Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past! On Thursdays, I will be reviewing City Guys, which ran on NBC from 1997 to 2001. The entire show is currently streaming on Tubi!
C. I. T. Y. These guys, the neat guys, are smart and street-wise….
Episode 1.5 “The Dance”
(Directed by Frank Bonner, Aired on October 4th, 1997)
L-Train is back!
(For the record, Wikipedia swears that the character was named L-Train. IMDb says it was El-Train. I’ll probably switch back and forth as I review this show.)
Last seen threatening to kill Jamal and Chris at the end of the first episode, EL-Train returns in The Dance. If he was the school bully in the first episode, this episode presents us with the L-Train who would be present for the rest of the series. This EL-Train is a dim-witted but well-intentioned and dedicated to trying to turn his life around. Steven Daniel’s portrayal of L-Train was one of the (few) highlights of City Guys and El-Train was really the only character on the show who had any depth. The best of the show’s occasional “serious” episodes were the ones where he was tempted to return to his old lifestyle of being the school bully.
In this episode, El-Train asks Cassidy to the school dance and she accepts. “Awwww!” the audience says. However, El-Train wanting to date Cassidy is only one of my subplots revolving around Manny High’s fall dance.
Al wants to DJ. Dawn wants the dance to be a success. Ms. Noble wants to get through the night without there being any drama like at the last school dance. (What happened at the last dance is never really described, which is odd. It makes the viewer wonder if maybe someone fell off the roof of the school or something. Did I mention that all of the school’s dances are held on the roof?) And Chris wants to go to the dance with Kaisha who just happens to be Jamal’s sister!
(Cue the audience: “Woooo!”)
But wait a minute, this seems familiar. Remember, on Saved By The Bell, when it was suddenly revealed that Slater had a sister who no one had ever previously talked about? Zach took her out on a date and Slater got upset about it, for much the same reason that Jamal gets upset at Chris. And didn‘t Saved By The Bell have an episode where Mr. Belding was worried about holding a school dance after something happened at the previous one? And didn’t Screech somehow always end up as the DJ?
My point is that there’s really nothing original to be found in this episode but it’s still better than the four episodes that came before it. Kaisha wisely rejects both Chris and Jamal, telling them that they’re both controlling jerks. (“Yay!” says the audience.) Chris and Jamal realize how much they have in common and share a very uncomfortable laugh. Ms. Noble demands that Chris and Jamal dance with her. (“Woooo!’ the audience says.) For the first time, during this episode, the cast really seems to click. As Jamal and Chris, Wesley Jonathan and Scott Whyte finally seem to have adapted to each other’s rhythms. Jamal is called out for being overprotective. Chris gets called out for lacking ambition. Neither one is in the right. This is probably about as nuanced as one could ever hope for an episode of City Guys to get.
Episode 1.6 “The Communication Gap”
(Directed by Frank Bonner, originally aired on October 11, 1997)
After starting a food fight at the cafeteria, Chris and Jamal are in trouble once again! Ms. Noble calls their fathers. Jamal’s father (well-played by Ivory Ocean) shows up and proves himself to be a firm but loving disciplinarian. Chris’s father sends his personal assistant.
Somehow, this leads to Chris living with Jamal and his father while Chris’s father is away on business. To pay for his room and board, Chris ends up working at the diner that’s owned by Jamal’s father. Unfortunately, because they’re so eager to see the new Jim Carrey film, Chris and Jamal leave work early and get in trouble. Seeing how Jamal and his father handle things, Chris is inspired to fix his relationship with his own father. (“Awwwww!” say the audience.)
This episode was …. actually, it was okay. Ivory Ocean gave a really good performance was Jamal’s father and the show actually took some time to consider why Chris has all of the issues with trust that he has. It was a little weird to see everyone getting so excited over a Jim Carrey movie but then I reminded myself the episode was made before Jim married Jenny McCarthy and went all anti-vaxx.
So, that’s two good episodes of City Guys in a row! Could the show be turning a corner? We shall see next week!