Judge Ryan Keefer's thoughts on this show were interrupted when his wife yelled, "get off the computer and go wipe your pee off the toilet seat!"
Everybody hates Chris! (Damn, it sounds much better with a female trio singing a cappella behind it…)
Chris Rock is an amazing comic. Many people often bring up his excellent stand-up album Roll with the New (and his televised Bring the Pain special) for its almost Pryor-like reverence to how the black community handles itself in modern times, though his Never Scared special may very well be his best yet, as he talks about how couples interact. For all his boundless talent though, he could never seem to find solid theatrical footing and crossover success. So he shifted focus to the small screen in Everybody Hates Chris. How is it?
Facts of the Case
All 22 episodes of the first season of the show are spread out over four discs housed in two slimline cases, with six episodes on the first three discs, the balance on disc four. The episodes are:
• "Everybody Hates the Pilot"
People seem to equate Everybody Hates Chris as a new Cosby Show of sorts. In fact, the quote on the back of the case says that it's a Cosby and Wonder Years hybrid, but really it's only from a style perspective. Everybody Hates Chris breaks from the family perceptions of the Huxtables and the Arnolds because in this, the Rock family doesn't have any doctors, or hot sisters. They're a hardworking family where the father works two jobs, the mother frequently yells and dispenses punishment (as the head of the household), and one of the sons is sent to a faraway school where he is constantly bullied just because he's black.
And yet through all of it, Chris (Tyler James Williams, The Ant Bully), his younger brother Drew (Tequan Richmond, Ray), younger sister Tanya (Imani Hakim, Reign Over Me) and parents Rochelle (Tichina Arnold, Big Momma's House) and Julius (Terry Crews, White Chicks) manage to deal with the growing pains of moving to a New York borough where the motto is "Bed Stuy Do or Die." While some of Chris' introspection involves voice-over from the real Rock, he actually serves as a bit of a peanut gallery for the family.
The show covers a lot of the same basic topics as other shows where a child is the center of the action growing up as a kid on the verge of puberty and living in a new town. Chris gets a crush and is then crushed. Chris experiences his first Halloween and Christmas in the new neighborhood. He's sent to an out of the way school in Brooklyn where the school bully frequently abuses him (getting white paint thrown at him and being called Kunta Kinte might be slightly embellished from Rock's real-life growing up, but it's probably not a far leap) and all the other students and teachers ignore him and presume he can play basketball (which he fails at miserably).
As far as the family dynamic goes, Rochelle does her fair share of yelling, which is surprising, considering that Julius is a soft-spoken dead ringer for "Terry Tate, Office Linebacker," and could beat anyone up if things got to that point. But Julius works two jobs and values his sleep and his time with his kids, but when he sees his hard work being thrown into the garbage (witness the demise of his penny-pinching candy tactics on the Halloween episode), it pains him above all else. He gives command of the house to Rochelle who will break out a belt when she needs to, but is loving and supportive of the kids she's raising. And as Rochelle, Arnold, who many may remember from the Martin TV series, shines in this role and is one of the more underrated comedic performers in television today.
Although there might not be too many "tossed salad" jokes in Everybody Hates Chris, the cast and story that Rock has brought to the table is an entertaining one. They prove that a black television family doesn't have to have a doctor father and a mother lawyer or a crazy family member in order for a show to be a success. With Rock's voiceover giving us the occasional laugh out loud moment to tie things together (as well as provide back story whenever it's called for), Everybody Hates Chris is a version of The Jeffersons with a slightly softer look at race relations, but focuses on the unique family and the individuals characters in and around Bed Stuy, regardless of who they are.
While it's plain to see that while the setting of Everybody Hates Chris is in the early '80s, Rock and co-creator Ali LeRoi (frequent Rock co-writer and producer of the landmark cinematic classic Pootie Tang) call upon influences and icons that they remember when they grew up. Antonio Fargas played Huggybear on Starsky and Hutch and initially makes a funny turn as Sweet Tooth the candy pimp on Chris before settling in as his alter ego, the drugstore manager Mr. Harris. Ernest Thomas is vaguely familiar as the radical Mr. Omar, but then you realize he was Raj in What's Happening!. And the trifecta of '70s black TV stars completes itself when Jimmie Walker (J.J. from Good Times) appears in one episode as Rochelle's father.
The video is reproduced well from the original broadcasts and is pretty sharp, and the audio, while in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, is a little too bass heavy for my tastes, occasionally killing the dialogue. It's an active audio option, but a little bothersome at times. There's a respectable level of supplemental material within the package, with commentaries on four of the episodes (featuring a various mix of cast and creators), along with some deleted scenes on six of the episodes. The fourth disc (where the rest of the extras are) includes seven featurettes that run about 50 minutes in length, with a little over half of that time devoted to the making of the show, along with the requisite cast and crew thoughts on the show and each other. There are shorter looks at the production and music (Arnold and a couple of her friends sing the trademark hook for the theme song), along with a blooper reel and other assorted knick-knacks.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Those that are familiar with Rock will notice that some of the voiceover jokes are even a little bit dated. I mean really, how often can one comic to go the Wu-Tang Clan well before it runs dry? I mean, in 2002 it may have been good, but now they're almost sad jabs. And I think some of the things seem to clash with the setting. Maybe it's my sheltered life, but I don't remember the Sugar Hill Gang still being popular in 1982; it felt like some of the dialogue was a little more recent (and out of place) than the setting made it out to be.
Everybody Hates Chris may be compared to The Cosby Show, but unlike that show, the performance of the child star help propel this past the usual preconceptions of what a show about a black family should be like. Its performances and stories give it an appeal that is unlike any television family on now. Fans of comedy who might not like Rock's material will even like this show and fans of comedy should definitely add this to their Tivo list.
Julius would hate that I ruined 17 cents of paper to write about how good Everybody Hates Chris is, but the cast and crew are free to go.
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Scales of Justice
• Selected Episode Commentary with Cast and Crew
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