Best Of The Chris Rock Show (1999)
HBO Home Video
Cast: Chris Rock
As it is still a (relatively) new format, we haven’t seen all too many television shows being released on DVD. Hopefully, this will change in the future, as fans are clamoring for pristine digital copies of their favorite shows. HBO Home Video has taken a revolutionary step forward in this arena by releasing "The Best of the Chris Rock Show" on DVD. This release may not necessarily represent the "best" of the show, but it’s great to have it available for home viewing. For those of you not familiar with "The Chris Rock Show", it airs on HBO on Friday nights. The show debuted in 1997 and has been popular since its inception. The show is popular not only with Rock’s fans, but with critics as well. As a matter of fact, just a few weeks ago, the show won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety or Music Program. The show truly is a variety show. Rock hosts the show and opens with a (usually hilarious) monologue. The show also contains celebrity guests and interviews, original skits and features, as well as musical guests.
Much of the humor on the show is patterned after Rock’s style. If you’ve seen Rock in his HBO special "Bring the Pain" or in films such as "CB4" (a woefully underrated movie), then you know his irreverent, "in-your-face" style of comedy. Rock isn’t afraid to tackle serious social, racial, and political issues, but always manages to find the humor and absurdity in these situations. Yes, his language is raw and often raunchy, but the man is speaking the truth, and he can’t be knocked for that.
The DVD release of "The Best of the Chris Rock Show" features a mixed bag of highlights from the first three seasons of the show. These snippets offer a good overview of the kind of humor that is offered on the show, from downright silly to poignant & topical. The problem with this grab-bag of goodies is how uneven it is. Some of the features are gut-busting hysterical, while others are head-scratchingly bad. It’s like watching an episode of "Saturday Night Live" — some are great, and some are bad from the outset and make you want to reach for the remote.
In Rock’s defense, the good things on "The Best of…" are truly great. The funniest item is a spoof of the Fox networks "reality" shows entitled "When Animal Attack High Speed Chases II." Yes, this is exactly what you think it is. Rock manages to lampoon the high-speed chase craze and dangerous animals all at once. This part was so funny, that we had to watch it twice, because I was laughing so hard that I was crying. I don’t want to give too much away, but the segment deals with a drunken bear and deer running over pedestrians and being involved in a high-speed chase. While this concept is obvious and silly, it is done cleverly and is truly funny. For a great example of how Rock balances over-the-top humor with a very sly wit, pay close attention to who the police arrest once the chase is done.
Another highlight is a segment entitled "Damn Fool." This is a parody of a TV show that features ordinary people doing very stupid things, such as a woman who runs into an obviously vacant burning building to rescue people. The highlight is the man who reached into the sewer to rescue a bus token and was bitten by a rat. Now, that’s not particularly funny, but when the rat was interviewed, I almost fell off of the sofa.
I was glad to see one of my personal favorites from the show featured on the compilation, that being Chris’ legal correspondent. But, in this case, the legal correspondent can’t talk about national cases, because he’s involved in his own charges of "alleged" armed robbery. Rock also shines, when he is out among the people. There are three segments that feature Rock interviewing folks on the street. The first is Rock’s attempt to get a street in a white neighborhood named after Tupac Shakur. For the other two segments, Rock goes to Harlem to see what the people have to say about golf and about the death of Princess Diana. The sight of Rock driving a golf-cart through Harlem is very funny.
Some of the segments offer a mixed dose of humor. Rock’s parody of HBO’s "Taxicab Confessions" is a great idea. Instead of the passenger’s saying crazy things, it’s Rock as the cabbie who is being shocking. This has some funny moments, but as it’s featured three times on the compilation, its originality wears out.
The unbalanced nature of the disc comes into focus when the unfunny segments are shown. To put it another way, the good stuff on this compilation is so good, that it makes the bad stuff look really bad. (You know, I think I just paraphrased Butt-head!)
The worst segment is "No one Called 911." It’s a parody of "Rescue 911", but in this case, no one calls 911. This goes on for about five minutes. The concept if amusing, but we get the joke from the title, and don’t need to be hit over the head with it. Another thing that goes on too long is Pootie Tang. Pootie Tang is an entertainer who speaks in his own bizarre language. He is featured twice on the disc, once in an interview with Rock and once in a phony bid for political office. The strange language is funny at first, but gets old fast.
While the quality of the material may be in question, the quality of the DVD is not. HBO has put together a first-rate presentation for "The Best of The Chris Rock Show." As my wife would say, "Why would I want to buy something that I can just tape off of TV?" In the past, that was a valid question, but this DVD may change your mind on the subject. The picture quality is better than broadcast quality in most cases. As this is a shot-on-video production, the transfer to DVD makes the picture crystal clear, something that usually isn’t the case with VHS transfers of TV shows. Some of the segments exhibit a bit of noise, but for the most part this presentation is great looking. Due to the nature of the release being a TV show, the picture on the disc is presented full-frame. Not only is the picture first-rate, but the audio is as well. I was surprised by how clear the Dolby 2-channel surround sound was. Also, the surround sound is active throughout the disc, from the in-studio audience applauding to the sounds of the streets of Harlem.
The only extra featured on the DVD is a biography of Chris Rock. This was a disappointment, as it is more an advertisement for Chris Rock, than a true biography. Only at the end do we get an idea of where Rock came from (it doesn’t mention that he was born in South Carolina), and what he did before "The Chris Rock Show." The majority of this "biography" is blurbs from critics saying how funny and talented Rock is. Would we be watching this if we didn’t think he was funny and talented? Or is this just a way of making up for the uneven quality of the material on the disc?
I’m not sure who chose the material on "The Best of The Chris Rock Show" DVD, but it’s hardly the "best." Still, it does showcase Rock’s talents and there are some true classics presented here. If you are unfamiliar with the show, this would be a good starting point. For those of you who are fans, there are some golden moments on this compilation. Also of importance is the fact that this is a shining example of how a TV show should look and sound when transferred to DVD.