Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mystery Cosby Theater 3000

"Whenever something looks good, it's compared to something that was good."

I was riding shotgun this time, talking television with my pal Smalls in his passenger SUV. In his early years, Smalls was a production assistant for a comedic titan on one of his spin-off prime time sitcoms. We always commute to work together, which gives Smalls time to dish advice to a kid walking in his tread marks.

"I had a deep respect for Mr. Cosby. We all did. Everyone on his sets were black, and everyone worked to the best of their ability. No one wanted to disappoint Mr. Cosby."

Smalls told those stories with a tempered patience, pausing only to make room for his innocuous laugh. He loved his time on The Cosby Mysteries and spoke of the show in reverential tones best saved for kings and potentates. It almost made me forget that Cosby Mysteries only lasted for one season.

Almost.How can a show with an iconic comedian die after a mere 20 episodes?

"Whenever something looks good, it's compared to something that was good."

In other words, the success of The Cosby Show is what doomed Cosby Mysteries. It's hard to fulfill such great expectations. If Lisa Bonet couldn't hold her own as a Cosby daughter, how could we expect her to carry lead on A Different World? Exactly. We couldn't. (And that's not even counting her dalliances with Lenny Kravitz.)

We're never going to get another Cosby Show, because our world has since evolved. 1982's America was ripe for a humorous but genuine expression of the black family. Bill Cosby was the man with the tools to tell the tale.

I say this in the context of "Reed Between the Lines", a show that appears a Cosby spin off sans the blessing of the comedic emeritus. Let's give it a chance. Sure, Malcolm Jamal-Warner looks exactly the same 20 years later. Yes, I know that his mock wife is Diana Ross's daughter. But give the show a fighting chance. Watch an episode. DVR the rest.

And maybe we can move towards creating another transcendent situation comedy.
BET's "Reed Between the Lines" - Season 1: Episode 1
The show opens with a steady pan of an open-air kitchen, with Dr. Alex Reed (Malcolm Jamal-Warner) cutting vegetables in the sink, alone. The action begins as Dr. Carla Reed (Tracee Ellis-Ross) strolls into the kitchen, looking at her husband with sultry, inviting eyes.

"Hey baby...oh, is that a sexy English professor I see cooking in my kitchen?"
Well, then. Was I the only one surprised the "Reed" pulled out the word "sexy" within the first thirty seconds of the new show? Bill Cosby would've NEVER let that word hit open air in Brooklyn.

"I am Chauncey, your personal chef."
"Oh, I forgot it was roll-playing night, but OK."

You know who just got totally hosed? Parents who let their kids stayed up for the premiere. Dang. How the heck do you explain "roll play" to your kids?

" honey, 'roll-playing' is a game where little monsters come out and tickle mommies and daddies. AND YOU CAN'T PLAY UNTIL YOU'RE MARRIED."

"I hope I can handle whatever it is your serving me..."
"A bed, a BAY-ed you say..."

You know what I hate? Bad Southern accents. Tracee Ellis-Ross sounds like a maniacal Polly Purebread. Or, better yet, like Kristen Wiig from SNL.

"You know what five minutes is? First place, last place."
Oh, clean humor! How I've missed you! We haven't been together since NewsRadio! I was SO afraid no one knew how to write you anymore!

"Mom, you leave your keys in the door again...Ohh."
This little girl is hella saditty. And yes, I used the word saditty without knowing what it even means.

(First commercial = "Where's the Beef?")
Dylan from Modern Family? This can only mean good things for Cosby Show 3000.

"Well, I just set up a blind date with a gentleman I met on the subway.
Wait a minute, how can that be a blind date?
Well, he can't see."
Glad to have Dee from "Wayans Bros." back in the fold. And she looks EXACTLY as she did TEN YEARS AGO as the police officer in the office building. Seriously. I flipped to MTV2 and checked.

Is there a secret laboratory that freezes supporting TV actors in carbonate? And is it owned by one of the Isley Brothers?
"It always has to be about you, doesn't it?"
Quick recall of the Dee/Wayans Bros. point: Our casting director is currently batting 1,000 and throwing strikes like Jimmy Key Dave Stewart in R.B.I. Baseball.

"Carla, no man should be friends with his ex. She couldn't seal the deal, and that's her problem!"
TELL IT GIRL! Men on Art just gave that line two snaps in a circle.


That's what she said. Or what Eric Benet said.
(I swear, BET really doesn't want kids watching this show. But isn't that like half your audience...gone?)

"That spinach salad was delicious. It's like there's a party in my mouth, and you're the DJ."
Every time I see the phrase "party in my...", I feel the irresistable urge to yell the word "TUMMY!" I blame this on DJ Lance.

“I’m texting…I don’t have to spell it right. You just have to do it right.”
This would be a great line for anyone not named Theo Huxtable.

"I'm making my famous Alex Apple Turnovers. But get this...I don't turn them over."
I don't get how this is humorous. How is sexual innuendo with a complete stranger funny in any circumstance?

Mom Reed: “I love art. And I love my family. And I really, really love my husband.
Baby Girl Reed: “Ooo, I can see that lady’s privacies! HE’S SHOWING HIS PRIVACIES TOO!”

I love how baby Reed is just running around pointing at naked art. I also like that high school kids go on class trips. We would've gone on trips in high school too, if our entire class wasn't hog-tied to our desks.

"No. Bourgeois people eavesdrop, I was straight up being nosey."
One of my criticism of black comedy has always been this: Is it possible just to write to an universal audience? To just BE funny? Does every joke need to address some hidden insecurity within the community? That's the greatest gift that Cosby gave: he showed America that blacks have the same problems and deal with them in similar ways that any family would.

“Women like that are fantasies. You are a reality.”
OK, so this is almost the same exact line that The Game dropped on their first day to BET. I'm beginning to think that acknowledging "wifey guilt" is a rite of passage.

“Professor…I seem to have lost my homework. Perhaps you’ll have to keep me after class to teach me a lesson.”
Tracee Ellis-Ross is the funniest person on this show. Hands down. But if we replaced Joan with Toni juuuuust for these scenes, do we really get a huge comedic drop-off?
“If you haven’t noticed, I’m a guy. If you were in your underwear, that train has already left the station.”
Oh, Malcolm Jamal-Warner. Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?

“I look at other women all the time.”

“Just because I look at the menu after I’ve ordered doesn’t mean I don’t want what I already have.”
This may be the worst thing to say to a woman with high heels in hand.

“I happen to be very happy with what I have, and I don’t need anything else.”
“So are you saying I don’t need to wear high heels to bed and dress sexy for you?”
“Hey, hey…let’s not get crazy.”
Glad they made this point. Women reading this: JUST BECAUSE YOU GET MARRIED DOESN'T MEAN ALL BETS ARE OFF.

“The Hamburger Helper hand came to life and started tickling me. I don’t like getting tickled.”

Overall Grade = C
When I was a kid, I was used to three things every morning. Toothpaste on my toothbrush. My clothes ironed and on my doorknob. And my Dad's Cream of Wheat every other morning.

There were days that the toothpaste hung off the edge of the brush, with the paste making stains along the bathroom sink, but it was still there. Some days my Mom would be too busy to iron our clothes. But we still had clothes to wear. Some days, when Dad stirred the porridge, it was lumpy and uneven in parts. But we still had food to eat before school.

"Reed Between the Lines" looks like my house on a typical weekday morning: Slightly uneven, a tad disheveled, somewhat sluggish, and lumpy in parts. Despite all these small idiosyncrasies, Reed will be dependable and consistent. And that's something worth fighting for.
- M.B., II

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