Monday, July 20, 2009

The Couch Potato Series: "Hey, Your Brother is SMART?"

Folks, I need you to be honest for a second.

When someone mentions the phrase “sports blogger”, what’s the first image that comes to mind?

YES! That’s it!

"Alec, I’ll take a fat, lazy, white guy living in his parents’ basement for $400, please!"

Since I began writing regularly four years ago, I fought hard to erase that unceremonious image from your brain. We writers are a proud group of creators who work hard to ensure that our fart jokes are done timely and properly to maximize the funny. Yeah, so what if we like to work in the basement? Everybody knows heat rises in the summertime!

However, since my return home, I’ve afraid that I might slowly become that dreaded stereotype. Granted, I’m still going out for job interviews and social outings, but I just haven’t been able to channel my inner Michael Scott to the laptop. I’ve become like Jon Favreau’s character in Swingers, only with less disposable income and more awkward phone calls.

Let’s be clear: I’m still black, thin and living in my own room. I mean, it’s tough to find the chemical reagent Mike Jackson stumbled on back in ‘83. (Too soon?) And as for the skinny, I shattered my piggy bank to buy a set of Perfect Pushups. Hopefully I’ll build up enough muscle tone to avoid constantly getting mistaken for Oscar Proud on Sixth Avenue.

The tough part about being a sports blogger right now is this: The sports landscape is DEAD during summer. I’m talking like Sinbad’s stand-up comedy career. D-E-A-D. If I hear one more sports talk radio jockey grumble about Joba Chamberlain’s need to go to the bullpen, I’m going to split their head open with a battle axe. It’s gotten repetitive, which can only lead to one thing: BOREDOM.

In a dual effort to jumpstart my creative juices and keep lactic acid from building up in my cataracts, I began to re-read my favorite posts. After looking over my "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and "A Different World" reviews, I’d decided to resurrect my ginormous plan and alleviate these dregs of, well, summer. I think we’re due for another “Throwback” sitcom synopsis.

(Before I continue, let’s pause for this quick station identification. Simmons made a valid point concerning the death of M.J. in a recent mailbag, and I’ve just got to bring it up again. Was anyone else thinking that Michael Jackson might just hop out of his coffin at the Staples Center memorial? I did. Think about it. Michael Jackson’s provided us more memorable moments than most major sports franchises and even some developing nations. Why not top it off with the greatest histrionic performance ever? During the entire ceremony, I was hawking that coffin like it was the draft lottery envelope at the ’84 Ewing Sweepstakes. Honestly, if Mike decided to jump on stage during Lionel Richie’s solo, I wouldn’t have been totally surprised. For one, it would’ve been the best TV moment in history, and Michael Jackson was tailor-made to eviscerate the stage. It was only after they wheeled his coffee out the door that I thought to myself, Wow…he’s really gone. Just thought I’d throw that out there before diving headlong into this column. Thanks for the memories, Michael.)

“Smart Guy”: March 26, 1997 – May 16, 1999 (3 Seasons)

My Introduction
: I don’t do this often, so I’d better make it count. Since BET recently decided to program re-runs of this classic series, I decided to take advantage and watch the channel. For the record, BET’s got to be the only channel that still advertises cell ringtones and lump sum payments. But to be fair, BET has done a great job of getting into the syndication game. Yes, I know I just complimented the same network that gave us the disaster dubbed the BET Awards. I will now light myself on fire. Toasty.

Promise not to laugh when you read this. There is a stark difference between “dorks” and “nerds”. And Master T.J. Henderson from Washington, D.C. was no “dork.” Heck, Smart Guy was a television show created For Nerds By Nerds, like a FUBU equivalent for young, black bookworms. This family situational comedy (or, sitcom) was centered on our hero T.J. (Tahj Mowry), the innocent tween accelerated to the tenth grade due to his capacity for higher learning. More often than not, young T.J. would be found matching his academic intellect against the street smarts of his older brother Marcus (Jason Weaver), a debonair dude more interested in smooth-talking high school honeys with his partner-in-crime Mo Tibbs (Omar Gooding). Marcus and T.J. do a great job of annoying their older sister Tasha (Essence Atkins), all while their young pops (John Marshall Jones) makes sure they stay out of trouble. Over those short seasons, this simple concept develops rapidly into an exciting comedy.

The Main Characters That Held The Show Together And Gave Danny Kallis and Suzanne De Passe Jobs (B-): Can’t really give you an honest answer to this one. The show faltered after three seasons, probably because the show was built in a limiting vacuum. Whenever you build your show around a promising child star, the cute factor inevitably comes into play. That’s why Rudy got replaced by Olivia on Cosby (even though she is drop-dead gorgeous now), why Bart and Lisa will never grow up, and why T.J.’s creative hit show had a built-in expiration date. Nothing kills the cute factor faster than a teenage face splattered with acne. Just ask Alicia Keys. Ouch.

Rising Stars (C): I’m convinced that scoring great roles in Hollywood is like trying to break in to a pick-up game of park hoops. You’ve got to establish yourself right off-bat or you’re screwed. If you don’t, your acting career can go one of two ways: Home Shopping Network or cameos. There’s no shame in pulling a Jaleel White and stacking your filmography chips with obscure episode cameos and movie one-liners. My college roommate Josh and I laughed for about an hour at Jaleel’s “Show’s Over” line in Dream Girls because those were literally the last two words Urkel spoke in the entire movie. Just. Epic. It was like a referendum on his entire career post-Matters. That, my friends, is unintentional comedy.

Anyway, the actors from “Smart Guy” never ended up making the leap. Omar Gooding had a legitimate shot to break into the rotation with his portrayal of the lifted running back D.H. in ESPN’s “Playmakers” until the NFL pulled the plug on the show. (I need to get a copy of that first season.) What’s wrong with showing professional football players doing lines of coke and anabolic steroids, NFL?
Moment the Show "Jumped the Shark": Like I mentioned earlier, Smart Guy was a show with a short shelf life. And that’s was before they changed the theme song during the show’s high popularity point. In an instant, the show stopped giving off the “Hey, there’s a 10-year-old in 10th grade! What a concept!” vibe and started moving awkwardly towards the “I guess we’re going to try and tackle mature subjects now” phase. The lesson, as always: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Sometimes, it’s that simple.

Eye Candy (B+): Before talking about this category gets more uncomfortable than a fake out-make out, I’ll drop three quick sentences and keep it moving. Whenever four out of the five showcase characters on a sitcom are men (with the “Dad” character being a widower), it’s a mortal lock that legions of hot women will be included. Once the opening credits rolled across the screen, I’d already mentally written three sure-fire scripts for the show (Dad gets back on the dating scene, Mo/Marcus fight over cute girl, T.J. falls in love with hot teacher). I’m just glad that the hot girlfriend rotation for Marcus and Mo didn’t get to unrealistic “REALLY???? Come ON!!!!” levels like Will had going on that last season of The Fresh Prince.

Theme Song (B+): I don’t think executive producers have fully realized it yet, but the best theme songs are the ones that you do a terrible job of mock-singing to yourself way after the show’s over. Smart Guy does this perfectly with the signature “He’s a Smart Guy!” line looming at the tail end of the song. Think about it. How many times did you imitate that “Shoom! Chi-chi-chi-chi-chi-CHOOM!” noise from the very beginning of the Family Matters theme? (Or, maybe it was just me. Perhaps I’ve said too much.)

Best Season (Season 2): Not too many to choose from here, but I’ve gotta go with Season 2. Better theme song (with Omar Gooding getting credit in the credits), better screenwriting, better girlfriends, better Mo, better child acting…better show.

Worst Season (Season 3): Season 3 of Smart Guy reminded me of that screwy last season of Family Matters when Urkel and Stephon both existed at the same time, old Harriet left for more loot, and the crazy experiments just moved weirdly towards science fiction levels. I mean, the show was destined to end. Young Teej was on the cusp of puberty, Yvette was on the brink of college, and Jason Weaver was ready to begin his career of one-hit wonders and black audience blockbusters. Basically put, the Smart Guy schtick had run its course. Show Rank: 870 out of 18,234 shows. In other words, astoundingly average.

My Overall Rating (B): If I stopped and made a time capsule of stuff from middle school, I’d have to toss in a director’s cut of Smart Guy (along with a copy of Pokemon Yellow, of course). Smart Guy exists as a representation of late-90s culture, when DVD’s were just beginning to replace VHS, when cell phones were on the cusp of being affordable for everyone, and when boy bands ruled the pop charts. The Disney Channel owes Smart Guy their livelihood as a network, as the show effectively bridged the gap between their ridiculous paid-Disney Channel movement (anyone remember when they gave us one free weekend of Disney per year?) and the Even Stevens/Lizzie McGuire generation. Smart Guy, we'll never forget you. Well, at least I know Latavia and LeToya won't.

I’m just waiting patiently for Tahj Mowry to pull a Drake “Hey, Isn’t That the Guy From Degrassi?” on us and lay down some background vocals for Trick Daddy or something. Hey, you know it’s coming.
Keep enjoying the summer, everyone.

Mike Benjamin is an aspiring sports and comedy writer that hails from Queens Village, NY. You can check out more of his work at his blog, Points Off Turnovers. Make sure to start following him over at Twitter, too.)

1 comment:

  1. i know this blog was written a long time ago, but YES, i do remember those free disney weekends! Once it cut off right when the gummi bears was coming on! I was very upset at the time. Great blog!