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Published by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. CLICK FOR NEWSPAPER DELIVERY
Friday, November 9, 2001

All in the (warped) family

'The Bernie Mac Show': What it would be like if 'Roseanne' hated the kids

While the Sept. 11 attacks postponed many of the season premiere dates, others were so far down that viewers may need a refresher course on what's new and worthwhile viewing.
   Here's a wake-up call: FOX rocks. The network's line-up this year slaughters the competition. You met the "Undeclared" coeds more than a month ago. Even better television is "24" and "The Tick," which both premiered last week.
   If you didn't catch "24" or "The Tick," do yourself a favor and don't miss them this week. "24" stars Kiefer Sutherland and has critics and fans alike on the edge of their seats to see if its second hour on TV can hold up to its first. "The Tick" isn't as widely heralded but will surely find a niche audience among those who appreciate smart wit and wry dialogue.
   Amid all of these much-hyped shows on FOX's line-up is "The Bernie Mac Show" (debuting quietly at 7:30 and 8 p.m. Wednesday on FOX). It chronicles the life of comedian Mac and how he detests the three children living in his house, who spill pudding on the couch and ruin his trips to Vegas.
   Disciplinarian Mac
   Imagine if Roseanne hated not only DJ but Darlene and Becky, too. It's an awkward spin on the idea of a family show, and even stranger, sometimes it works. And sometimes it doesn't.
   Bernie, a busy stand-up comedian, and his wife Wanda (Kellita Smith), a vice president of a major corporation, never wanted to raise children. But when Bernie's junkie sister goes into rehab, they are forced to take care of her kids - Vanessa (Camille Winbush), 13; Jordan (Jeremy Suarez), 8; and Bryanna (Dee Dee Davis), 5 - and Mac immediately finds that his old-school ideas of discipline collide with societal norms.
   If you doubt Bernie's feelings toward his darling nieces and nephew, check out what Mac has to say about them during the second episode: "They're nasty, dirty, disease-carrying midgets - like rats, only difference is (they have) no tails and their teeth aren't as sharp."
   Strong feelings for such harmless creatures. Or are they harmless? These are the kids whose weak immune systems allow them to get sick easily and pass it on to those around them. They mess up his house ("Mi casa es mi casa," Bernie selfishly quips.). They require constant care - more so than a dog - and in Bernie's world, that's too much responsibility.
   'Malcolm' wannabe
   The show's writing balances his austerity with Wanda's maternal nurturing and Bernie's occasional tenderness, but overall it's a lesson in tough love. The kids are savvy enough to outsmart and outfight Mac, but even still it's unlike anything else on TV.
   FOX is hoping "Mac" develops a "Malcolm"-type following. Bernie talks to the camera for about four minutes each episode. Taking another cue from "Malcolm's" quirkiness, John Madden-style pen marks enhance some scenes and help label the situation and players.
   But "Mac" goes beyond "Malcolm" in other areas, including decency. Some of his quips to the children can be funny, especially because of the child actors and their expressive faces, but oftentimes it's unnecessarily mean-spirited and unfunny.
   When confronting the issue at a July interview in Los Angeles, Mac slipped into stand-up mode and said: "(My father) told you like it was. And I think that's something that's missing today. We want to be friends instead of parents."
   It's nothing that's likely to harm the psyche of today's youth. But if the sitcom focused more on what does work - such as Bernie's willingness to compromise - it could be like "Three's Company" with children. Instead we get the full-monty of Bernie's meanie-pants routine.
  
  


Pop culture and media critic Ricardo Baca can be reached at 886-3688 or by e-mail at bacar@caller.com


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