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In Living Color: Season One

Humor is very much in the eye of the beholder and, unfortunately, not all humor stands the test of time. Particularly when the humor aims to be edgy and topical — a few years after the fact, what was once hilariously timely can seem embarrassingly dated. Such is the case with much of In Living Color, Fox's prime-time sketch comedy show that hit the airwaves in 1990. Created by Keenan Ivory Wayans, the show featured several of the Wayans clan (Damon, Kim, Shawn and Marlon) and launched the careers of David Alan Grier, Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, Kim Coles and Tommy Davidson (though a recent viewing of ILC inspired one viewer to inquire of Davidson, "What the hell ever happened to him, anyway?") What came off as courageously brash in 1990-91 feels uncomfortably dated now, and the repeated, crude representations of blacks as subway crazies, junkies and criminals feels uncomfortably racist, besides. One-joke sketches like "Great Moments in Black History: The Self-Serve Gas Station" and "Homeboy Shopping Network" offer nothing, in fact, besides racial stereotypes for humor's sake — there are simply no actual jokes there — while a lot of the sketches rely on making fun of famous names in the news of the day like Andrew Dice Clay, MC Hammer and Sugar Ray Leonard, but ten years later who really gives a damn? Jim Carrey's contributions in the show's first season are mostly limited to over-the-top physical shtick, thrashing about as an accident-prone, off-duty sea captain in "The Exxon Family" and showing off his freaky double-joints in a moment of filler) — his most famous ILC character, Fire Marshal Bill, wouldn't appear until later in the show's run. It must be said, though, that Carrey's one shining Season One sketch, as "Vera De Milo, Bodybuilder," is still freaky-scary-funny as hell. Damon Wayans, however, stood out from the crowd from the very start, balancing his stereotypical crazy/criminal characters with sketches that were truly inspired — most notably as angry kid's-party entertainer Homey D. Clown ("Homey don't play that") and his partnering with David Alan Grier for the hilarious — and well ahead of their time — gay entertainment critics Blaine Edwards and Antoine Merriweather in the justly famous "Men on…" sketches. And let's not forget the Fly Girls, choreographed by Rosie Perez — sure, their hair and outfits are now hopelessly hokey, and their once cutting-edge dance steps have been appropriated by every cheerleading squad in America. But watching them bounce around is still fun. Don't strain your eyes looking for ex-Fly Girl Jennifer Lopez, though — she wasn't part of the squad during the first season. Fox's DVD set features all 13 episodes from Season One in clear, clean, full-frame transfers (1.33:1). The DD 2.0 audio is acceptable, but unexceptional — it's more than fine for the dialogue-heavy sketches but when the Fly Girls kick in, the lackluster quality of the sound is noticeable. On board are two featurettes, "Looking Back in Living Color: The First Season" (33 min.), an entertaining behind-the-scenes look at the production of the show, loaded with praise for creator Keenan Ivory Wayans, and "Back in Step with the Fly Girls" (5 min.), a fairly lightweight piece with Rosie Perez discussing the formation of the dance group. And in answer to that question about Tommy Davidson's whereabouts, he offers commentary on two episodes — not very interesting commentary, though. Three slim-line cases in a paperboard slipcase.
—Dawn Taylor

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