Everybody Hates Chris: Season Two
There is one axiom that is universal, ‘kids will be kids’. Growing up is never easy especially when the child in question is on that cusp between childhood and the dawn of puberty. Growing up there are almost always three separate worlds a kid lives in; school, home and outside with their friends. Two of these are controlled by adults but the third is where the true nature of the kid can show. Since this is something that we have all gone through it makes for a prefect premise for a television series. In the eighties there was ‘The Wonder Years’ that show how one boy confronted the difficulties in growing up. It was funny and poignant but it did deal with maturing in the suburbs. Like many people I grew up in the city, Brooklyn to be exact. For us there were no lawns, no picket fences, there was the sidewalk, the street the stone steps outside out apartment houses. Comedian extraordinaire Chris Rock has come up with the inner city answer to ‘the Wonder Years’, a reflection of his growing years with ‘Everybody Hates Chris’. My neighborhood, Bushwick, was not that far from the area in Brooklyn where this series takes place, Bedford-Stuyvesant. While most of the cast is African-American it doesn’t matter much. These are stories that are part of all our lives no matter what our background. There are still conflicts with parents and teachers, bullies still lurk behind the halls and playground at school and siblings are little more than pests and occasionally a co-conspirator. This show has a lot going for it, mostly the humor of Rock and a talented group of writers and directors. There is also a cast that is natural and identifiable to the audience. Together they take us all on a trip back in our own memories to those days when life’s biggest problem was a looming math test.
Like the ‘Wonder Years’ the format is an older Chris (Chris Rock narrating) at his childhood. The younger Chris (Tyler James Williams) is the eldest of three children living in a mostly working class neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. He is basically smart but does have the tendency to being an underachiever. He is bussed to a mostly white school where he has to face the prejudice of the staff and other students. His younger brother, Drew (Tequan Richmond) is the focus of most of the attention. He is cool, popular, especially with the girls always called the handsome brother. The last child, Tonya (Imani Hakim) is in the best position not only being the sole girl but also the youngest. She can usually play the ‘daddy’s girl’ card and get almost anything from her dotting father. Her greatest joy in life is getting her brothers into trouble; sitting back watching with glee. The titular head of the household is the father, Julius (Terry Crews). He is a hard worker and because of that every penny of the household funds has to be accounted for. When a glass of milk spills he doesn’t cry over it, he estimates how much money was wasted and how is going to pay for it. He loves his family but is usually too busy keeping things together to be demonstrative. Wife and mother Rochelle (Tichina Arnold) is the commandant of the house when Julius is at work. She is energetic always on the move and up to something or another. She is overly concerned about how she is perceived by her neighbors; always having to be seen as perfect. She is quick to show her critical side especially to her children. Although not in the family Greg Wulliger (Vincent Martella) is usually found only a few feet away from Chris. As Chris’ best friend he shares in the bullying and ridicule and also is an often unwilling participant in the plans that Chris comes up with. New to the second season is a neighbor, Louise Clarkson Whoopie Goldberg). She rapidly becomes the arch nemesis to Rochelle as they argue over hosting a neighborhood watch group. Things get more complicated when Chris starts to become interested in a new girl, Tasha (Paige Hurd). It just happens that she is the granddaughter of Louise who happens to hate Chris as well has his mother.
The second season starts in 1984. Chris is returning to Corleone Junior High School in the eighth grade and is determined to finally be respected or at least accepted. To that end he decides to run for class president. Greg is not sure that this is a good idea. In one of the many trademark fantasy sequences the Chris imagines he is the president, complete with secret service guards but is assassinated. When Greg realizes that it just may happen he becomes excited over the power behind the throne that he will have. This theme carries over to the next episode when Chris has to make a speech for votes. He has to win over the students, something extremely difficult since his opponent is none other than Joey Caruso (Travis T. Flory), racist, extreme bully and generally the bane of Chris’ existence. Caruso’s campaign strategy is simple; ‘vote for me or I’ll beat you up’. Meanwhile on the home front concern grows over Julius when it is discovered that he has high blood pressure. Attempts top keep him calm always seem to backfire. Chris eventually wins the election but that does not have the desired effect of increasing his popularity. This also goes awry when the student body turns on him and demands his impeachment. Julius continues to have a run of bad choices when he decides to buy a video tape record and chooses Betamax.
If you like underdog stories than this is the series for you. There is something about the situations that this family gets into that is so human, so understandable that you are immediately emotionally invested in them. This is the key to good comedy; the audience has to relate to the people on the screen. So many of the themes here seemed like long forgotten memories. Things like telling dirty jokes to the guys after hearing your first ‘blue’ comedy album or what to do on a snow day off from school. This series may have more of an inner city spin to it but even if your life was more in line with the suburbs you will get into the humor and find yourself laughing.
Tyler James Williams is young but extremely talented as a comedian. He has the natural gift of body language, timing and delivery that makes him an every guy person in training. He gives one of the best performances of any kind in a sit-com. Terry Crews is great as the father. He is larger than life and the ultimate source of all punishments and rewards. Crews doesn’t play Julius as a bad guy, just a many trying to do the best he can for his family despite limited resources. Tichina Arnold is the perfect counterpoint here. She presents the mother as someone who feels she deserves better than the lot she received. In all this cast is excellent, the characters are slightly exaggerated which fits in the concept that these are childhood memories that may have changed somewhat over time.
I have reviewed a lot of DVD television season sets and it looks like anything from Paramount is rapidly become my favorites. They have the best attention to detail and a commitment to give the fans a little extra to make the set worth while. The 1.78:1 video is exception; bright, clear and flawless. The Dolby 5.1 audio is well balanced with very good channel separation but naturally very little for the sub woofer to do. Like almost every Paramount television release the extras are amazing. Almost every episode has either one or two commentaries or associated deleted scenes. In a nod to the naming of every episode all the featurettes are called ‘Everyone hates…’ There is a look at the cast and crew in ‘Everyone Hates the Cast and Crew Again’. The segment ‘Everyone Hates a Day in the Life of Tyler James Williams’ gives a behind the scenes look at this talented young series star. There is also a tour of the school, a look at the stand-ins used in the series and how the wardrobe department recreates the clothes of the mid eighties. Another featurette gives a retrospective of the hatefully comments made by Caruso and the racism of the teacher, Mrs. Morello. This is a series that everyone can get into and enjoy, get it, watch it and remember your own childhood.