Before Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, before “My Wife and Kids”, before White Chicks, and before... whatever it is David Allen Grier is up to these days, there was “In Living Color”.
I have to admit, I never watched “In Living Color” when during it’s original run in the early ‘90s. I’ve caught reruns on Fox’s cable network FX, but only occasionally, and usually just running in the background. While I found parts ot the episodes fun, usually Jamie Foxx, Kim Wayans, or some skit that was too “black” for my tastes would turn me off and the television to another channel. However, with the DVD release of the second season of the comedy, I am now a fan, although over a decade too late to be considered cool.
The sketch-based comedy originally had the fortune of being part of the fledgling Fox Network’s growth spurt in 1990, giving the show a unique opportunity. On a network where “Married... With Children” was king, Keenan Ivory Wayans’ creation was able to sidestep concerns of Political Correctness and the cast and crew were able to, as the theme song said, “do what they wanna do”. This was very important, as it allowed writers and actors to tackle topics that would normally be considered comedic taboo.
The second season of the show smartly builds on the foundation that started with the first season’s thirteen episodes. Where the first season introduced the popular Homey the Clown, the second season brought what was probably the show’s second most popular creation - Fire Marshall Bill. Of course, one of the biggest strengths of “In Living Color” was that they didn’t feel the need to wheel out one or two successful characters every week, just cashing in on what was popular at the moment (a lesson “Saturday Night Live” and “MadTV” could stand to learn). Because of this you don’t get Homey or Fire Marshall Bill every episode, but instead a rich blend of characters, from the queer Men on Film to the awkward hilarity of Anton the... um, homeless person. An appearance by a major character makes an episode all the more special, and keeps them from wearing out their welcome.
I’m sure, like “SNL”, everybody has their favorite and least favorite performers. For me the least favorites are Kim Wayans, who seldom had characters that were more then a new kind of annoying, and Jamie Foxx, who started to appear on “In Living Color” later in the second season. Luckily there was more then enough other material from Damon Wayans, David Allen Grier, Kelly Cofield, Tommy Davidson, and Jim Carrey (although he still went by the more prestigious “James Carrey” here) to overshadow Foxx and the female Wayans’ weaknesses. Of course, if you didn’t care for any of the actors, there were always the Fly-Girls, which were probably the reason my channel surfing would land me on this show before I watched this DVD set.
All in all, “In Living Color” was definitely a product of its time, but fortunate not to get caught up in the politically correct changes of those times. That makes the show good and bad over a decade later. The good is, there are moments of the show that are still absolutely hilarious. The bad however is that any sketch that was based on events in that era are really only good for people who will remember those times. It’s not going to attract a new audience the way a sitcom might, but then that’s the danger of sketch comedy. Regardless of being a little trapped in time, “In Living Color” is still light years ahead of any show of its type these days.
The second season of “In Living Color” is no more spectacular then any other television series DVD release these days, but that doesn’t stop it from being a lot of fun. Putting “In Living Color” on DVD allows the show to become a kind of comedic buffet. I found myself putting the discs in and just letting them run, only aware of episodes changing by the (by now) all-too-familiar Heavy-D theme song. That’s one of the perks of sketch comedy, especially if writers are smart and end the sketches before the joke is run into the ground. Thankfully, this show succeeds, and watching hours of it upon end becomes far too easy.
The one problem I did seem to have watching the DVDs came on my laptop. On my television the show looked and sounded pretty good. I mean, it was a television show in the first place, so we’re not talking film quality here. However on my laptop the picture was somewhat fuzzy, lacking real clarity. It was a bit of a bummer since it’s how I manage to put in long hours of television DVDs, but since most people tend to use televisions I doubt it’s that big of an issue.
As far as extras go, there are a few featurettes (which I’ll get to in a minute) and some commentary on select skits. The commentary comes from members of the “In Living Color” writing staff, Kim Bass and Buddy Sheffield. I’m impressed the DVD team didn’t attempt to track down the show’s more notable cast like one of the Wayans, or Carrey (or maybe they did and were rejected). I think the nice thing about these select commentaries is, it shows there’s more to a television program then the cast you see on screen. Some of the best sketch comedy is created by people you never even see, and the characters become famous because of some actor who never gave any input on the sketch. It’s a good reminder that television goes deeper then just the performers.
The three featurettes each focus on a specific topic. The Season 2 Overview showcases some of the highlight sketches of the season, as well as giving a bit of history to people who may not be familiar with what the second season brought. “Notorious ILC: Characters” looks at the more popular characters of the show, who created them, and what the more memorable inspirations for characters were. “Appreciating In Living Color” focuses on the show’s ability to transcend cultures - that while it is a predominantly African American cast, the show is accessible to members of multiple cultures, and that Carrey and Cofield were much more then just “token white cast members”. Each featurette is short enough to remain interesting, but held one major problem. The featurettes would sometimes have clips of the sketches... sometimes long clips, from the sketches I had just finished watching. I didn’t need to see Keenan Ivory Wayans’ The Untouchables spoof in its entirety a second time in a featurette - it was funny enough the first time, a reference to it would have been enough. All three featurettes suffer this problem though, which is unfortunate because a little tighter editing could have made them spectacular.
It’s very neat to see a show like this on DVD - one that’s enjoyable for hours upon end without having to be chock full of bonus material. If you were a fan of the show, or enjoy sketch comedy and are annoyed at the lack of quality shows these days, pick this one up.