Remember that groundbreaking sketch comedy show? Judge Eric Profancik does. In fact, he wrote a song about it. Wanta hear it? Here it go.
Our reviews of In Living Color: The Complete Second Season (published October 27th, 2004), In Living Color: Season Four (published February 1st, 2006), and In Living Color: Season Five (published May 10th, 2006) are also available.
Take it from me it's a'ight to be In Living Color.
In Living Color. Where should I begin? The show has a lot of interesting trivia related to it, but I think you all know most of it by now so it'd be dull to talk about it too much. Perhaps it's worthy of just a quick mention that In Living Color was a black sketch comedy show that brought Jim Carrey to everyone's attention, had J-Lo as a Fly Girl, and gave every Wayans on the planet a chance to work in television. Just think, White Chicks probably wouldn't exist without this television series.
Maybe it would be more interesting to talk about the ultimate irony of the series: Jim Carrey, one of just a few white people on the show—and, at first, just a supporting character—went on to become the most famous, popular, and rich of any of the alumni of the this decidedly urban series
Then again, maybe we should just talk about whether the first year of this show was funny or not.
Facts of the Case
In the inaugural season of In Living Color, this mid-season replacement show grabbed everyone's attention with its over-the-top antics and spot-on impersonations. Over the course of thirteen shows, In Living Color instantly cemented itself as a cult fave with characters who would be remembered years after the show went off the air. In this first year, we were introduced to the likes of Homey D. Clown, Vera Dimilo, The Hardest-Working Family, and Antoine and Blaine. We also got irreverent new takes on Mike Tyson, Oprah, Louis Farrakhan, Joe Clark, Chuck Woolery, and Grace Jones, among many others. The sketches came at us fast and funny, and they were unlike other skits we had seen in the past.
And then there was the glue that held it all together: the Fly Girls. In between most skits, a group of skankily-clad women would come out on stage and dance (read: gyrate wildly) to some hip-hop music. Fortunately for them, the girls weren't being watched for their dancing abilities.
In Living Color is a classic piece of television because it took chances. When it premiered in 1990, it didn't hold back and it came out swinging…at everyone. No one was free from attack, though there were some who had targets on their backs. Keenan Ivory Wayans had an agenda (let's call it that) from the start. He set off to create a comedy show that had an urban flavor to it, and, by doing that, he brought to light many issues faced in urban areas. That's not to say that In Living Color is nothing more than a veiled attempt to subtly influence its audience. The litmus test for all great things is the question of whether there is more than meets the eye: Did In Living Color work because of its comedy and its message? Did people realize there was a message? Is In Living Color "something great"?
Buried in many of its skits was the hope of raising awareness in its audience. From the quirky old man in the bathroom, to the drunken wino in the alley, to the cunning personality of Louis Farrakhan, the show wanted you to laugh but to understand a little bit more about the urban way of life. Wayans wanted you to see things a little bit differently, to realize the differences and the commonalities.
Yet, in all truth, the message was lost in the skits—but not for lack of trying. You had to pay a little more attention to catch the hidden lesson, and that was hard to do because the bits were just too darn funny. In Living Color is above all funny, even hilarious at times. It gloriously succeeded in making us laugh ourselves silly. From the opening skit, a spoof of Love Connection with Chuck Woolery, you knew this show was going to be good. And over the course of the first season, In Living Color garnered rave reviews for its boldness, irreverence, and skewering of pop culture.
To this day people can easily remember the show. Who could forget Homey and his "purse"? How about Antoine and Blaine hating less-than-manly films but rewarding masculine films with two snaps up? How about the various Three Champs skits? And, though not a part of this first season (alas), what about the freakish Fire Marshal Bill? In Living Color produced a lot of funny bits over its run, introduced us to talented comedians, and influenced future sketch shows.
Yet the show isn't perfectly funny. In coming back and watching this first season, I obviously laughed, but I was also greatly bored. Nearly all of the material is terribly dated. As funny as the Love Connection sketch is, that dating show is passé now (even forgotten by some and unknown to others). Mike Tyson is still funny (and scary), but is Sugar Ray Leonard or Muhammad Ali worthy of a joke these days? How about spoofs of Andrew Dice Clay? Sam Kinison? Arsenio Hall? Over a decade later, most of the jokes fall flat. You will laugh, but more often you'll just do a little chuckle, fondly recalling those good old days. The jokes don't stand the test of time, which is the overriding weakness of the show. It was great in its day, but it's only good now. Additionally, for every skit that still makes you smile, there are others that are just painful. Although it was popular, I for one never cared for "The Hardest-Working Family." They just annoyed me. And then sometimes the skits tried too hard—for example, Homey D. Clown. He's a great character, but his skit in the last episode of the season just isn't that funny…except, of course, when he whacks people with his "purse."
This three-disc set includes all thirteen episodes from the first year and a couple of bonus materials. The episodes are presented in their original full-frame format and have middle-of-the road transfers, or just about what you expect with TV transferred to DVD. There's nothing extraordinarily good or bad with the video: Colors are average, blacks are pretty good, and contrast and detail are adequate. The most significant detraction is that the picture does look a touch soft. For the audio, it's a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, which conveys the dialogue just fine. You'll have no problems here.
With the extras, first up are some audio commentaries on select episodes (like the season finale). Cast member Tommy Davidson recorded them all, and they are all boring. This is not my first encounter with a Davidson commentary, so I was expecting to be lulled to sleep, and I was. He's just not an engaging or highly informative speaker. Yes, as I always say, I did learn a couple of things, but it still felt like a big waste of time. A much better bonus item is the featurette "Looking Back In Living Color" (26 minutes). This Wayans-free piece (due to strife in the later years of the show—see reviews of upcoming seasons for more details, hopefully) was very good. Though it had the usual self-congratulatory spin, I learned quite a few nuggets here. I think it could have been expanded further, and I would have enjoyed that. Instead it was tacked on a five-minute "Back in Step with the Fly Girls" item that was all hype and no substance.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Fly Girls. Everyone loves those Fly Girls but me. Their "dancing" always bored me, and I thought they just slowed the show down. At least now I have the technology to fast-forward past their goofy gyrations. Honestly, their dancing was pretty dumb, but if they had been hotter and in less clothing, then I would have been far more interested.
Speaking of slowing the show down, did you realize how little material is
really in this show? Let's break it down:
Thus, in a "30-minute" episode of In Living Color, you only really get about fifteen minutes of comedy. What a gig! What a ripoff!
As I noted above, In Living Color was great in its day, but it's only good now. If you're in the mood for a little nostalgia or are the type who gushes over I Love the '90s, then this set is for you. Still, I'm not going to recommend this set for purchase for anyone. The laughs just aren't there, the transfers are just average, and the bonus materials are pretty skimpy. There's just not much to warrant adding this to your permanent collection. Now, if you want a wistful laugh or just want to refresh your memory, a rental certainly won't do you any harm.
In Living Color is found not guilty of any hate crime, because I believe the man when he says he don't play that.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Actor Tommy Davidson on Selected Episodes
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