Everybody Hates Chris
There’s no shortage of problems translating stand-up to sitcom. The vehicle needs to be exactly the right shape or it all ends horribly. Cobbling together ill-concealed stand-up routines around gossamer-thin plots and cookie cutter characters is a waste of everyone’s time – why not just watch the stand-up?
"Lucille Ball, Bill Cosby and Jerry Seinfeld all had era-defining sitcoms."
It’s never a necessary move yet Lucille Ball, Bill Cosby and Jerry Seinfeld all had era-defining sitcoms. It seems like every stand-up wants one, even if it’s a really bad idea.
The mercurial brilliance of Chris Rock wouldn’t seem a good candidate for family sitcom – his incendiary race and relationships monologues hit hard and low with ferocious intelligence – not something you really associate with the 9 o’clock slot.
“His mother insists that buses across town to the almost exclusively white Corleone Junior High.”
Everybody Hates Chris gets around this by setting itself in Chris’s childhood – a childhood that informed much of his no-nonsense philosophy on race, gender and family life. Grown-up Chris voice-overs the commentary, giving the inside scoop on the neighbourhood before it became a ‘hood.
Chris has to deal with his thrift obsessed father, ghetto snob mother and being the "emergency adult" for his spoilt sister Tonya and ladies’ man younger brother Drew.
His mother insists that he buses across town to the almost exclusively white Corleone Junior High. An understandable enough action, with the gun culture firmly embedded in the Brooklyn black schools of the Eighties. As Rock notes "Much like rock ‘n’ roll, school shootings were invented by blacks and stolen by the white man". Yeah, but the Trenchcoat Mafia did it with such style.
"As Rock says ‘Much like rock ‘n’ roll, school shootings were invented by blacks and stolen by the white man’. Yeah, but the Trenchcoat Mafia did it with such style."
But once there, Chris has to deal with being the only black boy in school and the attentions of school bully Joey Caruso. Avoiding the beatdowns and racial taunts becomes a daily hazard – not exactly light material but the humour is cathartic.
"He got away with calling me nigger that day, but later in life he said it at a DMX concert and nearly got stomped to death". You can only hope this is a true story.
“Rock was recently asked where they found Williams. ‘I was at Michael Jackson’s house, and this kid came running out,'”
Chris Tyler Williams does a good misunderstood, exasperated kid – managing to combine resignation with defiance and never falling into cute kid syndrome. Rock was recently asked where they found Williams. "I was at Michael Jackson‘s house, and this kid came running out". And when they said Jackson was nurturing young talent everybody got the wrong idea. Tsk.
There is a lot of affectionate Eighties retro, notably in the brief snatches of music from the decade that taste forgot. Rock’s narrative is strong and sparky, giving it the feel of The Wonder Years but without the schmaltz. Much of the niftily edited action has got something of Malcolm in the Middle‘s skewed take on family life about it. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of Malcolm but very few things do.
"The irony is that Everybody Hates Chris works because he’s not in it."
The irony is that Everybody Hates Chris works because he’s not in it. Sure, his presence is there as producer and narrator but you’re not constantly focusing on him, giving the other characters time to shine.
They ain’t The Cosbys but they’ve got their pride. The family that’s just aspirational enough that their kids won’t be holding up liquor stores in 10 years’ time is the building block of America. Recognising this is the next step in their evolution into a civilised country.
The best thing about it: Momma Rock’s ‘slap’ one-liners ( "I will slap your name outta the phone book and call Ma Bell and tell her I did it")
The worst thing about it: The Eighties fashion crimes.
The verdict on Everybody Hates Chris: Chris rocks.
Marks out of 10: 7