TV SEASON PREVIEWS: THURSDAY'Chris' definitely a contender, while 'Love' takes a beating
By Tim Goodman San Francisco Chronicle
Thursday, September 22, 2005Everybody Hates Chris:
Comedy. 8 PM ET/PT Thursdays, UPN.Love, Inc.:
Comedy. 8:30 PM ET/PT Thursdays, UPN.Criminal Minds:
Drama. Special premiere at 10 PM ET/PT tonight; regularly scheduled at 9 PM ET/PT Wednesdays, CBS.
It's Viacom night on your television this evening. Whee!
Granted, that may rank well below, say, Bowling With Little People on Fox or Nude Women Who Swear on HBO. But it's still a fairly interesting tale about how one company owns two networks (CBS and UPN) going in opposite directions, and about how giving the people what they want is ultimately better business than giving the critics something to swoon about.
Tonight, UPN will unveil the biggest buzz show of the fall, the sitcom "Everybody Hates Chris," a heartwarming and funny series based on the adolescence of comedian Chris Rock. It will also air a freshman sitcom, "Love, Inc.," which is woefully bad, much like the rest of the UPN lineup. CBS? It believes that Americans like police procedurals and it has the evidence to back it up. So, yeah, it's got another one of those.
And Friday morning, when the overnight ratings come in, what will the story be? That not everybody hates Chris, but they don't really know where UPN is on their dial, so they passed. Oh, and a lot of people watched "Criminal Minds" -- starring Mandy Patinkin as a brilliant FBI profiler, a series that Marge down on Maple Street could probably pen on a doily because she's been so indoctrinated in the genre.
Commerce: 1; art: 0.
But it gets worse. Despite what the critics think -- that "Chris" is possibly the new "Cosby" (the series even airs in the same time slot on the same night) -- we may learn two weeks into the season that the few who did watch "Chris" don't hate him but are unlikely to watch again. You see, hype is a killer of expectations, and, whether you liked him or not, there isn't another Cosby.
Even when UPN isn't junky, it loses. And by knowing what people want, CBS stays No. 1 -- and profitable.
Boy, that's uplifting.
Is "Everybody Hates Chris" really as good as advertised? Yes. But even the producers began an intensive campaign to tamp down expectations after they met with critics in July and were showered with affection. After all, we're the people who love "Arrested Development," and it got the snot beat out of it on Monday night.
"Everybody Hates Chris" is a throwback gem in a world of ironic detachment. With elements of "Wonder Years," "Cosby" and the "The Jeffersons," but also a spirit all its own, "Chris" is a sitcom that finally makes the family funny again.
Set in 1982, when Rock was 13, the series focuses on Chris (Tyler James Williams, a seriously talented kid) growing up poor in Brooklyn (the "Bed-Stuy" area), while being bused all over town so he can attend the mostly white, tough-Italian Corleone Junior High. He's the "emergency" parent because both Mom and Dad work, so Chris has to look after his little brother, Drew (Tequan Richmond), who's bigger than he is, and his cute but troublesome little sister, Tonya (Imani Hakim).
They -- and hordes of kids at his school -- make life hell for Chris. But he's in a loving family trying to give him the best. His father, Julius (Terry Crews), works three jobs to pay the bills and is understandably concerned about every penny. (One of the show's best continuing jokes is Julius reducing everything to money -- spilled milk, wasted electricity, etc.). His mother, Rochelle (Tichina Arnold), works part time to help pay the bills and keep one hand on the kids. Though the kids fear their dad, they fear Mom's wrath even more.
It's nice to see an 8 p.m. sitcom that most of the family can watch, that has kids acting like kids -- not bratty 12-year-olds talking like jaded 30-year-olds -- and one that tells an actual story as opposed to setting up one-liners. "Chris" works because it's fueled by relatable family humor, it evokes a time and place with a deft touch, and it's both sweet and funny. Granted, some people don't want sweet and funny. They want "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Which is fine. But this is not that show.
It would be lovely but improbable if "Everybody Hates Chris" became a hit. UPN, which has improved considerably the past three seasons, is just not a destination channel for most of America.
Besides, what if people tune in and find "Love, Inc."? It's forced, pathetically unfunny and dim-witted when it wants to be touching, and there's nothing to recommend here, other than looking elsewhere. That's a real problem with UPN. It has no consistency. It has more bad shows than good shows. And last season, it completely squandered the preseason critical-buzz show, "Kevin Hill." Here's hoping that even if Chris doesn't get 18 million viewers, it does better than "Kevin Hill," which was canceled.
There are no such worries at CBS involving "Criminal Minds." The network is so confident that you will love yet another of its crime-and-punishment series (where everything is solved ever so tidily in one hour) that it's showing "Criminal Minds" on Thursday night, when it actually airs Wednesday night. In the thick of the fall premieres, when viewers are trying to figure out what they like, where it is, what time it's on and what it conflicts with -- man, that's downright insolent.
Still, you can see why CBS is confident. "Criminal Minds" has what Americans adore: violent mayhem and bright-minded government lawmen who make it all right in the 59th minute. "Criminal Minds" is fairly rote -- Patinkin plays Special Agent Jason Gideon, the FBI's best behavioral analyst, who has come back to work after a little forced time off when his last case went sideways. But we are taught as viewers to love police profilers -- their ability to suss out motive, action, thought and weakness makes them seem like geniuses.
The problem with "Criminal Minds" -- other than there are 48 series in a similar vein, 39 of them on CBS -- is that every person in this cast has an area of expertise, and they spend the hour telling you about it in the most unrealistic workplace conversations you'll ever hear. Thomas Gibson, Lola Glaudini, Shemar Moore, Matthew Gray Gubler -- they all play profilers with distinct specialties. Which means that a typical scene in "Criminal Minds" will have one of them saying, "Seventy-eight percent of all arsonists can recite the Greek gods," and another will say, "Sexually abused predators are likely to have bent their Erector sets in rage," while two in the background will chirp in ERA and RBI information for teams in the Negro Leagues.
It's too much. Really. Meanwhile, "Criminal Minds" is fiercely violent. But it all gets smoothed over because -- no kidding here -- the writers have Patinkin recite famous quotes nonstop. This series is like an orgy with the Encyclopedia Britannica and Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. With serial killers and guns, naturally.
A slam-dunk hit, most likely. But also fairly annoying.http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/articl...type=printable