September 26, 2005 12:00 PM

UPN (Thursdays, 8 p.m. ET)


Once upon a time, before he had his own cable show and starred in hit movies and hosted the Oscars, Chris Rock was just a kid—a pebble. That childhood, back in Brooklyn in the 1980s, is the inspiration for this sitcom, which Rock co-created and narrates in his customary tone of high bluster and bemusement, something like a human sax. Judging from the lovingly executed pilot, he’s come up with one of the best sitcoms of the fall. It’s got the right sort of energy—vital but not forced—and moves along with smart little hops.

Following the adventures of a boy named Chris, his two younger siblings and mother and father, Chris feels like Malcolm in the Middle peppered with the nuttier humor of Rock’s 2001 movie Pootie Tang. Charged by his mother to keep the house silent so his father can sleep until his night job starts, Chris muffles the roar of the toilet by throwing himself on the closed seat and covering it with pillows. It’s a good sight gag made even better because it also feels true. The show does deal with tough times and racism, but lightly and pointedly. When Chris’s mother makes him wear his brother’s good shoes to school instead of sneakers, Rock narrates: “She always said it’s better to be poor and neat than rich and raggedy. I think she said that because we were poor.”

The show is strongly cast with performers who are cartoonish but not broad: I mean especially Terry Crews as Chris’s father. A big, glowering man, he makes a fine bit of physical comedy out of trying to nibble meat off a chicken leg no bigger than his thumb. But Tyler James Williams, as Chris, makes the show: He doesn’t try to be winning or cute. He also has the posture of a character out of a Wallace & Gromit short. He’s a find.

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