Everybody Hates Judge Victor Valdivia. That's not a sitcom title, just a simple statement of fact.
Narrated and inspired by Chris Rock.
Chris Rock (Dogma) pitched Everybody Hates Chris as a recreation of his unhappy childhood as the only black student in an all-white school in New York City. It was an original and intelligent premise full of immense potential. Coupled with a cast of gifted comic actors and talented writers, it seemed that the show would be a classic. So why is it that in barely its third season it already seems creatively exhausted?
Facts of the Case
Here are the 22 episodes included in this set:
"Everybody Hates Caruso"
"Everybody Hates Driving"
"Everybody Hates Blackie"
"Everybody Hates the Bachelor Pad"
"Everybody Hates Bed-Stuy"
"Everybody Hates Minimum Wage"
"Everybody Hates the New Kid"
"Everybody Hates Kwanzaa"
"Everybody Hates the Port Authority"
"Everybody Hates Bad Boys"
"Everybody Hates Easter"
"Everybody Hates Gretzky"
"Everybody Hates the BFD"
"Everybody Hates Ex-Cons"
"Everybody Hates Being Cool"
"Everybody Hates the 9th Grade Dance"
"Everybody Hates Mother's Day"
"Everybody Hates Graduation"
It's painful watching a once great series descend into mediocrity. When Everybody Hates Chris first premiered in the fall of 2005, it was a welcome breath of fresh air. It was the family sitcom for people who hated family sitcoms, a show that was touching, smart, and laugh-out-loud funny without stooping to the sanctimoniousness or sappiness of other family shows like Growing Pains or Home Improvement. The characters were defined with quirks that were amusing but recognizable, the situations rang true even when they were touched with absurdity, and the jokes were clever, going in directions that weren't easy to predict.
That was in Chris's first season. In its second, the show spiraled downward into awfulness so fast it was shocking. The characters went from being well-defined into one-dimensional cartoons. The situations became sillier and more outlandish. The show relied too much on pointless fantasy sequences, and the jokes were either crude or timid. Worst of all, the show became formulaic. Chris always lost, so the show became increasingly uncomfortable to watch as this poor kid (who bore less and less resemblance to the actual Chris Rock) was repeatedly beaten on by life.
This third season isn't as abysmal as the second, apart from a few episodes. There are even one or two episodes that are actually solid (if not up to the standards of the first season). Unfortunately, if there was one word that can best describe this season, it would be "forgettable." Indeed, even after watching many of the episodes here, you would be hard-pressed to recall much of what happened. There are only a few memorable scenes and jokes, and nothing that happens in one episode seems to have much impact on others.
The season premiere, "Guidance Counselor," epitomizes many of the show's flaws. Rock's guidance counselor character is poorly defined. Is he supposed to be smarter than he seems, or hopelessly incompetent? Some of his jokes point to the former, others the latter. The episode also contains a terrible B-plot where Greg wears a diaper to school so that he can emulate astronauts. It's even less funny than it sounds. That's not to mention the episode's resolution, which is so thin it doesn't even exist.
None of the other episodes this season are quite as awful (in characteristic fashion, the worst episode is the first one) but few are all that great, for similar reasons. The writing is inconsistent, many of the jokes are silly instead of funny, and the show appears to have run out of ideas. Many of these episodes rehash bits from earlier episodes, only not as well. Julius is still cheap, Rochelle is still a lioness, Caruso still beats Chris and Greg up without provocation, and Chris still ends each episode worse off than when he began. If that sounds overly critical, keep in mind that The Simpsons was able to squeeze many more seasons of classic episodes out of characters that were not much more defined that the ones here. Only a few episodes ("Ex-Con," "Easter," and "New Kid") show the spark of old, and these are still only partly as funny as the show was at its peak. Mostly, this third season will serve as an agreeable time filler, but for a show with such talent in front of and behind the cameras, it should really be much, much better.
The extras are a mixed bag. Each episode comes with a "Webisode" (originally available on the show's official site), between two and three minutes long, in which the episode's director discusses the making of each. Some are useful, but others are fairly redundant once you've actually seen the episode. There are also deleted scenes for a few episodes, and some are better than others. Disc four also has "Off the Cuff: Cast Interviews" (20:09), in which cast members describe each other and how they approach their characters. The cast are easily the best part of the show, so this is a welcome feature. "Chris Rock: Voiceover Session Unplugged" (9:13) shows Rock recording his voiceovers and how those are written and edited. It's fairly interesting. "Location, Location, Location" (4:28) is a featurette in which the show's production manager describes how he builds and dresses sets depending on the needs of each episode. "More Ms. Morello-isms" (2:15) is a montage of jokes from Ms. Morello (Jacqueline Mazzarella), Chris's hilariously patronizing teacher. Finally, the set is rounded out by the "Slaver Slav Music Video" (1:19) (from the "Bad Boys" episode) and an amusing "Gag Reel" (5:44). The 16:9 anamorphic transfer and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mixes are top-notch.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Pity poor Tichina Arnold and Terry Crews. Gifted comic actors, they make lemonade out of the lemons they keep getting from the writing staff. Arnold is great at physical comedy, and shines especially in some fantasy sequences (including one hilarious scene where she dreams of being Cameo frontman Larry Blackmon, right down to his big red codpiece). As for Crews, he has the best deadpan in the business and can blend sternness and wit with ease. The kids aren't always as consistent, but Martella and Williams show believable chemistry as best (if not only) friends. If the quality of the writing matched that of the acting, this show would be one of the best on TV.
Watching the first season of Everybody Hates Chris was as exhilarating as watching The Simpsons in its prime. Watching this season is like watching The Simpsons in one of its later, less noteworthy seasons. It goes from agreeable to mediocre, but is rarely memorable. Unless you're collecting all the season sets, skip this one and stick with the first.
Guilty of wasting great talent on mediocre writing.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary on Select Episodes
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