Today, we take a look at the award-winning pilot episode of The Bernie Mac Show.
This is “All the Best Things,” a spotlight on the best TV episodes, movies, albums, etc.
This is a Year of Great TV Episodes, where every day this year, we’ll take a look at great TV episodes. Note that I’m not talking about “Very Special Episodes” or episodes built around gimmicks, but just “normal” episodes of TV shows that are notable only because of how good they are.
All this month, I’ll be spotlighting great Black-centric TV episodes.
Here’s the tricky thing about The Bernie Mac Show. Its best episode, “If I Were N-Riched Man,” about the use of the N-word, is a bit too much of a “very special episode” for me to feature here, and my second choice, the charming “Starting School,” is basically a “gimmick” episode (it’s set in real time as Bernie gets his nephew and two nieces ready for their first days at their respective new schools). I really wanted to use an episode written by the brilliant Larry Wilmore, who created the show, so I was “stuck” with the pilot, which WON the Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series, so it’s not like it was a bad episode or anything like that. It’s a good episode, it’s just funny to see my own rules sort of cause some problems for me.
In any event, the series starred Bernie Mac playing a fictionalized version of himself, where he and his wife, Wanda (Kellita Smith), take in the children of Bernie Mac’s sister, who is in rehab for her drug addiction. So the children – Vanessa (nicknamed “Nessa” by Bernie) (Camille Winbush), Jordan (Jeremy Suarez) and Bryana (nicknamed “Baby Girl” by Bernie) (Dee Dee Davis) fly out to Los Angeles to go live with their successful comedian uncle and his successful executive wife. Bernie Mac didn’t actually take in his nephews or nieces in real life, although he did briefly let his niece and her kid stay with him (the show’s premise is mostly based on a friend of Mac’s who DID take in his sister’s kids).
The show is set-up with sequences where Mac talks directly to the audience, which allows us to see his inner-most thoughts on stuff, but more importantly, we get to the see Bernie Mac just being Bernie Mac, while he has to tone down his typical approach when it comes to dealing with the three kids. Vanessa, the oldest of the three, has obviously been forced to take on a parental role for her two younger siblings, and there’s a really good bit where Bernie offers to buy them some “big ass donuts,” and Jordan looks to Vanessa, who shakes her head, so Jordan says no, even though he obviously really DOES want a big ass donut.
Initially, Bernie has an unrealistic idea of how life will be with three kids in the house, setting up rules that involve the kids never touching the TV, his remote, his DVD player, his VCRS, his CD player or his albums. That lasts for about five minutes before one of the kids breaks one of his favorite old records.
Wilmore has a charming bit in the series where he uses yellow lines on the screen (like a sports announcer using a telecaster to show plays on the screen) to point to people’s actual thoughts at times, like the header image for this article, where Jordan has a meltdown at the supermarket, and then starts to pull his pants down because he really needs to go to the bathroom (Bernie runs with him in his arms to get the bathroom in the store in time…they don’t get there in time), and his little sister is getting a real kick out of all of the chaos.
Bernie’s nature is to go ballistic on people, and he finds himself threatening Vanessa with busting her head “’til the white meat shows,” but obviously he doesn’t mean it. However, Vanessa then reports him to their social worker (played hilariously by Matt Besser as a very liberal White guy who wants to “be real” with Bernie…while also being a bit of a stickler for the rules Bernie has to follow as a legal guardian of his nieces and nephew).
In the end, Bernie eases up some, and the kids also apologize for pushing all of his buttons, and the series kicks off really well.
Okay, if I’m going to have 331 more of these (and 23 more this month), I could use suggestions, so feel free to email me at email@example.com!