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Bernie Mac Show, The - The Complete First Season  Print E-mail
DVD TV Shows
Written by Bryan Dailey   
Tuesday, 04 May 2004

TV is famous for taking the edge out of really funny comedians. When the ratings for “Seinfeld” exploded, network executives began scrambling to turn stand-up comedians into sitcom stars. The formula should work in theory, since stand-up comedians’ only job is to get up in front of an audience and be funny. The reality is that comedians who have been plucked from the R-rated world of comedy clubs and inserted into PG-rated primetime slots have met with varying levels of success. The hilarious Damon Wayans was domesticated on ABC’s sitcom “My Wife and Kids,” a show that is almost unwatchable. Margaret Cho was given a chance at network stardom with the ill-fated “American Girl.” Bob Saget, who is best known as the softhearted dad on “Full House,” is actually a silver-tongued stand-up comedian who was brought into the sitcom world and launched the careers of the Olsen twins and left John Stamos doing collect call commercials. Would putting the outrageously hilarious comedian Bernie Mac on a network sitcom squash his comedic style or bring out a new dimension of funny from him?

Dubbed one of the Original Kings of Comedy, the brash comedian was given a show on Fox that like many sitcoms before it, is “based on the comedy of” the star. The plot of the show is that Bernie Mac essentially plays himself, a very successful stand-up comedian who uses his humor and charisma to take himself out of the tough urban streets of Chicago and is now living the American dream in his big mansion in the hills of Los Angeles. Bernie has a beautiful wife, a stunning home and is making more money in his career than he ever dreamed of. He has all the latest gadgets and toys a guy could ever want and his life is stress-free and easy. Things are about to change as he learns that his sister has been arrested on a drug-related charge and her children need a place to live or they are going to be sent to protective services to live in foster homes. Despite his gruff exterior, Bernie aggress to take his nieces and nephew in to live with him, turning his life completely upside down.

Similar to the plot line of Will Smith’s successful show “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” these kids come from a rough urban setting to live in the lap of luxury, but they soon find that living with Bernie can be as tough, if not tougher, than the life they knew before. Bernie has a very hilarious stand-up bit about having to take care of his sister’s kids that was the inspiration for the series. Having heard that comedy piece before watching the show, it’s uncanny how the casting director for “The Bernie Mac Show” was able to find kids that are exactly the same as they way Bernie describes them in his act. Vanessa, the oldest girl, is a typical teenager who struggles with issues every girl deals with, including boys, dieting and what clothes she is going to wear to school. Jordan is a slightly effeminate, asthmatic boy who is an easy target for bullies and cries at the drop of a hat when he doesn’t get his way. Bryana is the youngest, and is as cute as a button with the ability to touch Mac’s heart with her timid little voice and adorable face.

In the show’s pilot episode, the whole plot for the show is set up as Bernie Mac greets the audience is his easy chair in his office and tells us the story of his sister’s incarceration. When Mac utters his patented line “I’m gonna kill them kids,” you really feel his frustration as he tries to come to terms with the fact that his life will never be the same now that he is their legal guardian. As much as he tries to lay down the law and be a tyrant in the house, you never forget that there is an unspoken love for the kids.

Unlike the traditional sitcom that is shot live in front of a studio audience, Fox has been releasing many comedies that are filmed and edited much more like a movie. “Malcolm in the Middle,” “Arrested Development” and “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” are just a few examples of this formula. When you watch any traditional sitcom, “Friends” for example, you know they are supposed to be in a Manhattan apartment or coffee shop, but it’s quite obvious to anyone with half a brain that the show is set in a studio and there is a big audience right in front of the actors. With these live action Fox comedy shows, including “The Bernie Mac Show,” there is a level of added realism as they tend to film on real locations.

The plot lines for the entire first season are typical of most sitcoms, but in typical Bernie Mac fashion, he takes the stories to another level of political incorrectness. In one episode, Jordan is struggling with bullies at school and in the neighborhood, so Bernie consults his friend Sugar Ray Leonard about what to do. When Bernie teaches Jordan how to stick up for himself by acting like a deranged maniac, he creates a monster as Jordan begins terrorizing everyone at school.

In an episode that you could only find on “The Bernie Mac Show,” Bryana hears Bernie using the “N” word and she then uses it at school. This throws the teachers for a loop and Child Protective Services are quickly sent out to interrogate Bernie. Another classic episode finds Bernie turning his home into a fortress after a burglar had broken into his home. There is the constant juxtaposition of Bernie talking about how annoyed he is at the fact that his life has been turned upside down by the kids, yet his undying love for them shines through. This is most evident in the episode “Kelly’s Heroes,” as Uncle Kelly comes in and steals Bernie’s thunder when the kids start liking Kelly more than Bernie. Bernie doesn’t like to admit it, but by about halfway into the first season, he has fallen hopelessly in love with the kids and wouldn’t know what to do without them.

Mac’s acting progressively gets better throughout the show, as does his apparent affection for his nieces and nephew. He’s an old pro on the comedy stages and he brings that confidence and charisma to his role on the show. Playing oneself might seem an easy task, but by the time the show reaches its emotional two-part season finale, you can tell how much Mac has grown as an actor over the course of the course of 22 episodes.

As this is a four-disc set, I was surprised to find that the amount of bonus materials is fairly minor, with only a dry commentary track by Mac and series creator Larry Wilmore on the pilot episode, as well as a 45-minute documentary about “The Bernie Mac Show” that originally aired on the A&E network. The sound and picture quality are adequate and the menus of the discs are fairly straightforward. The sound format on the discs is only a Dolby Digital faux stereo. Discreet surround would have been nice, but this show would never be considered sound demo material anyway. The picture quality of the discs is average, as many of the scenes are shot in what is supposed to be Mac’s home and the furniture and lighting in the home is fairly dark. When Mac is relaxing in his den, smoking a cigar, the dark colors of the room do not offer great contrast. When scenes are shot outside of the dark home, the picture quality is much better.

If you are already a fan of Bernie Mac, then you probably already watch the show. The show was renewed by Fox and although it’s not a Top 10-rated show, it has solid ratings and gets a good deal of promotion by Fox. If you have never seen the show or heard of Bernie Mac, don’t like typical canned laugh track sitcoms and want to see an edgy but heartwarming family comedy, you should check out “The Bernie Mac Show.”







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