Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bernie Mac (1957-2008)

America, I can't stand losing another comedian I like.Hulu has a Bartload of Fox-owned shows that can be streamed at its site, from current studio cash cows like The Simpsons to forgotten oddities like Nanny and the Professor. But Hulu's Fox library is missing some essential Fox-owned shows, particularly The Bernie Mac Show, which introduced the Def Comedy Jam/Original Kings of Comedy fixture to an audience outside the stand-up circuit and briefly reenergized the stale family sitcom genre.

After I learned that Mac died from pneumonia earlier this weekend, I was hoping to find some of my favorite Bernie Mac Show episodes on Hulu. Its absence on Hulu is another example of Fox's rather shabby treatment of the show. In the second season, Fox shitcanned the showrunner, a pre-Daily Show Larry Wilmore, because they didn't think the show was funny enough (?), and Fox Home Entertainment has released only the first season on DVD. (I doubt Fox will release the rest of the series run, due to what I assume are music rights issues. The show had an old-school soundtrack that UBM would love because it was often less predictable than the Right Stuff CD label would have us believe.)

On the big screen, Mac stole scenes in the Ocean's series and Bad Santa and in lesser films like Chris Rock's Head of State. Because no clips of The Bernie Mac Show can be found on Hulu and the few clips of it that are on YouTube are sure to be removed any time soon, here's one of Mac's dopest scene-stealing moments, the Head of State montage that introduces Mac's character, a hilariously frank bail bondsman-turned-vice-presidential candidate ("I don't know nuttin' about Nato!").

(Did Obama know what he was getting when he invited Mac to perform at a fundraiser? He clearly didn't see Head of State.)

The Bernie Mac Show is worth catching in syndication--if you can find it these days (FX will make the show easier to DVR when it adds it to its daytime schedule this fall). The show was such a breath of fresh air when it premiered in 2001. It didn't have an annoying laugh track or studio audience (it was one of several early '00s sitcoms that ditched the canned laughter and multiple cameras, due to the breakout success of Malcolm in the Middle--of those shows, only Scrubs is still on the air). The series' brash, warts-and-all take on parenting and its knack for "keeping it real" were long-overdue antidotes to sitcoms where either Dad's always right (The Cosby Show) or Dad's a retard (According to Jim).

The show allowed Uncle Bernie to make mistakes as a parent, but he wasn't a total dumbass. Unlike Bernie, the typical bumbling sitcom dad wouldn't last in a room with Vanessa, Jordan and Bryana. The best episodes of The Bernie Mac Show often placed the shrewd Bernie in a match of wits with his equally shrewd nieces and nephew--this constant gamesmanship made the show less like Cosby and more like the delightfully un-cuddly It's Your Move (which was a weekly battle of wills between Jason Bateman's teenage scam artist and his favorite mark, Mom's new boyfriend) and the equally un-cuddly King of the Hill. Another great un-cuddly touch was Mac's threats to the kids ("I'ma bust your head 'til the white meat shows"), which were hardly as profane as what he blurted to the kids in his Original Kings routine, but the watered-down threats were still shocking to some viewers. As Verne Gay noted in his Newsday blog post, the series excelled at showing that "the daily business of taking care of kids was messy, complicated, difficult, full of anxiety, but - most of all - full of joy."

Here's another thing I like about Mac, and it's another reason why he's already so missed: unlike his prime-time "Uncle Bernie" alter ego, the proud Chicagoan couldn't stand L.A. It's nice to know not every comedian or celebrity believes L.A. is the center of the universe.

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