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Why Everybody Can't Hate "Chris"

Out of this current season's pilots, one of the shows I was most impressed with was Everybody Hates Chris, which nailed the tone and feel of the show in its first five minutes. Set in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn in the early 1980s, it tells the story of 13-year-old Chris, an intelligent but unlucky kid who finds himself the only African-American in an Italian-American high school, and is narrated by Chris Rock, on whose life this is (loosely) based.

Reminiscent of the early episodes of FOX single-camera sitcom Malcolm in the Middle, the show has a smart-alecky humor and tough-love heart that are missing from most laugh-track "traditional" sitcoms. While each episode's title begins with "Everyone Hates..." it's hard not to love a show that features a red-haired Italian teenage bully, non-verbal (and subtitled) confrontations between the parents who can communicate whole paragraphs with a single look, and thieves who live on the block and steal from residents by asking, "Can I hold your five dollars?"

While the main story often revolves around Chris, one of the most rewarding elements of the show is how Chris' story contrasts or highlights the subplots with his family: dad Julius, who is able to calculate the cost of any item, even spilled milk; mom Rochelle, a "ghetto snob" who shudders at the thought of anyone thinking they use food stamps or need handouts; younger brother Drew, a kung-fu obsessed ladykiller who--while younger than Chris--is actually taller than him; and little sister Tanya, a spoiled brat who has their father wrapped around her little finger.

While the entire cast is exceptional, I have to single out Tichina Arnold, who plays Rochelle as a momma tiger of a woman willing to sacrifice everything for her beloved kids--except her $12/week chocolate turtle habit--who quits her lousy temp jobs with the memorable catchphrase, "I don't need this. My man has two jobs!" She's also the only actor that could threaten a teenage babysitter by telling her husband, "I'm gonna kick her ass. Hold my wig," and still manage to come off as totally loveable and completely loopy at the same time.

Of course, the show would not be possible without the considerable charm and exceptional skill of the show's lead, Tyler James Williams. His performance is so smooth and so natural that it's hard to believe that he didn't actually live through all of this. (I guess Sesame Street is sort of a summer stock-like training ground for young, talented actors.)

In fact, the kid is so cool and awkward and self-aware that you just want to believe that somehow there's some way that he does grow up to become Chris Rock.

"Everybody Hates Chris" airs Thursdays at 8 pm on UPN (for now).


Anonymous said…
I think your review is dead on. I love this show. :)

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