Judge Victor Valdivia doesn't hate Chris. Therefore, not everybody hates Chris. QED.
Narrated and inspired by Chris Rock.
Everybody Hates Chris began in 2005 as a realistic but funny alternative to treacly family sitcoms, but by 2008 had become increasingly repetitive and cartoonish. By the time the show began its fourth season in 2008, ratings were down and the show had lost much of the acclaim and following it had originally earned. So it was no surprise that the show had introduced all sorts of changes and shakeups as it began its fourth season, or that the show was officially canceled before the season was over. What is surprising is that the changes made to shake the show up actually worked and, even though Chris had indeed run its course, it still had a little life left in it. This fourth and final season isn't quite in the same league as the classic first season, but it's a vast improvement over the lackluster third season, making it a decent conclusion to the series.
Facts of the Case
Here are the 22 episodes compiled on four discs:
• "Everybody Hates Cake"
• "Everybody Hates Homecoming"
• "Everybody Hates the English Teacher"
• "Everybody Hates My Man"
• "Everybody Hates Doc's"
• "Everybody Hates Big Bird"
• "Everybody Hates James"
• "Everybody Hates New Year's Eve"
• "Everybody Hates Mr. Levine"
• "Everybody Hates Varsity Jackets"
• "Everybody Hates PSATs"
• "Everybody Hates Boxing"
• "Everybody Hates Lasagna"
• "Everybody Hates Spring Break"
• "Everybody Hates Back Talk"
• "Everybody Hates Tasha"
• "Everybody Hates Bomb Threats"
• "Everybody Hates the GED"
When we last left Chris at the end of the third season, Chris had finally graduated from Corleone Junior High, but was confronted with the possibility that he and his best friend Greg would attend different schools. That was meant to be the cliffhanger, but a funny thing happens when this season begins: no one cares about the cliffhanger. Chris does indeed enter a different high school than Greg, but it's not at all a big deal. In fact, Chris is actually in better shape at Tattaglia (get it?) High than he was at Corleone. Here, he is no longer the only black student, he actually lands a good job as equipment manager of the football team, and girls are starting to notice him now. True, he's still the only black student that Caruso is interested in abusing, being equipment manager means getting ordered around by all the jocks, and the girls that notice him are the school nerds, but at least he isn't losing all the time now.
If Chris was in a bad place, Chris was doing even worse. By the end of the third season, the show had fallen into a painful rut. Episodes repeated the same tired formula, the characters had deteriorated into loud cartoons, and the dialogue went from realistic to hackneyed. Even the stellar performances by the cast, especially Arnold and Crews, weren't enough to make the show as good as it used to be. So for the fourth season, Chris changed setting and added new characters. Usually, that's the sign of death for a sitcom, but the changes actually benefited the show. Letting Chris win a few battles here and there actually opens up the show for more incisive comedy. Watching Chris struggle with how to be a good boyfriend, how to hang out with popular kids, and how to prepare for college is much funnier and truer than simply rehashing more storylines in which poor Chris loses over and over again. The new character of Mr. Thurman, who's Chris's homeroom teacher and also coach of the football team, is a welcome addition. Ben-Victor's performance is hilarious, perfectly capturing a public servant who has been soured by years of grinding abuse and disdain. Similarly, Arnold's former Martin castmate Tisha Campbell-Martin gets some great moments as loud ex-con Peaches. The season also means that Chris's two previous villains, vicious bully Caruso and well-meaning but hopelessly patronizing teacher Ms. Morello, are no longer as heavily overused as they were previously. Now they appear sporadically and are more amusing than when they were seen in every episode.
The performances are as great as ever. Arnold shows herself to be one of the funniest physical comics on TV—the scene where she attempts to try on a pair of jeans that isn't quite big enough is the most riotous visual jokes of the season. For his part, Crews gets some of his best moments in "Everybody Hates My Man," in a storyline where Julius develops a new appreciation of life but winds up annoying his family with his incessant sunniness. It's a welcome reminder that Crews is capable of far more subtle work than he's often given credit for. As for the kids, they've grown so much over the last few years that it's a bit disconcerting to see how little they resemble the cute moppets of previous seasons—at this point, Tyler James Williams is taller than Tichina Arnold. Still, given improved writing this season, they provide better performances than they have in the past.
Paramount has done a good job of releasing this season on DVD. The anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix are both stellar, with no major flaws to speak of. The set comes with a decent selection of extras. The first episode comes with a very good commentary by co-creator/executive producer Ali LeRoi, who has plenty to say about the episode. There are deleted scenes for selected episodes, but each one only lasts about 30 seconds or less, so they're mostly inconsequential. Each episode also comes with a "Director's Webisode," which is a two-minute featurette in which each episode's director discusses how the episode was shot. Disc Four comes with an amusing "Gag Reel" (5:19) and several featurettes. The best is "Candid with the Cast" (27:40), in which regular director Jerry Levine interviews the main cast members about their memories from the past four seasons. There are lots of great stories here and it's touching to see how affectionate the cast is in real life. "Death in the Dining Room" (6:00) briefly explores why the show's frequent dining room scenes were so difficult to shoot. "Give 'Em Props" (6:15) examines how the show tried to use period-appropriate props throughout its run, while "The Key to VFX" (4:33) describes the show's use of green-screen effects. These are both brief but informative. The one clunker here is "Juste Pour Rire = Just for Laughs" (7:27), a peculiar piece in which a scene from one episode is dubbed over with actors doing silly French accents. It's a weak joke that's dragged out to an interminable length and viewers should simply skip it.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
When Chris Rock announced before this season was over that he was pulling the plug on the show, it made sense; even with its rejuvenation, Chris was simply running out of steam and deserved a fitting conclusion. Unfortunately, the series finale is probably the worst episode here. It's a recreation of the series finale of The Sopranos, which doesn't work at all because a) Chris isn't a gangster and b) merely rehashing another series' finale without adding anything new to it isn't really funny. Rock and LeRoi should have come up with something more fitting that actually showed Chris and his family, for all their squabbles and mistakes, truly hanging together. Anyone who invested themselves in this show will find the finale completely disappointing.
Apart from the misguided finale, this season of Everybody Hates Chris is actually one of the better ones. There are several laugh-out-loud moments here, which this show hasn't had for a while, and viewers who have been disappointed with the show's previous season will be pleased with this one. It's not up to the standards of the show's classic first season, which belongs on any list of classic family sitcoms, but it does provide a reasonable bookend.
Not guilty, but start with the first season before getting this one.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2009 Victor Valdivia; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.