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 YouTube!
Let’s check in with the neat guys.
Episode 4.16 “Jamal X”
(Dir by Frank Bonner, Originally aired on November 11th, 2000)
In this episode, we learn that Jamal has an uncle who is a fairly prominent academic and activist. This seems like something that would have come up in the past but this is the first time that he’s ever been seen or even mentioned on City Guys. When Ms. Noble invites him to give a guest lecture at Manny High, he stops by the diner to visit with his favorite nephew and to meet Jamal’s “best friend, Chris.” After initially assuming that L-Train is Chris, Jamal’s uncle is shocked to discover that Jamal’s best friend is a rich white kid.
After listening to his uncle speak on systemic racism and realizing how little his three white friends understand about what it’s like to have to deal with racism on an everyday basis, Jamal goes militant. He wears his hair in an afro. He refers to Ms. Noble as being “my Nubian queen.” And he tries to start a school club only for black students. After Ms. Noble tells him that she won’t allow a blacks-only club at the school, Jamal instead holds his meeting at the New York Diner. When Chris attempts to attend the meeting, Chris explains that he’s only there because he wants to understand what the black students are having to deal with. Despite this, Chris is kicked out by the other club members. A guilt-stricken Jamal realizes that he’s been going about things the wrong way. He apologizes to Chris and they become friends again.
This seems to be the episode of City Guys that everyone remembers from when it first aired and it’s not badly done. Wesley Jonathan, in particular, gives a good performance as Jamal. Though the episode ends with Jamal reaffirming his friendship with Chris, it also doesn’t deny the everyday realities of racism. (An early scene in the episode features a cop spotting L-Train’s new watch and baselessly accusing him of having stolen it.) If nothing else, this episode is a bit more honest about prejudice than Saved By The Bell’s infamous Running Zack episode. That said, I get the feeling that, if this episode aired today, it would be criticized for taking an All Lives Matter approach to the issue. In the end, this episode is most noteworthy as a reminder that the issues of today are many of the same issues of the 90s and all the decades before.
Episode 4.17 “Subway Confessions”
(Dir by Frank Bonner, Originally aired on November 18th, 2000)
Chris, Jamal, Al, L-Train, Cassidy, and Dawn are preparing to enter the school when they hear that Funkyfest tickets are going on sale. Convinced that they’ll be able to get the tickets and get back to school in time for Ms. Noble’s class, they leave school grounds and head for the subway. When they return 3 hours later, Ms. Noble is so angry that she sentences them to three weeks of detention. Ms. Noble also confiscates the Funkyfest tickets, which is another way of saying that Ms. Noble steals them. Seriously, just because the tickets were bought while skipping school, that doesn’t change the fact that those tickets were not Noble’s to take.
Everyone has a different story about what happened on the train to make them late. Dawn and Cassidy claim that they were giving a homeless woman a makeover. L-Train and Al claim that they were fighting Russian spies. Chris and Jamal claim that a woman in clown makeup went into labor and they had to deliver the baby. Ms. Noble doesn’t believe a word of it, even after the homeless woman shows up, introduces herself as an undercover cop, and reveals that a clown really did go into labor. (That said, she also reveals that Chis and Jamal did not deliver the baby.) Everyone still has detention for skipping school because Ms. Noble is a harsh taskmaster.
This was a funny episode, though it’s hard not to notice that it’s also an episode that’s totally dependent on every character being an idiot. Still, I’m not ashamed to admit that Al and L-Train fighting the spies made me laugh. I’ve learned not to expect too much from City Guys and, with that in mind, this episode delivered.
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