[26 November 2007]
Everybody Hates Chris is the best family sitcom on television. That sentence sounds unbelievable, doesn’t it? After all, isn’t one of its creators Chris Rock, that extremely funny, yet many times dirty, comedian? But this isn’t Chris Rock as his adult self. Instead, it is Rock portrayed as a struggling teenager. About as close as this second season gets to being naughty is when Chris discovers George Carlin’s bit about the seven words you can’t say on television. And since this is a television series, after all, none of these nasty words actually get spoken out loud on screen.
The young Chris is the center of this show, and he’s also a darn good main character. Each episode title begins with the words “Everybody Hates” because Chris (played by Tyler James Williams) lives his life like the whole world is against him. It’s not out to get him, of course, but you cannot convince the woebegone Chris of that. What makes this an exemplary family show is the outstanding cast surrounding Williams; all in the Rock household are special in their own unique ways. There’s his dad, Julius (Terry Crews) who knows the price, right down to the last cent, of everything purchased by the family. Chris’ sister, Tanya (Imani Hakim) is forever getting on her older brother’s nerves. That is, of course, when she’s not busy worshiping singer Billy Ocean. Tequan Richmond plays Chris’ younger, yet taller, brother, and Tichina Arnold is his about-to-fly-off-the-handle-at-any-moment mom, Rochelle.
Furthermore, this series features many auxiliary characters outside the family who are equally of note. There’s the funeral director who lives upstairs, Mr. Omar, whose catchphrase for everything bad is “Tragic!” Then there is his middle school teacher, Mrs. Morello, who tries her best to be racially sensitive, only to consistently come off as a clueless bigot.
And let’s not forget the real life Chris Rock, who narrates this series from the future. He throws in smart-ass comments that either humorously helps illustrate uncomfortable situations, or speaks the truth when a character is lying. Although everybody knows Chris Rock eventually grew up to be a famous comedian, this standup drive is not the primary focus of the show. Granted, we do see him discover the aforementioned George Carlin, as well as Redd Foxx records, but the younger Rock never speaks out loud about wanting to be an entertainer. Nevertheless, the first few episodes of the second season follow Rock’s rocky road to becoming class president; perhaps these were his first public speaking experiences. Later, he tries his hand at being a hip-hop DJ.
In addition to the real Chris Rock’s series participation, there are also a number of other notable star appearances. For instance, Whoopi Goldberg plays a neighbor that rubs Rochelle the wrong way. Jason Alexander (of Seinfeld fame) plays Chris’ new principal in an episode titled “Everybody Hates the Buddy System”.
Even though this is a consistently light and funny show, no drama-dy here, folks, this series nevertheless takes on weighty issues. There is “Everybody Hates Eggs”, which warns against teenage parenthood; “Everybody Hates Gambling”, which takes on a sports betting; and “Everybody Hates Cutting School”, where Chris gets in trouble after ditching school to catch Ghostbusters.
Best of all, Everybody Hates Chris looks and feels like a real family. All of Chris’ family members are flawed. But they also stick up for each other. And while they don’t say so verbally, this lower middle class family unit truly loves each other.
This season two, four DVD set also includes a few helpful extras. The best of these include “Everybody Hates Caruso-isms”, which explains all of the different names school bully Caruso calls Chris. There is also a segment titled “Everybody Hates Mrs. Morello’s Racism”, where actress Jacqueline Mazarella lets us inside her unintentionally mean-spirited and racist character.
Eventually Tyler James Williams will grow up, and with this physical growth, much of his natural youthful innocence will be lost. But until that happens, Everybody Hates Chris is a goldmine of family-friendly comedy. If you miss it, you’ll hate yourself.