Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The New TV Show Review Challenge (EARLY): Everybody Hates Chris

There are some nice perks to being a subscriber to Entertainment Weekly sometimes. One such perk is receiving a free DVD in the newest issue that featured the entire first episode of Everybody Hates Chris, a show that doesn't premiere until next week. This UPN show is very good and if enough people find it, it should become a breakout hit.

Everybody Hates Chris is inspired by the real life of comedian Chris Rock, who co-created the show with Ali LeRoi. It takes place in the early 1980's where Chris (played by Tyler Willaims), his mother Rochelle (played by Tichina Arnold), his father Julius (played by Terry Crews), and his younger siblings Drew (played by Tequan Richmond) and Tanya (played by Imani Hakim) move from the projects to an apartment in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn. Rock narrates the show and brings his trademark humor to his voiceover. In the premiere episode, Chris is sent to a white junior high school because the local school is, in his mother's words, a "hoodlum factory." Of course, things aren't necessarily all that great for him at the white school as he gets harassed by a bully and called racist names. Chris and his family struggle to make ends meet even though both his parents work. In one early scene, the family decides to get some fast food but the kids have to share one value meal. In a later scene, Rochelle explains "the debt system" to her husband in a speech that rings true for a lot of people.

What sets this show apart from a lot of other comedies is the way the characters are treated. None of them are painted with broad stereotypes. Rochelle is the one who keeps everything together, but she is not reduced to a black woman who overreacts at everything. Julius is hard-working and reasonable, but he is not reduced to a gruff, tough father who doesn't want to be bothered with his children. Even as the show makes jokes about Chris getting beat up, there is realism and heart to be found in this comedy.

Everybody Hates Chris looks to be one of the best new comedies this season. It's a well written show and has an excellent cast. Tyler Williams does a good job in the title role but the standouts are Tichina Arnold and Terry Crews as Chris's parents. They show that they have range beyond the clichéd types of roles they have taken in the past. I highly recommend that you check out this show when it premieres Thursday September 22nd at 8:00 p.m. ET on UPN. UPN may not have the best reputation among the broadcast networks right now but if it acquires more shows of the quality of Everybody Hates Chris, it will gain respect yet.

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