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You just might love 'Chris'

Ali LeRoi, Chris Rock and Tyler James Williams
Ali LeRoi, Chris Rock and Tyler James Williams
John Paul Filo, CBS

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — "Everybody Hates Chris" is one of the best half-hour comedies to hit TV in years, but that doesn't mean it's breaking new ground.

This is a show about a 13-year-old boy and his family — a younger brother and sister, and two loving parents. And there have been hundreds of shows like this before.

The only real difference is that "Chris" is actually funny. Which is due in no small part to the fact that it's based on the life of comedian Chris Rock (who's one of the executive producers and the show's narrator), and it's written and produced by Ali LeRoi, a longtime friend of Rock's.

"There's a father and a mother dealing with trying to raise kids in a difficult situation," LeRoi said. "That's what you do when you don't have a lot of money and you've got to make do. That's really all the show is."

Specifically, it's about the Rock family in the early 1980s. "I grew up in a very loving, two-parent household in one of the worst ghettos in New York City — Bedford-Stuyvesant," Rock said. "I was bused to school like the kid in the show, but I had so much love in my household."

This is comedy, however, not documentary. In the fictional Rock family, there are the parents, Rochelle (Tichina Arnold) and Julius (Terry Crews), and their three kids — Chris (Tyler James Williams), Drew (Tequan Richmond) and Tonya (Imani Hakim). "I changed it just enough so I couldn't get sued by my family, because they'll sue you," Rock said. "It's not exactly my family. Writing a show with seven kids is hard. Three is still hard but easier than seven."

At its heart, "Everybody Hates Chris," which premieres Thursday, 7 p.m., UPN/Ch. 24, is about this family that's full of love, in the middle of struggling to just get through the day sometimes. Like when young Chris is the only African-American kid bused to his school.

"We're just trying to accurately reflect that world and get the best jokes out of it we can," LeRoi said. "The basis of it is never, 'Here's a funny thing that happened.' It's serious stuff. There's war. There's racism. There's fights. There's violence. There's arguments. And then you find the joke in it.

"So that's all we're doing. We're just taking real situations as much as we can and trying to find the comedy in them, as opposed to trying to manufacture comedy out of artifice."

Which makes it sound more serious than it is. This is funny stuff. And Rock plays no small part in that. "He adds a particular point of view and some particular things that make Chris the guy he is today, and we try and draw from that," LeRoi said. "But the circumstances are — you got bills to pay, you got to send your kids to school, try and keep them out of crime, try and keep your wife happy. That's really all there is to it."

And it's funny. Really, really funny.

LOVE, INC. (Thursday, 7:30 p.m., UPN/Ch. 24) is supposed to be a comedy. But it's really, really not funny. At all.

The "hilarity" here surrounds a group of matchmakers who operate a "full-service dating-consulting firm." So . . . it's like "The Love Boat" without the laughs, the charm or anything approaching entertainment.

This is the sort of sitcom that pounds away on dozens of punch lines delivered with all the finesse of a sledgehammer, hoping a few of them will be funny.

It's an empty hope.

The show made news when UPN executives insisted that Shannen Doherty be fired from the cast after she starred in the original pilot. But she's the lucky one.

I feel sorry for Busy Philipps (who replaced Doherty), Holly Robinson Peete, Reagan Gomez-Preston, Ion Overman and Vince Vieluf, who are left to star in this piece of garbage.

But, geez, didn't they think to read the script before signing on?


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com