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Reviewed by Jamey Codding
he groundbreaking sketch comedy that first spotlighted future stars David Alan Grier, Damon Wayans and Jim Carrey is finally out on DVD. Mistakenly labeled a “black comedy” by the uninformed, “In Living Color” transcended race by simply making fun of everybody and not worrying about the consequences. This three-disc release is an essential addition for any fan of the show, but “In Living Color: Season One” also is a must-rent for anybody who missed out on the program that launched the Hollywood careers of so many prominent comedians.
We were first introduced to show staples like Anton Jackson, Calhoun Tubbs and Homey D. Clown in this 1990 premiere season, with other favorites like the gossiping Benita Butrell, Whiz and Iceman from the Homeboy Shopping Network, and Vera DeMilo, Carrey’s grotesquely masculine female bodybuilder, also making their initial appearances. These characters helped make “In Living Color” an instant success on the strength of the show’s brilliant writing and memorable performances from its unknown cast of future stars. The big names tend to stand out in hindsight -- Carrey and Wayans in particular -- but the overall excellence of the entire cast and crew is what gave the show an advantage over its peers, including the incumbent “Saturday Night Live.” During its brief four-year run, the writing was always bold, the ideas fresh, and the end result hilarious.
Unfortunately, while the program itself was comedic gold, this DVD set is somewhat disappointing. The episodes, of course, are sensational but there’s little else of note on any of the three discs. “Looking Back in Living Color: The First Season” is a mildly entertaining documentary on the show’s successful beginnings, but there was so much more potential there that the producers missed out on. Creator Keenen Ivory Wayans is given much credit as the driving force behind the show, allowing the writers and actors as much creative freedom as they needed while still staying true to his original vision. But if Wayans was so important, then why don’t we hear from him throughout the feature? In fact, the only two cast members we see are Grier and Tommy Davidson, whose audio commentaries on episodes seven and 13 are worthless and dull. Getting the top-shelf guys like Carrey or Damon Wayans most likely wouldn’t fit under the budget, but Davidson’s play-by-play commentary and incessant back-patting is both painful and pointless.
Of course, who could forget the Fly Girls? The dancers who performed at the beginning of each show and before every commercial break get their own featurette, “Back in Step with the Fly Girls.” Choreographer Rosie Perez (yes, that Rosie Perez) discusses how the show in general and the Fly Girls in particular helped make hip-hop mainstream by featuring songs from the day’s hottest groups, like Public Enemy and Kid ‘n Play, in their routines. Overall, it’s interesting enough for one viewing but that’s about it. Oh, and sorry guys -- Jennifer Lopez became a Fly Girl in season two.
Roll any of these 13 episodes and you’ll see why “In Living Color” quickly became one of the most popular shows in television history. Other programs seemed to work hard at being indistinguishable, but “In Living Color” constantly pushed the boundaries and challenged the censors with intelligent writing and edgy humor. But while the individual talent was extraordinary, the fusion of that talent is what makes the show just as funny today as it was 14 years ago.