The Second Season
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All photos © The CW
Reviewed by Will Harris
If you’re looking for a review of a sitcom that’s suffering through a sophomore slump, you better keep looking. Season Two of “Everybody Hates Chris” finds the loose interpretation of Chris Rock’s teenage years still scoring just as many laughs this time around as it did the last. (It also remained the only sitcom on The CW during the 2006 – 2007 season that was even remotely worth watching, but let’s not dwell on that.)
The general premise of the series remained the same. Chris (Tyler James Williams) is the only black kid in an otherwise-white school. He’s got a brother (Tequan Richmond) who’s a ladies man; a sister (Imani Hakim) who’s obsessed with Billy Ocean; a mother (Tichina Arnold) who goes through jobs more often than hairstyles; and a father (Terry Crews) who has to work two jobs to make up for his wife’s inability to hold down even one. (It’s no wonder he’s so cheap.) Things don’t change too dramatically this time around, but there are a few transitions in Chris’s life. The first part of the season focuses on his run for Class President, and recurring plot lines throughout the year include his job at Doc’s place and his on-again-off-again relationship with his cute neighbor, Tasha. As far as his family, though, it’s mostly an episode-by-episode situation where we explore their lives, with only Tanya’s Billy Ocean obsession rearing its ugly head more than once. (It’s notable that Drew’s ability to charm the ladies has been toned down considerably this year.)
Season Two brings another round of fun guest stars. The late Richard Jeni makes a funny but bittersweet appearance in the first week of the season – bittersweet because it was the last one he made anywhere before he took his own life. Whoopi Goldberg shows up in the same episode (as well as in Episode 2.4) as the Rock’s know-it-all neighbor, Louise. When Chris finds himself depressed about being in the hospital for the holidays, he’s cheered by an inspirational visit from Richard Lewis, who must’ve been constantly stifling laughter at the idea of a Jew playing the living embodiment of the Christmas spirit. Robert Wuhl and Vincent Pastore play Abe the Pawnbroker and Paulie the Bookie, respectively. Music fans will also dig the brief but funny appearances from DJ Quik and Earth Wind and Fire’s Verdine White, and Orlando Jones plays it mostly straight but still gets laughs as a substitute teacher for Chris’s class.
“Everybody Hates Chris” stands out in the sitcom world for bringing in famous faces from other series, and having them play people other than themselves. Antonio Fargas (“Starsky and Hutch”) and Ernest Thomas (“What’s Happening”) continue to make recurring appearances, with Fargas playing Chris’s boss, Doc, and Thomas getting lots of laughs as the Rock’s boarder, Mr. Omar, the funeral home owner who never misses an opportunity to sleep with a grieving widow. Other folks who reprise their roles from the first season are Jason Alexander as Chris’s principal and Jimmie Walker and Loretta Devine as members of Chris’s extended family. New faces include Jackee Harry (“227”) as Rochelle’s friend and hairdresser, Vanessa, and Todd Bridges (“Diff’rent Strokes”) as Doc’s militant – and paranoid – assistant, Monk.
As one might guess from the show’s use of Billy Ocean as a punchline on a regular basis (did you realize that he actually invented the Moon Walk, only to have it stolen by Michael Jackson?), music is key to “Everybody Hates Chris.” You have to laugh when Chris’s dad asks a guy if this is the line for the DMV and receives the sarcastic reply, “No, it’s the line for tickets to Scritti Politti.” The series uses music for more than just easy laughs at the expense of ‘80s artists, setting heartfelt scenes to songs by Howard Jones and the Thompson Twins. What’s most impressive, though, is the way the producers haven’t forgotten that radio wasn’t so strictly regimented back in the ‘80s. Thanks to MTV, we were all listening to the same stuff back then, and it was all across the board, from Run DMC to Kajagoogoo.
If you had to pick a definitive episode for the season, “Everybody Hates Cutting School” does the trick handily. It takes a universal temptation of youth – skipping class to go see a movie – and adds the ‘80s twist by making the film in question be “Ghostbusters,” then throws in an equally universal B-story for Chris’s dad as he suffers through the line at the DMV. But, wait, isn’t “Everybody Hates Chris” a black sitcom? My God, do we mean to suggest that, although the series features a predominantly black cast, it might actually focus on problems that people of any race can relate to?
Well, duh. We told you that last time.