|In Living Color - The Complete Second Season|
|DVD TV Shows|
|Written by Dan Macintosh|
|Tuesday, 28 September 2004|
Back in the ‘90s, when “In Living Color” was still new, this comedy was one of the edgiest offerings on network television. As you may recall, Fox was still a relatively new network at the time, and doing everything within its powers just to get noticed. But if you have ever watched Comedy Central’s current “Chapelle’s Show,” which is the latest and greatest African-American-centered sketch comedy program, “In Living Color” looks relatively tame in comparison. (Envelopes were made to be pushed, you know.) Nevertheless, it’s with good reason that “In Living Color” was/is referred to as the black “Saturday Night Live,” because it bravely infused a large dosage of overdue color into sketch comedy.
Keenan Ivory Wayans created this program, which also starred his siblings Marlon, Kim, Shawn and Damon. It also offered the first big break for Jim Carrey (listed in the credits as James Carrey) in these initial episodes. Other non-Wayans cast members include David Alan Grier, Kelly Coffield and Tommy Davidson. Credit should also be given to writers like Kim Bass and Buddy Sheffield, since these funny people always kept the dialogue up to amazingly high standards.
It’s hard to imagine how this cast squeezed so much memorable comedy into its stingy short half-hour programs -- which only add up to 22 minutes of actual viewing time, minus commercials. “Saturday Night Live,” remember, was given a full hour and a half of network time. This second season is most notable for the familiar characters it continued to develop. Carrey, for example, plays Vera De Milo, who is a spitting, lisping, appalling female body builder. He also inhabits Fire Marshall Bill, who is an arsonist’s best friend posing as a safety expert. Carrey stands out not only because he is the cast’s token male white actor, but also because he is one of the most flexible-bodied comedians in existence.
Damon Wayans also has a number of memorable moments here. One of these is his Homey the Clown character, who is a rightfully scary circus freak. For those who have a clown phobia, this Homey is the real deal. At one point, Homey is dressed as Santa Claus, meeting with children at a department store during Christmastime. These kids, all played by adults, learn about Christmas from a whole new and frightening perspective when Homey introduces them to his hard life worldview. His talk overshadows any joy the season might have otherwise brought. It’s also funny to watch how this sketch winds down, because Wayans’ “bowl full of jelly” belly eventually edges close to falling completely out of his red jacket. It was smart for the producers to leave this little bit of a wardrobe malfunction in the final cut, since Wayans simply rolls with it and keeps the laughs coming. Wayans also plays Handi-Man, presumably the world's first physically-challenged superhero. During the extras, the writers say they were worried about offending folks with this one politically incorrect skit (among others). But Keenan screened it for a group of handicapped folks, who loved it so much that they asked to watch it twice.
Grier is also brilliant throughout, never more than as the character Calhoun Tubbs, who is a stereotypical old school blues singer. In one sketch, this character is asked to sing at a funeral. But instead of creating soothing vibes for the friends and the family of the deceased gathered at the church, he instead brings up these folks’ embarrassing secrets with his songs.
There are plenty of ensemble pieces that also work well here. One gets the distinct impression that “In Living Color” especially liked to work its players in pairs. For instance, there were those “Funky Finger Productions” (Grier and Davidson) guys, who always seem to be at the right media event, but with far too little real entertainment business expertise to offer there. And who can forget “Men on Film”? Not only do these overtly gay characters review films, but in one of these notable skits, they take a short European trip and call it “Men on Vacation.” In this bit, they get to say “hated it” in unison, whenever describing their least favorite countries. Elsewhere, there are appearances of “The Brothers Brothers,” who are two black men who act whiter than even the whitest of whites. Not only do they not “get” what it means to be black, but they play and sing folk music just like The Smother Brothers. And while we’re on the subject of teams, let’s not forget “The Homey Shopping Network.” This set-up finds two five-finger discounters (thieves) endlessly trying to sell hot goods on television. Another personal favorite is “The Hour of Power-Tag Team Evangelists.” The best part of this segment is how accurately Carrey portrays a white bread, money-stealing preacher. Not only does he have that painted-on-smile down pat, but the wardrobe people dressed him in just the perfect light blue suit for the part. If you’ve ever been stuck watching religious television for any amount of time, you’ll realize how accurate this costume is. Near the end of the skit, Carrey goes into a song about how the Lord “ran away” when he was seeking after Him. And with a joker like that begging for the Lord’s attention, who can blame Him for ditching the dude?
One of the most popular bits on the program was “Hey Mon,” which features a hardworking family of Jamaicans. The premise revolves around a family that emigrated from Jamaica and never seem to have enough jobs to pay their bills. They take great pride in their dedication to hard work, and frown upon those who could not – or would not --live up to their abnormally high standards. Keenan Wayans plays a surgeon operating on a patient. When that patient suddenly dies, he casually takes off his blue scrubs to reveal the turned collar of a priest at the ready to perform the last rites. When the patient turns out to be Jewish, he merely pulls a yarmulke out of his pocket and places it upon his head.
Since this show had just 22 minutes to work with, there wasn’t nearly enough time include any full musical segments. Nevertheless, the show became famous for its Fly Girls dancers, who could always be seen working up a sexy sweat during outros. And for music, well, they oftentimes brought on rappers to close the show under the credits. Some of these guests include Queen Latifah and Ice Cube.
The impact of “In Living Color” cannot be overestimated. Not only did it help introduce America to some of the funniest people on the planet, but it also found a niche in the sketch comedy realm that had not yet been fully explored. Instead of having a token black cast member, which “Saturday Night Live” always seems to include each season, “In Living Color” had a few token whites. With its mostly black cast, the program could delve deeply into racial stereotypes and make viewers laugh while they learned. And though it never becomes too serious, socially and educationally speaking, it is nevertheless hard to miss the points this troupe makes about such social subjects as homelessness, urban crime and the general problems in the black community.
It’s heartening to report that after revisiting the second season of “In Living Color,” this program is just as colorful and fresh today as it was back at its start.