September 1 marks 18 years since Nickelodeon’s Cousin Skeeter debuted. Back in 1998, Cousin Skeeter was yet another way Nickelodeon participated in the Black renaissance of the ’90s. Cousin Skeeter easily brought in audiences that were already invested in My Brother and Me, All That, Kenan and Kel and The Journey of Allen Strange. The series also played on a storyline similar to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air–a boy goes to live with his uncle, aunt and cousin, leading to a variety of misadventures. However Cousin Skeeter turned what was expected on its head by using a puppet as the lead star (voiced by Bill Bellamy and performed by Drew Massey).
The show’s selling point might have been that the audience had to suspend their disbelief that there was no visible difference between Cousin Skeeter and the rest of his human family. But the show rose above just being a show with a puppet as a gimmick. Instead, what Cousin Skeeter became was a time capsule of late ’90s Black pop culture that puts Black music, celebrity and comedy front and center. Here’s just five ways Cousin Skeeter is the perfect show for any of us jonesing for a late ’90s nostalgia trip.
1) The music
The theme song to Cousin Skeeter was sung by one of the last girl groups of the ’90s, 702. The theme song was based on their hit “Steelo,” penned and co-produced by none other than Missy Elliott. Having 702 as a part of Cousin Skeeter was right in line with some of Nickelodeon’s most popular Black-led shows, like Kenan and Kel, which featured Coolio and All That which featured TLC.
The opening sequence also reflected some of the popular trends in hip-hop and R&B/pop music videos at the time, such as the fish-eye lens, shiny suits, and “futuristic” lightning. Skeeter literally looks as if someone tried to turn Mase into a puppet, what with his aluminum foil suit and sunglasses. It’s so nostalgic and perfect.
2. The ’90s might of Bill Bellamy
Bill Bellamy, one of the biggest comedians of the ’90s, provided the voice to Skeeter. His name gave the show unexpected star power, since even young viewers like myself were aware of Bellamy’s iconic status in Hollywood. Bellamy’s role as Skeeter was a far cry from some of his more adult work, like his stand-up special Bill Bellamy: Booty Call, but it’s a role that has endeared him to a generation forever.
When I worked at the Birmingham Times in 2017, I interviewed Bellamy about his role as the voice of Skeeter. He gave the impression that when he was doing the role of Skeeter, he didn’t realize the kind of impact it would have with kids. It’s only now in hindsight that he knows the value of that role.
“I didn’t have kids at the time and I didn’t watch Nickelodeon,” he told me. “[O]ne day I went to a mall and a bunch of kids were there and word got out that [I was] Skeeter. I was like, ‘Is this real?’ I didn’t watch Nickelodeon and I didn’t realize people were really digging that show. That show was dope for people. I was like, ‘Damn, I’m happy I’m [voicing] Skeeter.'”
3. Robert Ri’chard and Meagan Good, two iconic child stars of the ’90s
Cousin Skeeter was also one of the first times many young watchers first laid eyes on Robert Ri’chard and Meagan Good, cementing forever crushes in the hearts of fans nationwide. Ri’chard was cast as Skeeter’s straight-laced cousin Bobby Walker, who is constantly trying (and failing) to get Skeeter out of trouble. Good played Nina Jones, who starts out as Bobby’s friend but eventually becomes his girlfriend. She helps Bobby put up with Skeeter and his wild schemes.
Nickelodeon provided Ri’chard and Good the platform to branch out in their careers. As we’ve seen from Good, she’s become a huge film actress, with her latest being The Intruder opposite Michael Ealy. Ri’chard has also made a name for himself in Hollywood, starring in shows like One on One, Veronica Mars, Meet the Browns, The Vampire Diaries and The Rich and The Ruthless. He has also been starred in or has been featured on popular television shows such as Lucifer, iZombie and others.
However, their importance to those of us who grew up with Good and Ri’chard goes beyond their resumes. Instead, longtime fans remember them as being examples of a positive Black identity. Their characters were normal kids who just so happened to get into abnormal situations thanks to smooth-talking Skeeter. They were likeable, down-to-earth, and for many of us, our first celebrity idols. Because of this, they’ve retained their loyal following to this day.
4. ’90s TV dad Rondell Sheridan
Bobby’s record producer dad André was played by Rondell Sheridan. That name by itself might not immediately ring bells, but once you see Sheridan’s face, you understand why he’s an important part of the late ’90s-early ’00 era of Black television. After Cousin Skeeter, he starred as Raven Baxter’s father, Victor Baxter, in the Disney Channel’s 2002 hit series, That’s So Raven, starring Raven-Symoné. Similar to Bellamy’s experience with Cousin Skeeter, Sheridan’s roles on both Cousin Skeeter and That’s So Raven have endeared him to a generation of fans who will always remember him as being one of the best dads on TV.
5. All the ’90s celebrities you could ask for
If there’s one thing Nickelodeon shows were good at, it was their ability to attract celebrity guest stars, and Cousin Skeeter was no exception. In fact, guest stars were practically built into the script, since Skeeter was somehow friends with some of the most famous people of the day. Some of Skeeter’s friends included Michael Jordan, MC Lyte, Dennis Rodman, Queen Latifah, Tommy Davidson, Downtown Julie Brown, Shaquille O’Neal, Usher, and many others. Even some of Nickelodeon’s own stars, such as Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell, had cameos on Cousin Skeeter as their Kenan and Kel characters, Kenan Rockmore and Kel Kimble.
Other popular actors also lent their talents to the show, such as Reagan Gomez-Preston, who played a character named Binaqua and Tisha Campbell-Martin, who voiced another puppet, Nina’s best friend Nicole. Another character, Brenda, was also voiced by Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes of TLC.
The amount of guest stars and celebrity acting talent Cousin Skeeter boasted made it one of the most popular shows on the network. You never knew who you were going to see pop up in a cameo. Like All That, which also boasted tons of celebrity guests, Cousin Skeeter treated its child audience with respect, realizing that they were savvy pop-culture consumers who wanted to see their favorite stars on their favorites how. You knew whoever you’d see, you’d be gossiping about it with your friends that following Monday at school.
The legacy continues
Cousin Skeeter ended in 2001, the beginning of the Black renaissance bubble bursting in Hollywood. But it’s still remembered fondly by its fans, especially those of us who grew up excited to see multifaceted representations of ourselves on television. It’s still a show that has a lot of “steelo” left in the tank, and Skeeter will always be the one for us.
Photo: Getty Images/Nickelodeon