In Living Color - Season 3 Review
The guys and gals are back for their ‘91-’92 season, where they get 28-episodes to play with; their longest run to date and one that would capitalise on prior successes. It would be the last time though that the series would be as memorable, not only because of a few newcomers to add a little bit of freshness but also because Damon Wayans would leave by the end in order to pursue a film career (though he would return for a few skits in the subsequent season), with later disputes causing a key player to walk out during season 4. It seemed then that the writers really wanted to make this year a special run and came up with superb material for the bigger faces on the roster. This isn’t to say that the new guys didn’t get any, as I’ll discuss below. LOOK!
Joining the cast for the first time is Jamie Foxx. Although not heavily used, Foxx had several wonderful routines up his sleeve; these would be put to the most use, notably the recurring “Ugly Woman”. Simply put she’s an almost horrifying figure that gives Vera DeMilo a run for her money. These sketches would see Foxx cranking it up to ten to meet the series’ demand of providing challenging comedy. One or two other moments see him shine, such as the Prince-like character that features in a jeans commercial and of course his excellent Bill Cosby impression. The next cast addition is Steve Park. Although Park is a funny comedian it’s hard to know just what his purpose here really was. About 95% of Park’s appearances see him take on stereotypical Asian roles - I suppose I've found what his purpose was then. This may be the reason why he never stayed for longer than one season. Oviously his talents weren’t put to greater use; even though he does have some good moments, with the likes of Security Ninja. In the years later Park came under fire after his appearance in Fargo; since then he has fiercely addressed the issues of Asian actors being used for stereotypical means. With a show like In Living Color however, the point was to look at all races and see how they’re observed in a bigger world. On many occasions the satirical elements work, but it’s a shame nonetheless that Park doesn’t get to do anything outstandingly original. So with them down, Shawn Wayans (formally SW1) joins the cast full time, leaving DJ Twist to spin records, while Jennifer Lopez joins The Fly Girls.
By now the pacing was lightning and with several characters making a come back and new ideas being toyed with the jokes would continue firing off in all directions. The actors then tried to see just how far they really could push the envelope. For a show airing at 8:00pm on a Sunday night it was surprising that they could get away with using words like “bitch”. It doesn’t seem like much but with Damon Wayans trying his best to come up with new things for his characters to say and in turn upsetting censors (in several instances, Anton) it became a way for characters to grow and break up the audience in an instant. And again it is largely thanks to Damon that so many of the sketches hit the mark. He always had a knack of hitting a certain note before struggling to keep a straight face. With the likes of “Men of Film” and “Homey D Clown” you’ll rarely see him get through an episode without being close to laughter. David Alan Grier would follow suit and most of the charm comes from seeing them interact and trying their best to deliver perfect gags, but having their flawed scenes left intact; it allows the viewer to go along with them and have twice as much fun in the process. Keenen Ivory Wayans and Jim Carrey would get huge amounts of screen time; Jim doing wonders, even if Fire Marshall Bill became overused by this season; but with characters like Telly Savalas he more than made up for it, and Keenen comes out with some blinders, with the likes of Arsenio Hall, Frenchie and more.
It would be the series’ continual audacity to come up with even more politically incorrect sketches that would make the bulk of season 3's sketches the most memorable. Current affairs, blacks, whites, Jews, Asians and the disabled all had equal mention. As mentioned earlier much of the Asian output was hardly groundbreaking but a simple way to highlight ignorance at the time; it never made them that extra bit funny but with every other base covered it seemed like a given choice to go with. Sketches like “Jews on First - with Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan” and “Timbuk: The Last Runaway Slave” both serve as masterful pieces of comedy that are handled with such a great sense of awareness. Handi Man would return for several sketches, which would always go down well and Jim Carrey would have us marvel during “My Left Foot of Fury”. Les and Wes, conjoined twins would appear in several skits to much amusement. Despite these sketches being fairly old now, with many having important relevance to the news at the time it’s amazing just how relevant they all still seem. Fine examples come in the form of headline celebrity lampooning. One of the most outstanding points of reference is the whole Michael Jackson debate. In the sketch “Home Alone Again”, young Macaulay Culkin (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) must deal with Jacko (Tommy Davidson on excellent form) trying to enter his house so he can play with him. Rodney King also gets several mentions, once again challenging the censors.
But the above would occasionally come at a price. Fox was constantly harassing the team over some of the sketches. As a result many had to be trimmed or cut out, swearing was often bleeped over as well as suggestive comments. Many made it through but by now it had reached a point where clearly it was becoming frustrating for the writers. I shall talk about this at a later time, when the fourth series is made available on DVD.
For the first time on In Living Color the show would be able to experiment a little. First up it got a Super Bowl TV special. This show went out live at half time and featured several sketches, though obviously one or two were not filmed live, as they involved special effects and quick cutting that were far too obvious. The second unique moment came in the form of a blooper special. For the first time we’d see our favourite cast fumble their routines to bring 20-minutes of non stop hilarity. Damon Wayans and Carrey are brilliant to watch in a light we rarely see them in. Wayans tries to push his luck by inserting unscripted lines into his sketches or simply breaking into fits for no real reason, while Carrey who we always think of as being at the top of his game is equally as prone to fits of giggles, reducing his cast members and audience into tears. Definitely a must see.
If season 3 fails at anything then it’s in using up some of its characters to the point of annoyance. Jim Carrey, fine as he is just doesn’t generate quite so many laughs with Fire Marshall Bill. It always was a bizarre creation but these gags are far too long, when we already know how they’ll end: Bill accidentally setting place on fire, stock footage, the end. It wasn’t like Homey D Clown and Anton, where each character was put into some other situation where they still relied on their trademarks. Even Blayne Edwards and Antoine Merriwether continued to be funny, as did “The Head Detective”; it became a case of the writers not quite realising what was beginning to grow tiresome. Likewise, Kim Wayan’s Benita Butrell had her moments, but we got to see too much of her and it became a problem when these skits lasted for a minute or two longer than they should have; Kim wasn’t used as much for this season so it was shame to see her repertoire slightly reduced. There are few other examples besides this. Perhaps some of the film parodies don’t work quite so well. “Ghost 2: The Return of Sammy” is dull, as is Vera Demilo’s “The Fist the Rocks the Cradle”. Still there are some finer moments with “48 Hours Again” and “Misery 2” so it’s not all bad.
20th Century Fox presents In Living Color a little differently from the norm. These 28 episodes are spread out over three double-sided discs. It’s not something I particularly like and I could be wrong but they may well be affecting the transfers also, as this is the weakest looking presentation to date. Extras have also been skimped on which is a shame, but as before this release is just like the others in terms of packaging. There are three slim pack cases, housed in a card slip cover.
As an extra note before I go on to the A/V side of things, season 3 suffers from quite an assortment of cuts. First up, certain music cues have been excised due to Fox failing to obtain the rights. Some of the Fly Girls routines use the same music and during the credit rolls on each episode the original music titles have been snipped out, resulting in credit jumps. A couple of episodes bizarrely feature sketches from earlier seasons, such as “Men on Vacation”. This is apparently normal and another reason why Keenen Ivory Wayans became so pissed off later on. The biggest offender on this release is that entire sketches have been cut out. This is damn well unacceptable. It came to my attention after reviewing season 1 that a particular sketch involving alcohol was cut because the studio felt it was similar to advocating date rape. Here we lose many sketches, for whatever reason and all I can say is shame on you, Fox. Because of this we have some episodes that run for 17/18 minutes, some just under that even. We miss some musical numbers, some extra violence, an extra Michael Jackson sketch and more. I couldn’t tell you exactly, every single thing missing here but to say I’m annoyed is an understatement. Some sketches look absolutely awful, with a “Men on Film” sketch in particular suddenly cutting half way through when we know something was being said. The most disappointing thing is knowing that we will likely never see this series released in its uncut form. In light of that do you purchase or not? Personally I still say yes, as there are far too many great things on offer here. At least all of the best sketches are kept in, and the very fact it’s on DVD makes it essential, but I won’t deny that it’s bound to upset some folk. Don’t pay attention to the run time; this entire set don’t appear to run that long.
I would like to personally ask Fox why they have chosen to cut out several sketches. This is the age of DVD where unrated discs shouldn’t have to have excised footage. I hope they issue a press release and explain these edits and why they never advertised them on the packaging.
The series is presented here in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The series was filmed on tape so it would ordinarily look as good as previous seasons. Unfortunately there are several factors going against it this time. While colour levels are solid it's authoring troubles that plague this one; there’s interlacing, dot crawl, cross colourisation, aliasing and compression artefacts. Considering that there are only five episodes per side this shouldn’t be a problem, so I checked storage capacity. Sides A and B are approximately 3.84GB in size, making these DVD 5 and ones that haven’t been used better at that. The previous releases impressed me more than I was expecting so it’s sad to see them presented in this state, because they could have looked better, even though the source was never that brilliant to begin with.
Sound is also a faltering issue. We have a simple English stereo track which does the job but unlike previous releases it comes across slightly worse. Some sketches feature heavier than normal hissing, while others tend to get a bit tedious due to the excessive audience noise. That’s always been one of the series most unavoidable annoying additions. The constant “WHOOP WHOOP”! cheers from the crowd are a little more than overbearing, and when this happens the occasional hiss or crackle comes through.
As a note on subtitles, each episode has these but during those that feature recording artists the songs are not translated.
Sadly none, except for a trailer on disc 3 for Mad TV. Very disappointing.
Season 3 is arguably the last greatest run for In Living Color, before it began to stumble as a result of studio difficulties. While it has some repetitive moments it also features some of the greatest sketches from any of its seasons.
As a long time fan of the series these DVD releases are fantastic but Fox have really let themselves and fans down this time more than ever. This isn’t a case of one simple edit, but numerous ones which is inexcusable. A lazy release for a great series.