As anyone who has watched Chris Rock’s
stand-up act, HBO show or guest appearances on TV chat-fests
can attest, the comedian/actor is a smart, straight-talking Brooklyn
guy with a fierce wit.
His UPN show, "Everybody Hates Chris," offers a little more insight into how he got that way.
The hilarious family sit-com, which premiered in September, is loosely based on Rock’s life as a young teen living with his blue-collar parents and siblings in 1982’s "do or die" Bedford-Stuyvesant.
A cross between "The Cosby Show" and "Good Times," with a dash of "The Wonder Years" thrown in, the show opens as Chris’s family moves from the "projects" into their new home in a better, but still-rough, neighborhood.
The move means Chris, the oldest of three children, now has a long daily commute by bus to get to the predominantly white Corleone Junior High School in an Italian neighborhood renamed Brooklyn Beach, where Chris’s strict, but loving, mother (played by "Martin" alum Tichina Arnold) hopes he will get a better education. (Not a Harvard education, the adult Chris observes in one of the show’s many funny voiceovers, just not the "sticking-up-a-liquor-store-kind-of-education" he would have gotten in Bed-Stuy.)
Once at his new school, Chris, played by the adorable newcomer Tyler James Williams, finds it difficult to fit in. Chased by bullies, the boy relies on his natural defenses - his brains and his sense of humor. Of course, those don’t save him from getting his butt kicked initially, but they do secure him a place in the school’s nerd population and the friendship of Greg (Vincent Martella), a fellow outcast and a boy who likes Chris for who he is - but who tends to flee when trouble is afoot.
At home, things aren’t much easier. Chris is designated the "emergency parent" to his taller, more confident younger brother, Drew, played by "Ray" co-star Tequan Richmond, and their bratty kid sister, Tonya, played by newcomer Imani Hakim. Among his duties while Mom is at work are watching the younger kids and making sure no-one wakes up their hard-working dad (played by former pro football player Terry Crews) before it’s time for him to go to his night job.
While the show is drawn from Rock’s own personal experiences growing up with limited means, it is easy for all Brooklynites to relate to its likable characters and familiar familial situations. After all, who wouldn’t fear the wrath of a parent over a lost bus pass? Who can’t understand the anxiety of being the new kid in town? Or of being self-conscious about our clothes at school? Who hasn’t experienced or witnessed the dinner-time show-down in which someone wasn’t leaving the table until they ate what had been prepared? Who hasn’t been rightly infuriated when wrongly accused of a sibling’s offense?
Although these situations might not seem funny in the ordinary Brooklynite’s life, they end up being a recipe for hilarity when watching them unfold through Rock’s eyes.
In a recent interview with TV Guide Online, Rock reflected on his humble beginnings and strict upbringing and how they relate to this show’s phenomenal success.
"Tyler James Williams is so much cuter than I was," the Emmy- and Grammy Award-winning comedian insisted. "I was not a cute kid. I was in a really bad bicycle accident. I fell off the bike and messed up my mouth. My teeth were all over the place. I had braces, but we couldn’t really afford to keep up with them, because you had to go in every week. At one point, I had to take the braces out myself because we couldn’t really afford to go to the dentist. But if it wasn’t for my particular childhood and the things that seemed harsh at the time, I wouldn’t be in this place right now. I’m cool. I’m fine. I won."
Co-created and produced with Rock’s long-time collaborator Ali LeRoi, "Everybody Hates Chris" maintains Rock’s edgy, urban brand of comedy, but keeps the language and situations relatively clean for younger audiences - more like the family-friendly "Madagascar," than the brilliant, irreverent, but often foul-mouthed, "The Chris Rock Show."
While the show is certainly appealing to ’tweens and teens, parents in the thirty-something range are likely to get an added kick out of the series’ clever use of 1980s pop music. For example, a scene in an early episode - in which cops escort the former principal of Corleone JHS out of the building after he committed an unnamed, but obvious offense - appropriately features the song, "Don’t Stand So Close to Me," the Police tune about a teacher fighting his attraction to a student.
Another scene, in which young Chris takes on a white bully starts with the song "Eye of the Tiger" and then moves to that ’80s anthem of racial harmony, "Ebony & Ivory," as Chris and his aggressor roll around on the pavement. In addition to offering adults a little nostalgia, the music enhances the 30-minute episodes, which are already well-written and expertly acted.
"Everybody Hates Chris" airs Thursday nights at 8 pm on UPN.
©2006 Community News Group