I’ve always been very curious about shows that, according to the Nielsen Ratings, nearly nobody watches, and yet they live year-after-year-after-year. Smallville is one of these, and despite my fluctuating appreciation for the show (I used to love it, now it’s just kind of a habit), I recognize that much of its survival (it’s in its eighth season now) is based off of Warner Brothers wanting to protect its property, as well attain as a guaranteed couple hundred episodes prime for syndication. (Those DVD sales aren’t too shabby, either.) One whose continued existence I really don’t understand, though, is Everybody Hates Chris.
Now, let’s not get off on the wrong foot. I think EHC is a great family sitcom, funny and surreal without being too wild, sweet but not without a sense of bitter life experience, subversive and yet written for the whole family. And I think Rochelle (Tichina Arnold) and Julius (former pro football player Terry Crews) may just be the best parents on television, despite all their shortcomings.
But nobody watches EHC, and it has shifted around at least four times in four seasons, first on UPN and now on the confusing grid that is the CW. Maybe the company just wants to hold onto narrator/producer/inspiration Chris Rock as long as they can, and maybe it’s one of the highest scoring African-American shows out there (a ratings list to which I have no access), but whichever way you swing it, the show is not a ratings success.
This season, the show is finally starting to show its seams. Now that Chris (Tyler James Williams) has graduated middle school, he has been thrust only mildly into high school. So far, the writers haven’t really known what to do with the new setting other than make him the manager of the football team, which in itself hasn’t really paid off in any big way, either. Best friend Greg (Vincent Martella, a.k.a. Phineas on Phineas & Ferb) has pretty much been shafted as far as any kind of story is concerned, and so have most of his classmates (save for that one episode where Chris becomes friends with a very effeminate man named Angel). Even Caruso the bully and Ms. Morello the unintentionally racist teacher-turned-principal have barely had any screen time.
This leaves us with the family itself to be the main catalyst for everything, and while Rochlle and Julius have had some great focus in several of the episodes here in s4, especially when they begin to butt heads over gambling for opposite New York football teams, or when Julius begins working for Mr. Omar and his happiness begins to rub Rochelle in the wrong way. But younger brother Drew (Tequan Richmond) and younger sister Tanya (Imani Hakim) have become almost completely irrelevant, either because the actors have other things to do, or that their defining features (his ability to draw in any woman into his orbit, her brattiness) have simply worn out their welcome.
There’s really nothing wrong, per se, with the season, but some of the episodes have seemed to just exist instead of breathing life into the dying form of the sitcom, which is something I felt the show always excelled at. One middling episode was taken apart piece-by-piece in Entertainment Weekly (that one being “Everybody Hates Big Bird,” in which Chris cruelly ignores a pretty cute girl at school because others make fun of her), but I save my disappointment for the very unfunny “Everybody Hates Doc’s,” where Chris goes into a battle of wits with his employer’s needy girlfriend.
There has been one absolute gem of an episode, though, called “Everybody Hates Homecoming,” when Chris finds a very worthy date for the titular dance, but first has to meet her parents. In a combination of homage and mockery, her family turns out to be the Huxtables, with Orlando Jones as Bill Cosby, complete with accent and sweater, spewing lame quips and puns in front of a live television audience. (If you haven’t seen the show yet, EHC is a one-camera non-laugh track show, so the change is especially jarring.) While looking back on a seminal 1980s African-American sitcom with reverence, it nonetheless showed that times have changed and that the rose-colored-glasses world of the Huxtables simply doesn’t fit in the new millennium.
I hope for the best with EHC, because it can continue to be this little cult hit that could someday be seen as a small classic. I just wish that they’d return to the more original tone of the first two seasons and stop relying so much on sitcom clichés. I know you’re better than that, Chris Rock, and that you care enough about the show based on your own life to do something about it.