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Category Archives: Raves

The polished and familiar face of Jaleel White caught my eye recently on an episode of Boston Legal. He played a law school graduate interviewing for a position at Crane, Poole and Schmidt, matching wits with Denny Crane.

His first television role was on the CBS series Charlie and Company, starring Gladys Knight and the forever fantastic Flip Wilson, but it was his appearance on The Jefferson’s, as stalwart competition for Jessica, Lionel and Jenny‘s daughter, that I distinctly remember.

Not long after, at the tender age of twelve, the young professional began administering scene stealing performances that made waves in the prime time pool. What was intended to be a one-shot appearance caused sensations too fantastic to be ignored; White was granted a regular place on the roster by the end of the season, forever changing the dynamic and direction of the show.

His portrayal of underdog Steve Urkel on Family Matters, the Emmy nominated show about a middle class family living in Chicago, sent audiences reeling. At two hundred fifteen episodes, Family Matters is one of the longest-running U.S. African-American comedies, sandwiched neatly between The Jefferson’s and The Cosby Show.

In addition to portraying a multitude of additional characters, including Myrtle Urkel and his alter ego, the ultra smooth Stefan Urquelle, there was further marketing that helped to imprint and redistribute his likeness throughout the general consciousness: a cereal (Urkel-Os), an Urkel doll….and if you want to do the Urkel Dance, all you have to do is hitch up your pants, bend your knees and stick out your pelvis; I’m telling you, Baby, it’s better than Elvis!

He carried the role for the duration of the series, stretching and modifying the character through a puberty that brought with it the typical voice change and growth spurt, all while maintaining his trademark nasal delivery. The fearless and uninhibited conveyance he executed as a young man brought about sweetness of character and invoked empathy. By the time the series ended its nine year run in 1998, he had grown weary of the role. Due to the immense popularity of the character, he was severely typecast.

Being typecast is a tragic and mysterious downfall of television showmanship and usually comes with the best and most beloved; people know what they like and are reluctant to part with that which is familiar. More often than not, people lack faith that the individual can move beyond the character that they perfected.

Mention typecasting and a herd of people scamper through my mind, from Bill Shatner to Will Smith. Not much to say here. Will Smith is good…..MUCH too good to be typecast. He entered America’s homes, lowering their rap threat level. Beyond that, the man can act: powerful teen drama scenes with Ben Vereen……tears on tap at the drop of a hat.

~Priceless.

William Shatner, in another spectrum, took typecasting and worked it like a Thighmaster. The infectious icon’s methodic larger than life take on Denny Crane was awesome enough to cement his snapshot on the continuing generation, his articulation masterfully losing the ‘herky-jerky‘ rendering that has long been the parody since the inception of James T. Kirk on through to the cancellation of T.J. Hooker. Say what you will about Bill, his showmanship has allowed him to maintain a consistent level of visibility for over four decades.

~Priceline!

When I think of typecasting, I also think of Gary Coleman. I’m truly sorry for the way things turned out for the man. His height notwithstanding, he might have had a better chance had They not tried to milk him for everything that he was.

For the record, by They I’m referring to The Machine, the television industry…..not his parents.

……..moving right along.

In his youth, pint sized Gary Coleman would make his entrance and take over the scene with a hip, overpowering burst of energy, as witnessed by his own turn on The Jefferson’s and also on subsequent appearances of Good Times (during the Penny Era). By the time Strokes was on its way, he had progressed in the direction of a gentler delivery that garnished the Arnold Jackson character.

His image was stretched on The Heavenly Kid and, beyond that, Strokes lasted for entirely too long. Sam, his Strokes’ step sibling, while not as useless as The Brady Bunch’s Cousin Oliver, was just not necessary……….and that whole ‘Mister D’ getting married, switching wives, the show switching networks fiasco was also for the birds.

While Mr. Coleman’s early performances were full of explosive energy, Mr. White’s execution was harnessed calculation. Even more notable was the pure physicality of his performances. I’m not talking about nuances; I’m referring to his fantastic pratfall, spectacular room wrecking in epic proportions with maneuvers rivaling those of Dick van Dyke or Jerry Lewis.

The catchphrase, “Did I do that?” was an homage to Curly of The Three Stooges who uttered the phrase as a punch line in the 1934 film short Punch Drunks. This King of the High Waters was also known for his distinctive chortle followed by a snort double clutch.

His cherry stealing pass at Ashley Banks was unpretentious and memorable.

The 2001 graduate of UCLA also wrote several episodes of Family Matters, one of which was the series’ highest rated when he was nineteen. Post Family Matters, he made a return to primetime in the vehicle Grown Ups, broadcast for one season on the now defunct UPN; his appearance in Dreamgirls was short and sweet. His reach also extends into animation, being the man that provided the voice for Martin Luther King, Jr. in Our Friend, Martin, and also Sonic the Hedgehog in most of the American TV incarnations.

And he hangs out with Charles Barkley.

All the cool dudes must hang together.

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Mark it down. I rarely use the word beautiful; I find disdain in its overuse.

However, there aren’t that many other words that accurately describe my exposure to Ms. Esperanza Spalding, the 23 year old soulful, string strumming genius from Portland, Oregon. Beautiful not for her heavenly face or her porcelain skin, but more so for the sensations that purity of  delivery and her phenomenal stage presence brought about in me.

Too cool, she floated across the stage and assumed her position; my curiosity was stoked as she cued the band. Like a singular breeze moving through a still room, she oozed….…….under the beaming lights, never missing a stroke, her tiny hands roaming over that beast of an instrument, effortlessly rendering me breathless and borderline smitten as she hypnotized her audience.

Her glam was infinitely fantastic as she lead the band with dreamy articulation and a masterful finesse, coaxing deep resonance and soul throbbing strands from her counterpart, merging sound and color with time and space.

Spalding, born of African-American, Welsh and Spanish descent, is able to sing in Spanish and Portuguese as well as English. When asked why she chose the bass as her signature sound, she insists that the choice wasn’t hers, but that the bass “had its own arc” and resonated with her. For her, discovering the bass was like “waking up one day and realizing you’re in love with a co-worker.”

With a firm desire to be judged for her skills and showmanship rather than her sex appeal, she is an advocate of female musicians exerting care to avoid over sexualizing themselves. Not wanting to limit herself, she chooses not to be categorized as simply a jazz artist, preferring to keep her options open on future collaborations, thereby maintaining an avenue to reach the masses that may not be as familiar with jazz.

In 2005, Spalding was hired by Berklee College of Music, becoming one of the youngest professors in the institution’s history. Her method: help students manifest their growth through a practice journal, allowing them to recognize their strengths and what elements they need to pursue. As of 2008, she was in the process of developing a course that focuses “on transcribing as a tool for learning harmony and theory”.

Simply beautiful.

Who loves The House of Payne ?

Some have labeled him an egomaniac for his ‘lackluster’ contribution to television, while others supported his pursuit virtually sight unseen on the strength of his name alone. Whichever side you claim, the vision that gave life to Tyler Perry’s sitcom vision was most clever and a unique approach to a successful bid in the dying arena of sitcom television.

He paid for ten episodes out of his own pocket and gave them to TBS, eliminating outside production costs; I’m not sure what the promotion specifics were initially, but it’s heavily advertised now. He then negotiated an order for one hundred episodes, an unprecedented number for a sitcom in any market, primetime or independent.

Rather than the standard filming of 22 episodes a season, all one hundred episodes were taped within a year, with the network airing them two, sometimes four, original episodes a night. That’s the equivalent of about five standard sitcom years, the very definition of sitcom success. An accomplishment made even sweeter by the absence of the typical sitcom issues: characters being recast/leaving, puberty, weight gain, just to name a few.

With a taping schedule that galloped, what are labeled as seasons Three, Four, and Five, aired in the months of March, June, and December of 2008. With the expense of the sitcom rising, syndicated networks that have a little extra money to play with sometimes seek original content to fulfill their needs, a trend that renders programming cost efficient and profitable, not to mention a bit more exciting by avoiding the classic sitcom graveyard that is inevitable in most outlets.

Instant longevity is another facet of this scenario. Here is an entity that wouldn’t just fade away into nothingness if the public didn’t catch on in twenty two episodes. This show couldn’t disappear even if it wanted to: as of September 22, 2008, MyNetworkTV added the Paynes to their line up in some cities along with FOX Network media outlets. Networks rarely show dedication or loyalty to shows that don’t get an almost instant public following, especially in the case of sitcoms. Simply being on the air is a huge accomplishment, especially after UPN/WB merger.

Since there are so many episodes, it could never suffer the same fate as Frank’s Place.

Frank’s Place received the Television Critics Association award for ‘outstanding comedy series’ in 1987. The same year, it also won an Emmy for ‘best writing in a comedy series’. The show was praised for its realistic portrayal of black culture in New Orleans. Airing on CBS in 1987, it was among the first series to be described as a dramedy, its innovative presentation praised by critics, its exceptional writing style acknowledged by the awards and accolades that the series snagged in its twenty two episode lifespan.

But this is no Frank’s Place. Critics and folks trashed The House of Payne immediately, calling it “one of the worst sitcoms of the modern era”, criticizing the show’s pacing and the ‘aimlessness’ of its narrative.

Call it what you will, it’s a capsule of nostalgia for the next generation. Fifteen years from now, the children that sit at the feet and watch and LAUGH with the First Generation Tyler Perry fans, will view for comfort and familiarity. Almost like a 21st century Good Times. You might not have a Thelma, but you do have a Claretha.

I’m a Curtis Payne fan, his offbeat execution drawing unexpected laughter. Jazmine is too jazzy for me at times; I give credit to the young actress for being consistently nerve grating, the ultimate little sister……..and I love me some Claretha.

…..my mind wanders to Mister Brown.

I hated Brown on sight. Then again, I had yet to meet him, his earnest country charm as dominant as he is clueless. My exposure to Brown was in the cinema. If he’s a little spaced out well, I can dig that; the man slept with Madea.

I was always comfortable with TPP in the cinema. Viewing his properties in reverse order enabled me to see the transitioning from stage production to the silver screen. Whatever I was doing during the stage play home invasion of Tyler Perry I missed the boat entirely.

I saw Meet the Browns with a die hard fan and was informed of any shortcomings, production parallels, or specific continuity issues. The events of the two part The House of Payne episode “Sad, Sad, Leroy Brown” occurs directly before the movie, when Brown learns about his father’s death. “Weeping May Endure for a Night” happened somewhere in the middle of the movie, directly after the funeral and the reading of the will, where Brown found out that his father left him a broken-down house….the one that Brown converted into a retirement home. Also in this episode, the Paynes indicate that they attended Brown’s father’s funeral. Curtis claimed Brown made them wait in the cemetery for 2 hours while Brown fulfilled his father’s last request: a tour around Atlanta. While two of the series actors appeared in the movie, none of their characters were portrayed. A weekly production centering around Brown is slated to drop in January 2009.

Madea’s involvement in The House of Payne limits her larger than life approach, her wit much too quick for a laugh track to contain her. With the exception of Season Four, she has appeared in one episode per season. Her inclusion in Meet the Browns seemed like a gratuitous step in overexposure. It didn’t make sense at the time, but it’s the ultimate showcase for Madea Goes to Jail due Spring 2009, with Keke Palmer reprising the role she portrayed in both Diary of a Mad Black Woman and The House of Payne.

For the critics, the harsher critics, I would like to say this: It can only get better. Timing is as important to me as continuity….perhaps even more important since timing is dealt with more directly.

Continuity? That’s nothing but dedication.

With a over a hundred episodes behind them, new episodes in December and 26 more set to debut in the summer of 2009, the well seasoned crew should be glistening with slickness of ease.

Ð. Stylz
Editor in Chief
Chaklet Coffee Books