Average black family more Chris Rock than Cosby
Let’s face it: the summer television season, with its wasteland of sitcoms and dramas unworthy of the regular calendar, as well as reality shows featuring Z-list celebrities and bizarro competitions, is the best endorsement for getting out and taking an evening walk after work.
But this summer’s TV schedule gives the viewer a chance to catch one of television’s best kept secrets, the sitcom “Everybody Hates Chris” before it goes away for good in the fall.
“Chris,” a joked-up account of the teenaged years of Chris Rock, was one of the funniest shows on the CW, a network hardly anybody watched. Alas, Rock and the CW essentially agreed to end the show after this season.
The show, which starred Tyler James Williams as a young Chris Rock, Terry Crews as his overworked father, Julius, and Tichina Arnold as his harried mother, Rochelle, was by no means perfect.
Indeed, Arnold, previously best known for her role as Pam, a loudmouth on “Martin,” was only slightly more nuanced on “Chris.” The daughter, Tonya, portrayed by Imani Hakim, was just a small step up from the insufferable Dee from “What’s Happening” in the 70’s.
But what “Chris” had in abundance were two qualities not often seen in today’s television, namely heart and realism.
The family, as depicted on “Chris” loved each other honestly, albeit with comedic flourishes. Julius and Rochelle didn’t always like their kids, but they loved them fiercely, and each worked multiple jobs to provide for them. The children, meanwhile, were precocious without being precious. In other words, they were real kids.
The departure of “Everybody Hates Chris” after four seasons comes, oddly enough, in the same season of the 25th anniversary of the seminal African-American family sitcom, “The Cosby Show.”
The similarities between the two shows are interesting. Each is a peek inside the home lives of two of the most popular Black comedians of their era, and both sitcoms were set in Brooklyn in the 80’s.
Coincidentally, Arnold made an appearance in “Cosby,” while Phylicia Rashad guest-starred in a “Chris” episode.
But that’s where the two shows parted. Cosby seemed determined to show a family that just happened to be Black. The people in the Huxtables’ Brooklyn Heights brownstone — an obstetrician father, a mother who was an attorney, and children who attended an Ivy League and the most prestigious of HBCUs – could just as easily have been White or Asian or Hispanic as Black.
Perhaps as a result, we saw very few episodes during “The Cosby Show”’s run that directly addressed issues of interest to African-Americans.
Meanwhile, the family on “Chris” could not avoid their ethnicity. Their Bed-Stuy neighborhood was almost exclusive African-American, and scenes there were virtually always about what it was like to be Black in America in the mid-1980’s. The young Chris was sent to White schools and had to cope with being a stranger in a strange land.
And while the Huxtables were hobnobbing with Dizzy Gillespie, Lena Horne and Sammy Davis, Jr., the crème-de la crème of African-American culture, Chris and his siblings were trying to get into concerts headlined by Billy Ocean, the Fat Boys and Run-DMC.
The suggestion has been made that Barack Obama’s ascension to the pinnacle of American politics was made possible, in part by the trail blazed by the Huxtables, the Black family every White family could claim to know.
That may be true, but the Obamas also owe quite a bit of their move on up to the kinds of families embodied by the family on “Chris.”
“Everybody Hates Chris” reruns should air through the summer. Don’t miss a chance to say goodbye to a classic.