Retro Television Review: City Guys 1.9 “Future Shock” and 1.10 “Easy Money”

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!

Believe it or not, there’s a “lost” episode of City Guys.

According to Wikipedia, an episode called “The Movie” aired on November 1st, 1997.  Here’s the plot description: Jamal and Chris decide to make a film using the school’s video camera. Things gets hairy when Ms. Noble wants to see their progress on the yearbook video.  

Sound like fun, right?  Unfortunately, it appears that “The Movie” was not included in City Guys‘s syndication package and, as a result, it’s also not available to stream on Tubi or anywhere else online.  So, we’ll just have to accept that “The Movie” is lost to us.  That said, it is nice to see that the show apparently attempted to return to the video yearbook storyline.  For something that was supposed to be a big, year-long project, it certainly doesn’t appear that Chris and Jamal spent much time working on it.

For instance, in the two episodes that are reviewed below, they both manage to develop a gambling addiction and Jamal faces his own mortality.  But no one says a damn thing about the video yearbook.

Anyway, roll with the city guys!

City Guys 1.9 “Future Shock”

(Directed by Frank Bonner, originally aired on November 8th, 1997)

“Meet Charlie Gresham,” Ms. Noble tells Jamal after he runs into Charlie (Corey Parker) in Noble’s office, “your class president.”

But wait a minute?  Didn’t they elect a new class president in the previous episode?  As you may remember, Cassidy, Dawn, and El-Train were all running for the office.  Who the Hell is this Charlie Gresham guy?  I’ve already pointed out that, even in its first season, City Guys struggled with continuity but this has got to be one of the show’s most glaring examples of just not keeping track of stuff.  Did no one involved in the production care?  I mean, even Saved By The Bell managed to remember that Jessie was class president.

Charlie is a lovable and charismatic class clown who is also a straight A student.  He’s even got a scholarship to Harvard!  He and Jamal meet and become best friends the same day!  But then, the next morning, Ms. Noble announces that Charlie has been killed by a drunk driver.  Bye, Charlie!

Jamal is so upset over the death of someone who he’s known for less than 24 hours that he decides that there’s no point of studying to do well on his PSATs.  Character actor Clyde Kusatsu shows up as the therapist who is brought in to help everyone come to the terms with the death of a universally loved classmate whom none of them had ever mentioned before.  Kusatsu is always good.

Actually, the entire cast does a good job in this one.  It perhaps would have been more powerful if Charlie had actually been seen (or even referred to) prior to this episode but, given the show’s lack of concern with continuity, I wouldn’t be surprised if Charlie turns up alive in a future episode.  That said, Ms. Noble asking Jamal to deliver the eulogy at Charlie’s memorial service felt a bit weird.  They’d know each other for about 8 hours before Charlie died.  “I don’t know what to say!” Jamal says.  Yeah, I wouldn’t know what to say at a complete stranger’s funeral either.

Anyway, Charlie’s ghost comes back and encourages Jamal to keep on studying.  That was nice of him.  This episode ends with a totally unironic performance of Kumbaya.  That takes guts.

City Guys 1.10 “Easy Money”

(Directed by Frank Bonner, originally aired on November 15th, 1997)

Chris and Jamal start making bets on football games!  They make a ton of money and they’re even able to go out and buy totally happening portable televisions!

Unfortunately, when they try to become bookies themselves (don’t ask), they end up owing $400 to El-Train and his cousin.  Yes, El-Train returns in the episode.  When we last saw him, he was running for class president and determined to turn his life around.  In this episode, he’s back to being the much feared school bully.  He’s so intimidating that Chris and Jamal steal $400 from the school raffle.  These city guys may be smart and streetwise but are they really the neat guys?  I’m having my doubts.

Anyway, everyone confesses in the end and Ms. Noble punishes them by forcing them to clean the school furnace for free.  Unfortunately, Chris and Jamal also had to give back their portable televisions.  What a shame.

The message is don’t gamble but the subtext is that Jamal didn’t learn a damn thing from Charlie Gresham’s death.  Hopefully, next week’s episodes will find him behaving in a way that would have made Charlie proud.

Retro Television Review: City Guys 1.7 “Red Ferrari” and 1.8 “Rock the Vote”

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!

Last week, I reviewed two episode of City Guys that actually weren’t that bad.  Let’s see if that trend continued!  But first….

How smart and streetwise are these neat guys?  Let’s find out!

Episode 1.7 “Red Ferrari”

(Directed by Frank Bonner, originally aired on October 18th, 1997)

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that TNBC was notorious for showing the episodes of their shows out-of-order and that certainly seems to be the case with City Guys.

In Red Ferrari, Chris and Jamal are once again antagonistic acquaintances, as opposed to the best friends that were just one episode ago.  Chris is once again angry with his parents, despite coming to a new understanding with his father in the previous episode.  El-Train is again the school bully, despite trying to turn over a new leaf two episodes ago.  As well, Jamal drops by Chris’s apartment for what appears to be the first time, despite the fact that we already saw him spending several days there during the second episode.  Obviously, one doesn’t necessarily watch a show like this with the expectation of a great deal of effort being made to maintain some sort of continuity.  But seriously, the City Boys timeline is messy enough to be distracting.

Anyway, this episode finds both Chris and Jamal in a whiny mood.  Jamal is whiny because he’s poor and no one wants to go on a second date with him.  Chris is whiny because he’s rich and his parents have apparently  forgotten about his birthday.  With his parents going out of town, Chris decides to get revenge by throwing a huge party and (shades of Ferris Bueller) driving his father’s prized red Ferrari.

Can you guess what happens?  If you said that it was the same thing that happened on Saved By The Bell when Zach drove a car that he shouldn’t have been driving, you’re right!  The car gets side-swiped.  Chris and Jamal have to figure out how to get the car fix before Chris’s parents come home.  Of course, Chris’s parents come home early anyway.  They didn’t forget his birthday.  They just wanted to surprise him!  And it turns out that the Ferrari is Chris’s birthday present!

Anyway, Chris and Jamal confess what happened.  Chris’s parents get into an argument over whether Mr. Anderson could stand to lose a few pounds.  (He looks pretty good for a guy in his 40s.)  Jamal asks Chris if his parents are always like that.  “They’re on good behavior because of my birthday,” Chris says and the episode ends, leaving us to consider the Hell of Chris Anderson’s everyday life.

Ugh.  That’s kind of depressing.  I’m not sure anything was learned from this episode so let’s move on.

Episode 1.8 “Rock the Vote”

(Directed by Frank Bonner, originally aired on October 25th, 1997)

Ugh.  It’s a student council election episode!

Yes, every TNBC show — from Saved By The Bell to this one — had a handful of shows that revolved around an absurdly powerful student  council.  In City Guys, Dawn and Cassidy are running for student council present.  Jamal manages Dawn’s campaign.  Chis manages Cassidy’s campaign.  Dawn is too focused on the issues.  Cassidy is too focused on fluff.  School bully El-Train is so offended by their shallow campaigns that he runs for student body president, using the fact that he’s been in high school for nearly six years as the basis of his campaign.  This episode ends on a weird note, in that we don’t actually learn who won the election.  So, hey …. thanks for watching!

As usual Steven Daniel transcended the material as El-Train but, otherwise, this episode was ruined by the fact that it was about a student council election and no one in their right mind should take any of that crap seriously.  The only show that correct portrayed the student council were the early seasons of Degrassi, in which the council mostly planned dances and got caught up in pretty drama that no one else cared about.

Well, these two episodes of City Guys were pretty disappointing.  Hopefully, next week will be better for the neat guys!

Retro Television Review: City Guys 1.5 “The Dance” and 1.6 “The Communication Gap”

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!

Retro Television Reviews: City Guys 1.1 “New Kids” and 1.2 “For The Love of Mother”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a new 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!

The Cast of City Guys

The year was 1997 and everyone loved TNBC.  Well, not everyone.  Actually, I imagine that most people over the age of 30 had no idea what TNBC was.  But, if you were a kid in the 90s and the early aughts, you knew that Sunday morning was when NBC aired shows like Saved By The Bell, California Dreams, and Hang Time.  Produced by Peter S. Engel, these shows all took place in an idealized teen world where everyone was pretty, the schools were always clean, and every problem could be resolved in 30 minutes.

But, in the early 90s, TNBC was struggling a bit.  Saved By The Bell: The New Class was not as popular as the original Saved By The Bell and California Dreams had just ended.  For his next show, Peter Engel decided to do something a bit edgier than the sitcoms for which he was best known.  He came up with City Guys, a show set not in California or Hang Time‘s Indiana.  Instead, City Guys would be set in New York and it would feature a multi-racial cast.  It would feature two best friends, one black and one white.  It would be relevant and edgy while still recycling the same plots that had already been done to death on Saved By The Bell and California Dreams!

It would be City Guys, a celebration of city people!

So, how edgy was City Guys?

Just check out the theme song!

They’re smart and streetwise!  They’re the neat guys!  They’re the City Guys!  Roll with them!

Neat guys?

I can only imagine what that nickname did for their street cred.

Anyway, I admit that I coming across City Guys on Tubi made me feel just a little nostalgic for the days when I would randomly come across episodes of City Guys and Saved By The Bell playing in syndication so I decided to rewatch the show, which was perhaps a mistake because, so far, City Guys has not been as good as I remembered.  In fact, it’s been pretty bad.

Just consider the first two episodes:

1.1 “New Kids”

(Directed by Frank Bonner, aired on September 6th, 1997)

It’s the first day of school at Bayside …. oh, sorry.  My mistake.  We’re not at Bayside and we’re not in Los Angeles.  Instead, we are at Manhattan High and we are totally in New York.  Don’t let the fact that the show was obviously filmed on the same sound stage as Saved By The Bell and California Dreams fool you.  We are totally in the city!

The first episode of City Guys does what a typical first episode does.  It introduces our main characters and portrays them as stereotypically as possible.  Alberto (Dion Basco) is quickly established as being this show’s annoying sidekick when he rides up to the school on his bicycle and announces that his name is now “Al Rocket!”  Dawn Tartikoff (Caitlin Mowery) is established as being the show’s annoying overachiever when she shows up in her first scene carrying a sign about saving the environment.  Tina (Gina McClain) is the pretty model who looks down on everyone else and whose character is destined to be dropped from the show after this episode.

And then there’s Jamal (Wesley Jonathan) and Chris (Scott Whyte).  Jamal is black and lower middle-class.  Chris is white and rich.  That’s pretty much all the characterization that the first episode bothers to give them.  They’re both transfer students at Manny High.  Jamal was kicked out of his last school for fighting but he explains that he was more of a “punching bag” than a fighter.  Chris was kicked out of several schools and apparently “flooded the soccer field.”  How exactly did he do that?  That’s never explained but everyone still seems to be really impressed when they hear about it.

At first, Chris and Jamal don’t get along.  Jamal thinks that Chris is a spoiled rich kid.  Chris calls Jamal “homey the clown.”  The studio audiences loves it, even while future viewers cringe.  Jamal bets Chris $20 that he can’t get a date with Tina.  The wise and no-nonsense principal, Ms. Noble (Marcella Lowery), decides that the best way to get these two to shape up is to force them to paint the new school mural.

Unfortunately, there’s a bit of a graffiti already on the wall.  El-Train (Steven Daniel) has tagged the wall and he threatens to kill anyone who paints over it.  In future episodes, El-Train would become a kind-hearted sidekick to the main characters and would serve largely as comic relief.  In this episode, he’s the school bully who everyone fears.  Jamal tries to avoid angering El-Train by painting around the tag.  But then Jamal sabotages Chris’s attempt to date Tina so Chris paints over El-Train’s name because …. I guess Chris is trying to get Jamal killed?  That seems like an overreaction.

Fortunately, Chris learns the errors of his ways and, when Jamal and El-Train have their inevitable fight on the roof of the school, Chris confesses that he was the one who did painted over El-Train’s name.  Then Ms. Noble shows up and sends everyone back to class, except for El-Train who gets suspended and whose name is revealed to actually be Lionel.  Chris and Jamal make fun of El-Train’s real name, no longer concerned about dying because Ms. Noble apparently has the power to magically quash all beefs.

Still, Ms. Noble isn’t going to just shrug off Chris’s attempt to get Jamal killed.  She orders the two of them to work as co-editors of the “video yearbook.”  Because, seriously, why shouldn’t the yearbook be used as a behavior modification experiment?

The end credits roll.  I’m sure these neat guys will have all sorts of adventures over the next four years of high school!

1.2 “For The Love Of Mother”

(Directed by Frank Bonner, aired on September 13, 1997)

Immediately after the opening credits of the second episode of City Guys, it becomes clear that things have certainly changed from last week.

Chris and Jamal have gone from being weary acquaintances to best friends!

Ms. Noble now knows all of the students and speaks to them as if she’s known them for years!

Tina has vanished and been replaced, as Dawn’s best friend, by Cassidy (Marissa Dyan).  Cassidy is just as blonde and pretty as Tina but the actress is a bit less abrasive!

El-Train is nowhere to be seen!

For that matter, neither is the video yearbook that Chris and Jamal are supposed to be working on.  Instead, this episode centers around Jamal’s sudden proficiency as a keyboardist and Chris’s desire to have a closer relationship with his mom (played by a very chic Susan Anton).  When Mrs. Anderson visits the school, she hears Jamal playing the keyboards that he’s just purchased from Al.  Mrs. Anderson takes Jamal under her wing and even arranges for him to play at a fundraiser that she’s hosting for the school’s music department.  Chris gets jealous because his mom promised to take him to an Eric Clapton concert on the same night of the fundraiser….

Wait …. Eric Clapton?  In the year 1997, were teenagers really going crazy over Eric Clapton tickets?  Maybe one can excuse Chris for being into Clapton because he’s supposed to be a rich outsider.  But all of the other students at Manhattan High are just as excited as he is about the  chance to see Eric Clapton perform live.  (What 15 year-old in 1997 wouldn’t be excited about hearing Wonderful Tonight live!?)  NBC certainly had its finger on the pulse of youth culture!  Of course, the main reason why the students are so excited about Eric Clapton is because the middle-aged people who wrote and produced this show would have been excited about Eric Clapton.  It’s an example of how City Guys, a show about young people growing up on the hard streets of New York City, was created by people who were neither young nor New Yorkers.

This episode of City Guys also features a Japanese cook, who, of course, has a temper, bows whenever anyone insults him, and who speaks heavily accented English.  He’s portrayed as being such a stereotype that I’m surprised they didn’t have someone hit a gong every time he entered a room.  City Guys was a show about how whites and blacks should get along but apparently, the message of respect and defying stereotypes didn’t extend to Asians.

Anyway, it all works out in the end.  Jamal impresses all the old white people with his music.  Chris gets over being jealous.  Mrs. Anderson …. well, she remains the same.

So, that’s it for the first two episodes of City Guys.  Will the show get better or was I led astray by nostalgia?  Check here next Thursday for my thoughts on episodes three and four!