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Reviewed by Will Harris
t sucks to be a sitcom on ABC.
NBC has had some version of its Thursday night must-see block of comedy for as long as most viewers can remember, and CBS has had its own equivalent on Monday nights for the last couple of years. When it comes to ABC, however, we still tend to think of four little letters: TGIF. Yes, we’re speaking of the dreaded “TGI Friday” line-up, which included such mind-numbing excuses for comedy as “Family Matters,” “Step by Step,” “Boy Meets World,” and “Full House.” It’s not like the humor has been terribly challenging on any other night of the week, either; let’s not forget that this is also the network that brought us “According to Jim” and “Freddie.”
It’s understandable, then, that you’d approach a show like “My Wife & Kids” with trepidation. Surely it can’t be anything other than the same old mainstream pap that usually turns up on ABC, right? Well, to be honest, it is a standard filmed-before-a-live-studio-audience sitcom, we’ll give you that. But when you’ve got a guy like Damon Wayans in the lead role, you can count on getting some laughs that are less than politically correct.
It’s probably not coincidence that “My Wife & Kids” is best described as a blend between “The Cosby Show,” which aired on Thursdays on NBC, and “Everybody Loves Raymond,” one of CBS’s Monday night sensations. Michael Kyle (Wayans) plays a self-made businessman who owns a fleet of delivery trucks (though you rarely see him doing anything other than wander around the house), and he’s trying to come to terms with his wife, Jay (Tisha Campbell-Martin), finding her own enjoyment in the workplace. Between the two of them, they’re raising three kids – Michael Jr. (George O. Gore II), Claire (Jazz Raycole) and wee li’l Kady (Parker McKenna Posey) – and adding to the fun is the fact that both Michael, Jr. and Claire are just starting to discover the wonders of the opposite sex.
Although “My Wife & Kids” isn’t as blue collar as “Roseanne,” you can see some similarities between the two shows as well. Remember when DJ first discovered the glories of self-gratification? There’s an entire episode dedicated to poor Michael Jr., and what happens when he suffers a muscle spasm after having loved himself a bit too much but finds that the only one home is his mother. And despite the fact that Jay ends up laughing in his face by the end of it, it’s only after she’s assured him that what he’s doing is totally natural and that he’s dealing with a whole lot of crazy changes in his body.
If you want confirmation of how talented the show’s ensemble is, you need look no farther than the credits; the only notable guest star the entire season is Keenan Ivory Wayans, who – shocker! – plays Michael’s brother, Ken. There’s generally enough chemistry between Damon Wayans and Tisha Campbell-Martin to keep things interesting without venturing outside of the house, but since the kids are a major part of the story as well, the family does occasionally take trips to the doctor or embark on brief shopping expeditions. Otherwise, the storylines tend to stick close to home because, well, why go anywhere else when things are already funny right here?
No surprise here: Damon Wayans is the real star of “My Wife & Kids.” You don’t need to see the bloopers that feature in the closing credits of every episode to sense that he’s pretty free-wheeling with his dialogue, and the freshness of his delivery makes the show feel about as real as family comedies get.
Special Features: This show would’ve easily scored a 4-star review had the producers of the DVD set managed to include even a token attempt at bonus material, but no dice. Welcome to Bare Bones City, people, and sadly, we’ve got to take that into consideration with the set’s rating.