Monday, May 07, 2007

"I can't. My cousin from South Jersey wants to drive me around Brooklyn and listen to Born in the USA.": Everybody Hates Chris

About halfway through, this episode of Everybody Hates Chris just gave up. It was a solid entry in the series, albeit one that was built around a pretty flimsy premise, but it had some good laughs and some fine work from the actors.

And then? Then the episode just sort of petered out. I laughed a few more times, but the plot didn't really have enough oomph to it to carry a full episode, and the ending didn't really carry through. What's more, the act breaks were weak. That may seem a bit too wonky, but I'll explain what I mean.

The act break is what takes us from one portion of the story into commercial, hopefully prodding us to stick around through the commercial and watch the next bit of the show. The best act breaks change something or reverse some existing situation, but more and more, it seems, shows are using "soft" act breaks, where the real jeopardy the characters are placed in is some sort of mild emotional jeopardy. This may be a response to years of forced physical jeopardy (and lord knows I sympathize with TV producers who are forced to find ways to keep us coming back after commercial break after commercial break), but the soft act outs sometimes feel as though the story doesn't necessarily need to be followed. Of course, TiVo eliminates the problem of having to sit through a break, but if I had gone wandering off to, say, How I Met Your Mother, I might not have returned after the riveting break where I had to worry about whether or not Chris would get caught in a fight between his mom and grandma over who got to teach him math.

Yeah, this episode went to the old kid's show standby of "Math is hard, yo." Maybe it's because I never had trouble with math, but I've never been able to get into storylines like this. It doesn't help that every show ever has done a twist on this same plotline. Chris' attempts to learn math from his mother were funny at first, but the episode eventually hit all of the usual beats in this sort of story (as his grandmother soon showed him that he could use math to calculate sports stats!). I liked the idea of the math pizza party (as I fondly remember the days of Book-It), but it wasn't enough to pull the whole storyline through.

Maybe if the other stories had worked a little better I would have enjoyed the main one, but Julius being forced to cope with the guy who just wanted to engage in shady behavior was little more than an amusing runner. And the story about Tanya holding Drew hostage after he broke Julius' chair was yet another kid's show resurrectee. It's not that I hate stories that have been done a million times before, but Chris usually puts a new spin on them (it's why we cover the show here), and it's disappointing to see something played so note for note like it was on that episode of Fresh Prince where the girl had to bark like a dog (as I recall).

Any thoughts on this show at all?

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