comes up with a brilliant idea to save Good Burger — a delicious special sauce that customers can’t get enough of — only to be exploited by his so-called friend Dexter, who starts bottling Ed’s sauce and pocketing the lion’s share of the profits. Meanwhile, even though he’s saved their restaurant, Ed’s “bonus” (most of which Dexter is pocketing) is still so paltry that Mondo Burger is nearly able to woo him away with the promise of a higher wage. But because he is loyal, and an all-around good dude, Ed decides to stick around and ultimately ends up saving the day when he figures out that Mondo Burger is using that weird, illegal chemical.
More than that, Good Burger reminds us that success isn’t just selling more burgers than the competition. It’s about being a good friend, calling out bad actors, and doing things the right way. It also reminds us that it is workers like Ed, not owners or millionaire CEOs, who keep our favorite establishments running, solving countless problems on the fly without much recognition or additional pay.
And even though we’ve fast-forwarded more than 20 years in the future, it looks as if Good Burger 2 is still going to have to tackle those same problems, because the grown-ups clearly did not listen to Good Burger. In the trailer, we see that Ed is still working at Good Burger, but a new team of corporate owners is looking to franchise the concept, and open Mega Good Burger locations from “Hollywood to Hong Kong” with the help of — what else? — artificial intelligence. Back in real life, some fast-food workers are already being replaced by various types of artificial intelligence. Yet again, the gags that we can expect in this film won’t even be that far-fetched.
When I think back on the movies of my childhood, most of their predictions didn’t come true. I don’t live in space now, there’s still no hologram maid who will make me whatever snacks I like. But Good Burger, with its working-class heroes and eyebrow cocked toward technological advances that seek to replace humans, got it right. Maybe this time around, not only the kids will listen.