Lil Rel Howery is the breakout comedian from the Oscar-winning Get Out (2017). Many may recall him from his supporting role on NBC’s The Carmichael Show in 2015. His first introduction to the world, however, was Last Comic Standing in 2007. He’s a stand-up comic from Chicago, which informs a lot of the material in this sitcom. In fact, Howery did a special for Comedy Central called Lil Rel Howery: RELevant and specific jokes from that special were lifted and realized in this show. This is not uncommon. Aziz Ansari did the same thing for his show Master of None. Louis C.K. and Jerry Seinfeld also did it for their respective shows.
The freshness or originality of these jokes isn’t in question. It’s how they’re structured and delivered that is. Here, Howery feels less unrestrained as he has been in previous projects, most especially Get Out. He’s a bit more muted here and probably for good reason. I compare him to Martin Lawrence in his show Martin (1992).
Lawrence has his titular character, which he played but he also had a slew of about a dozen or so other characters that he also played. Howery also balances a slew of characters that he portrays himself, including the titular character. He may be muted in that performance in order to contrast with the other slew of characters, but Lawrence never tamped down or was muted in his titular role. Lawrence’s central figure was strong, whereas Howery’s isn’t.
It’s not to say that Howery is a drag or drab. His style and presence are very reminiscent or in line with such comedians as Bernie Mac, Steve Harvey or Cedric the Entertainer. The first, few episodes, written by Howery, Kevin Barnett and Josh Rabinowitz, pull from Howery’s stand-up material, but they arguably don’t give Howery many punch-lines or put really funny jokes in his mouth that stand out. Most of his humor comes from his reactions to things. A lot of the punch-lines instead go to those around him in his cast.
Jessica Moore co-stars as Brittany, one of Rel’s female friends who offers him support after he splits from his wife and has moved into a new apartment that’s in a bad neighborhood. D. C. Young Fly also co-stars as Jaymo, a wise-cracking sidekick for the most part who’s there just to poke at Rel or simply to be the loudmouth. He’s a wannabe Chris Tucker, whereas if this were Martin, Brittany would be the equivalent to Tichina Arnold’s character of Pam but not as antagonistic.
Sinbad (Jingle All the Way and A Different World) also co-stars as Rel’s father, a no-nonsense kind of guy who’s old school and tries to give Rel advice from that perspective. In general, Sinbad gets better punch-lines than Howery. He upstages Howery, as much as all the other actors and characters upstage him. Strangely though, what’s intriguing about the show isn’t the comedy; it’s the limited drama.
Howery just came off The Carmichael Show, which specifically tackled some issue each week. Each episode in fact took on directly some social problem. Handling such social problems in a comedic or dramatic way became a signature of that show. It seems as if Howery has adopted that same tactic as well. Instead of tackling broad, national issues, Howery limits his scope to issues endemic to Howery’s hometown of Chicago like the gang violence in that city.
While I’m not impressed by the humor in this series, I do appreciate how Howery confronts the social problems. In Episode 2, for example, it’s an awkward and rather stupid setup that Howery uses to get to the point where he goes head-to-head with gang members, but it doesn’t matter. The speech Rel gives at the end is so earnest and courageous that it put Howery’s heart front-and-center. It’s a big heart that can’t be dismissed.
Running Time: 30 mins.
Sundays at 9:30 p.m. on FOX.