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With the official start of the 2005-06 season less than two months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at two of the 47 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.
There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entries:
EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS (UPN)
(Thursdays at 8:00/7:00c this fall)
The network's description: "EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS (Thursday, 8:00-8:30 PM) is inspired by the childhood experiences of comedian Chris Rock, who narrates the hilarious, touching story of a teenager growing up as the eldest of three children in Brooklyn, New York during the early 1980's. Uprooted to a new neighborhood and bused to a predominantly white middle school two-hours away by his strict, hard-working parents, Chris struggles to find his place while keeping his siblings in line at home and surmounting the challenges of junior high. This responsible, resilient adolescent brings a distinct, funny spin to his everyday trials and traumas. The single-camera comedy series stars Tichina Arnold ("Big Momma's House") as Rochelle, Terry Crews ("White Chicks") as Julius, Tyler Williams as Chris, Tequan Richmond ("Ray") as Drew, Imani Hakim as Tonya, and Vincent Martella ("Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo") as Greg."
What did they leave out: It's already been pegged as "the next great comedy" by the nation's critics and it's hard to disagree.
The plot in a nutshell: Basically an urban take on "The Wonder Years," the show tracks the formative years of a teenage Chris Rock (Tyler Williams) with Rock himself providing the Daniel Stern role as narrator. Taking place in the early 1980s, Chris's parents - Rochelle (Tichina Arnold) and Julius (Terry Crews, in the show's breakout role) - have uprooted the family to Brooklyn hoping for a better life than the "ghetto." That also means a new school for Chris, one which is two bus rides away, requires a uniform and is predominantly white. Between his new school foibles (which not surprisingly, include becoming the target of the local bully), Chris must also watch over his siblings - Drew (Tequan Richmond), his younger but bigger brother and Tonya (Imani Hakim), the apple of his father's eye - while his parents struggle with multiple jobs to make ends meet. Everybody may "hate" Chris, but he's the glue that holds his family together.
What works: While being UPN's best comedy to date is almost a back-handed compliment, it really is light years ahead of anything the network has tried before. But even if it wasn't on UPN, it's still one of the genre's best offerings in recent memory. Authentic for its timeframe without trying too hard (see FOX's "Reunion," which we'll get to next week), and funny in a natural instead of forced way, "Chris" is just a flat-out pleasure to watch. You really get the sense that this a real family that you're eavesdropping on, not a bunch of joke ciphers. My favorite though has to be Julius, Chris's dad. From his "Rain Main"-esque knowledge to how much everything costs to his wearing his delivery uniform to bed in order to get a few extra minutes of sleep, he's by far the funniest of the bunch. At the same time though he instills fear into his kids, something that you rarely see TV dads do anymore. Like I said, it just feels like a real family you're watching.
What doesn't: Even if you're only remotely familiar with Rock's stand-up routine, you'll see lots of familiar material on the screen. That's not to say it's a bad thing, it just feels overdone in places. There's also a few anachronistic comments that seem out of place (i.e. despite not referring to present day at all, there's a joke about DMX worked in). But these are all just nitpicks used to fill this space. No excuses kids, you have to check this one out this fall.
The challenges ahead: Can UPN really create a scripted beachhead on Thursday nights? Especially with ABC and The WB making a full court press on the night? We'll find out this fall UPN.