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To label In Living Color "the black SNL" is to not give this groundbreaking sketch comedy its props. Like its late-night counterpart, In Living Color pushed the envelope with sketches that remain in questionable taste ("Fashion Tampons"). It also presented its share of TV show, movie, and commercial parodies. But its racially charged humor that tackled race relations and subverted cultural stereotypes was something 1990 TV viewers were not used to seeing, especially in prime time. Among the most potent sketches featured series creator Keenen Ivory Wayans and brother Damon as the Brothers Brothers, two oblivious Toms who, in one sketch, act as spokespersons for the Arizona Tourism Commission in the wake of that state's controversial decision not to recognize Martin Luther King's birthday. In another, they are allowed to join an exclusive, all-white country club after proclaiming themselves to be followers of "Jesse" (Helms, not Jackson, about whom they profess to have never heard). Flunking all standards of political correctness is Damon's Handi-Man, the world's first handicapped superhero. "James" Carrey's skeletal Fire Marshall Bill and Damon's the Head Detective join the show's stable of breakout characters (Homey D. Clown, Vera De Milo, the flamboyant Men on Film, and homeless man, Anton). Kim Wayans's Grace Jones and Kelly Coffield's Andrea Dice Clay also make welcome returns. Other memorable characters include David Alan Grier's tell-it-too-much-like-it-is blues singer Calhoun Tubbs, and Coffield's Velma Mulholland, a nifty bit of pre-Pleasantville special-effects wizardry in which Damon's blind date turns out to be a quintessential dame right out of a black-and-white 1940s movie.
Episode 26, a "best of" compilation, serves as a representative introduction to the series and season. A bonus "Appreciating In Living Color" segment on disc 4 puts the series in cultural context. Unlike another Fox network sketch-comedy series, Mad TV, In Living Color has been lamentably missing in action on the syndication circuit, so for those who have never been "Colored," and especially for fans of current critics' darling The Chappelle Show, these 26 bracing episodes will be a revelation. Plus, it's fun to watch force of nature Carrey come into his own, and even try out a few moves that would bring him fame and fortune in his own feature films (in episode 18, he mutters the immortal, "All righty then"). --Donald Liebenson