Last year, a buddy and I attended a Foreign Exchange concert in Atlanta. Lead singer Phonte Coleman, a super-funny cat and obvious comedy nerd in his own right, incorporated two of Kenan Thompson's Saturday Night Live bits into the show, a few spontaneous renditions of "What's Up With That?" along with some dialogue from the "Steve Harvey Hosts Who Wants To Be a Millionaire" sketch. My friend leaned over after maybe the second iteration of "What's Up With That?" and said "I'm not sure if I'm supposed to know what this is, but I don't know what this is." Judging from the response from the rest of the audience, no one else really did either. When I showed him the sketches later, he loved them but confessed that he hadn't watched SNL in ages and would never have seen them otherwise. That led to a conversation about the demise of Chappelle's Show, the fact that there hasn't been anything like it since, and the broader dearth of black comedy on television.
This is all to say that I completely understand the thought process behind a show like In The Flow With Affion Crockett. There's a vacancy and, presumably, a demand, and I can think of worse concepts for a television show than, "Let's try to make another Chappelle's Show but with a guy who isn't totally through the looking glass." And there's nothing about Affion Crockett that suggests that he couldn't be the guy to make such a concept fly. He landed the show in the first place based on the strength of some YouTube clips that have earned over 40 million views to date, and he recurred on Nick Cannon's MTV variety show Wild'n Out. He's affable enough, he has a good supply of celebrity impressions to rely on (he's no Jay Pharoah, but he's not bad), and he's an insanely talented dancer. But In the Flow doesn't work, mostly because everything about it feels so listless and perfunctory, from the format (Crockett stands before an audience, matter-of-factly announcing the sketches, a la Dave Chappelle) to the focus-grouped title.
Crockett does a passable job in his role, but as 36 seasons of SNL have proved, there's some material that even the liveliest, most agile performer can't animate, and In the Flow's writing is pretty pitiful. Some of this is not the fault of Crockett and his team (which includes Jamie Foxx, who serves as Executive Producer and takes a writing credit, and Rusty Cundieff, who collaborated on Chappelle's Show); I'm not sure when In the Flow was filmed, but many of the segments suggest this show has been sitting on the shelf for a long, long while. Watching an Avatar spoof starring Snoop Dogg, I felt like I was quite literally looking through a window to the past. And while introducing a painful sketch mocking the skinny jeans craze, Crockett asks a member of the audience to demonstrate "The Dougie," the hottest dance of last summer.
When the writing isn't dated and lackluster, it's just lackluster. In a segment that appears in both episodes of the back-to-back premiere, Crockett and his bit players step into the role of celebrities auditioning as American Idol judges. Crockett plays Manny Pacquiao, Drake, and Chris Rock, and does all three well, but it's an even flimsier set-up for the impressions than Pharoah has on SNL, which is probably hard to believe for anyone who has watched one of Pharoah's sketches. Crockett's impressions are solid, but they don't seem that impressive when the context for them isn't too much more than "Now I'm about to do an impression I can do.” The one bright spot came in a sketch that Crockett didn't even appear in—an advertisement for a new movie format called "Blu-Ray-Ray," in which discs come with an audio track to recreate the experience of having seen the movie with loud, obnoxious black folks. It's pretty funny, and the execution is mostly on point. There were also some zingers in a segment where Crockett actually does a Chappelle impression and mimics his comic voice faithfully. ("What can I say about Tyler Perry that hasn't already been said about video chicks? He has a nice ass and big hips.")
In the Flow is clearly a dead show walking; Fox cut the episode order to six back in April, so a third of its run will be in the rearview after tonight. But I hope it's not an eternity before someone decides to try to pick up the black sketch comedy torch again. Maybe Phonte will get disillusioned with music?
- Crockett reprises his web series "Hustles With Russells," in which he plays Russell Simmons's doppelganger. I see why this was funny to Simmons, but it wasn't that funny to me.
- Bresha Webb does a spot-on Nicki Minaj in the American Idol auditions segment.
- There were two sketches, "Hilight: The Yellow Moon" and "Mighty Marvin Clardy," that both felt like they had a much funnier sketch inside them but didn't live up to their concepts.