(for all Mumf pieces, go here)
Happy Valentine’s Day!
(Editor's Note: Readers of Big Media Vandalism know I am no romantic. I’m a cynic. A cynic is a romantic whose ass has been shredded by life, and life has treated my ass the way White Dog treats Negroes. So, if you’re here looking for something warm and cozy, allow me to retort: My dear, you are Wookin’ Pa Nub in all the wrong places. If, however, you are interested in showing a good time to a slightly used Odie, call me.)
Everybody Hates Chris takes place between 1982 and 1986, the high school years of both its main character and your friendly neighborhood Odienator. Like Chris, I am the oldest child in a family with a popular younger brother and a tattletale sister. We both have parents with similar characteristics: a hard-working Pop and a take no prisoners mother. Chris’ plans and good intentions always went haywire, culminating with him looking at the camera in stunned surprise. My luck was consistent with Chris’, but at least he was on a sitcom. The laugh track was added in hindsight to my memories. Shit wasn’t funny when it was live.
The Chris in Everybody Hates Chris is Chris Rock, executive producer and narrator of the show. Presented as The Wonder Years in the Hood, Rock narrates stories from his adolescence growing up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn. In his stand-up, Rock talks about being one of the only Black kids in his school, a trait that got him in nothing but trouble. This is reflected on the show. The bullies call Chris racially insensitive names and his teachers get all glassy-eyed when they mention his life “in the ghet-TOE.” Life would have been easier for Chris had he done an exchange program trade-off with Howard Stern. Stern’s experiences as the only White kid in a Black school should be a sitcom on BET.
BET eventually got reruns of Everybody Hates Chris, but it originally aired on the dearly-departed You People’s Network. After polluting the airwaves with such questionable cullud fare as Homeboys in Outer Space (still the worst show ever aired), UPN put on a Black sitcom that made fun of racism rather than contributed to it. Is it a surprise that, the year Everybody Hates Chris appeared, UPN blew the fuck up? Intelligent Blackness will do that to a network. Ever wonder why TV shows never have more than one useful Negro on them? Now you know. Smart, relatable Black people = Burnt Up Network Transmitter. I’m surprised The Cosby Show didn’t cause the NBC Peacock to turn into a Kenny Rogers Roaster.
After UPN folded, Everybody Hates Chris wound up on the CW, where it ran three more years before a Sopranos-inspired finale. Of all the sitcoms to appear on TV, network or otherwise, this is the show I’d be on if Poltergeist sucked me into the TV. My teenage years felt like I’d done something to piss de Lawd off; He was burning me in effigy every day up in Heaven. Chris Rock must have felt the same way, as every episode of his show has a title that starts with “Everybody Hates...” from “Everybody Hates The Pilot” to “Everybody Hates the G.E.D.” In each, his onscreen alter-ego walks through life in a state of perpetual haplessness. I identified with him in so many ways.
Everybody Hates Chris follows Chris (Tyler James Williams) through his last two years in junior high and his first two in high school. At Corleone Junior High, he is hated by every kid except Greg (Vincent Martella). Corleone is 99.44% White, and Chris has to take three buses to get there. He gets clobbered on the buses, having to run from the dangers in both his neighborhood and the one surrounding Corleone Junior High. Once at school, Chris has to deal with bully Joey Caruso (Travis Flory). Caruso is huge, the king of the bullies, and enjoys calling Chris anything but his gov’ment name. Depending on mood, Caruso refers to Chris as “Cornbread”, ”Satchmo” and “Kareem.” Any of these monikers is usually followed by a beatdown. Greg tries to help, but is as much an outcast as Chris despite being the right color for popularity at Corleone.
Chris gets no help from his teachers either, a feeling I knew all too well. My sixth grade teacher told my classmates not to play with me because I “couldn’t take a punch.” After three years of getting my ass kicked, I finally snapped, broke a bottle and tried to kill my bully with the shards of glass. But that’s a story for another time. Everybody Hates Chris is a family show, so no one can get cut with anything but narrator Chris Rock’s verbal wit. Chris’ math teacher, and later high school principal, Mrs. Morello, is a racist who is prone to making false statements about Blacks in general and Chris in particular. She’s no help to him with Caruso, and Rock doesn’t miss a chance to counter Morello’s racially insensitive dialogue with commentary from his adult self. Morello thinks Chris’ father is absent and his mother is a crack ho.
Terry Crews) is home every night and his mother, Rochelle (played by Pam from Martin herself, Tichina Arnold), is drug-free. Rochelle is not drama-free, however, and spends a good amount of the show chewing out her kids Chris, Drew (Tequan Richmond) and Tonya (Imani Hakim). If Rochelle had the mouth Chris Rock does in his stand-up, my mother could sue for copyright infringement. Both she and Rochelle are the disciplinarians of the family, and their threats of violence were worse than the occasional ass-beatings they dispensed. My mother’s sayings are well known to my readers—stuff like “I’ma beat the Calhoun Shit out of you,” “I’ll beat you ‘til you shit blue ink,” and my personal favorite: “I’ll stomp a mudhole in your ass!” In one episode, Rochelle threatens to slap Chris into another race, then hits Williams so hard he turns Asian. I couldn’t breathe from laughing so hard.
Erica Kane back in the day. Julius is the original coupon master, and like the father from Rock’s stand-up, buys cheap store brands nobody has ever heard of before. (“I didn’t know Lou Rawls made string beans!”)
The casting director of Everybody Hates Chris wants to bring not only 80’s nostalgia to the show but Black TV nostalgia as well. The sitcom is populated with familiar faces, from Ernest Thomas (Roger from What’s Happening) as a shady funeral director to Jackee Harry (Sondra from 227) as the owner of the beauty shop Rochelle frequents. Arnold’s Martin co-conspirator Tisha Campbell appears as the mother of a girl Chris has a crush on (Whoopi Goldberg plays Campbell’s mother). Todd Bridges (the Willis in “Whatchu Talkin’ ‘Bout Willis?”) is a paranoid Vietnam vet full of conspiracy theories. And the owner of the corner store Chris eventually starts working in is played by Huggy Bear. If you don’t know who Huggy Bear is by now, there’s just no telling you. (Don’t you dare cheat by clicking on that link. It might not go where you’re expecting.)
There’s also a character, Risky, who sells things that fall off a truck, and a robber named Jerome who’s always hitting Chris up for money. “Lemme hold a dollar,” is his catchphrase, and he’s always calling Chris “little dude from across the street.” In my ‘hood, Jerome was a crack head who lived next door to us. Jerome breaks into Chris’ apartment in one episode, attempting to steal items he can sell. My Jerome successfully stole our VCR and then had the nerve to try to sell it back to me for 10 dollars. I offered Jerome something better than $10 for my VCR. What that was, and whether it got me back my VCR, is yet another story for another time.
Tyler James Williams. He brings genuine pathos to the show’s humor. You really feel sorry for him, even when he’s being a butthole as in the Everybody Hates Big Bird episode. Everything about the characters feels accurate and just right, from Rochelle’s rocky relationship with her mother (played by the great Loretta Devine) to the sibling dynamics between the three kid actors to Joey Caruso’s bullying tactics. Rock’s narration is never intrusive, and at times saves a scene or the entire show from becoming too sitcom-saccharine. Rock himself appears as a guidance counselor who gives crappy advice to his alter ego, advice that manifests itself in the last episode, Everybody Hates the G.E.D.
Some of my favorite plotlines include:
- Caruso meeting his match in an Asian guy who Bruce Lees his ass to a pulp. The resulting beatdown costs Caruso his bully self-esteem and throws off the entire high school bully-nerd dynamic.
- Julius and Chris losing all the family’s travel money in a three card monte game in Port Authority. The episode showcases a heretofore unknown skill of Rochelle’s, one she learned from her late father (Jimmie Walker in a Dyn-O-Mite cameo).
- The Kwanzaa episode, where cheap-ass Julian decides it’s better to celebrate Kwanzaa because it costs less than Christmas.
- Chris gets in trouble after telling Redd Foxx jokes at school. He learned them after listening to Foxx’s album on the sneak tip. (I have a personal tie to this one, as I can recite every joke from that album.)
- Rochelle turns out to be The Wicked Witch of the West of tutors. Her berating of Chris is so bad, no wonder he wound up taking the G.E.D.!
- Drew reveals he’s a terrible singer, but decides to go on Showtime at the Apollo armed with the one thing the finicky Apollo crowd can’t boo: God. Drew’s performance, and the way he features God, had me rolling around on the floor.
In reality, we know from Rock’s standup what the results of that G.E.D. exam were. The rest is history, as they say, and so is Everybody Hates Chris. I still watch it from time to time, and it holds up as an amusing show. The writing, by Rock, Ali LeRoi, Alyson Fouse and sitcom vets like Don Reo is always first-rate and true to the characters. It’s the youngest show on Nick at Nite and probably the most award-nominated show to ever spring from the ashes of UPN.
Like Rock, as an adult I eventually learned that adolescence only felt like Everybody Hates Odie. It was just mostly everybody.
Your homework assignment:
Think about high school and see if you overreacted about how bad it was.