About a month ago my friend Joe made a bold statement: "Under One Roof is the worst sitcom of all time." Considering the source, this couldn't be taken lightly. Joe is perhaps the foremost connoisseur of crap I have ever known. Along with another pal of mine, Nick, he curates The Found Footage Festival, a touring comedy show featuring the cream of all the corporate training videos, dubbed public-access TV shows, and bad '80s exercise tapes they've accumulated since their high school days in Wisconsin. Joe and Nick used to live together in Queens, and during one visit we spent an entire day watching a one-hour video starring a psychotic kiddie preacher named Lil' Markie, over and over again, until I was scratching at the window like an abused puppy. Another time we repeatedly watched the Full House episode where the Beach Boys come and perform "Be True To Your School" on the "We Love Our Children" telethon—the least distinguished of all the Full House Beach Boys episodes. Obviously there's nothing wrong with any of this, because it's not like there is anything fun to do in New York City, anyway.
So, when Joe told me that Under One Roof–a supremely shitty-looking Fresh Prince Of Bel Air redux starring Flavor Flav that airs Wednesdays on MyNetworkTV, the worst-rated broadcast network–was the worst sitcom he'd ever seen, I was skeptical but intrigued. Joe regularly watches re-runs of Family Matters, a show I am physically incapable of watching by myself. I have watched it with Joe a couple of times, including one afternoon in college when we both realized that we had never watched an entire episode of Family Matters before. The episode we saw involved Urkel (of course) building a machine that is able to shrink people down to the size of ants. Family Matters was notorious for taking huge liberties with reality like this throughout its storied nine-season run, which is dotted with various magical Urkel incarnations (Urkelbot, Stefan, etc.). But this episode takes the cake for inane leaps of fancy. After Urkel and perpetually put-upon neighbor Carl Winslow inevitably end up getting mistakenly shrunk down and dodging cats and runaway Pringles can as little ant-men, they go to sleep on a piece of bread while snuggling up to a piece of cheese. And that's the end of the episode. Presumably, the next episode of Family Matters had them back at full-size, without any explanation for how they got that way. (Someone please correct me if I'm wrong here, because I still don't know how Urkel and Carl got back to full-size.) At any rate, the good folks behind Family Matters took contempt for the audience to a whole new level, creating a long-running sitcom that is barely watchable even with heavy doses of snarky irony and mind-altering substances. Can Under One Roof really compete with that?
Can it compete with Mama's Family, my personal choice for the worst sitcom of all time? Mama's Family was a spin-off of The Carol Burnett Show starring Vicki Lawrence as an irascible elderly southern widow, Ken Berry as her son Vinton, and Dorothy Lyman as his shoulders-baring, not actually all-that-sexy sexpot wife Naomi. It aired on NBC in the early '80s and for several more years in syndication. Mama's Family is probably the single most fucking stupid show ever to air on television. Back in the days before we had cable, which was also the time in my life when I was watching as many as six (!) hours of TV day, I watched Mama's Family. Even at age 7 I knew how stupid it was. Webster was Oscar Wilde compared to Mama's Family. Not only was it completely witless, it looked dingy and cheap, like a soft wind could blow the set down. And the actors were haggard-looking, as if there was one make-up kit to pass around the entire cast for each season. Mama's Family had that special mix of comic ineptitude and professional incompetence you could only get away with in the good old days of limited entertainment options.
Indeed, as horrible as I'm sure Under One Roof was going to be before I watched it, I knew it couldn't really compete with the golden age of TV garbage that was '80s syndication, responsible for such gems as Out Of This World, Charles In Charge, and the immortal, hilariously de-humanizing robot laff-machine that is Small Wonder.
Nevertheless, more people than just Joe have been singing the praises of Under One Roof. Some critics have gone as far to call Under One Roof "a minstrel show," because most of the humor involves transgressive racial stereotypes. I'd argue that everybody on Under One Roof–regardless of race, color, or creed–comes off equally moronic, so I'm not sure the minstrel-y tag applies. Nevertheless, Under One Roof is still plenty hateful. Flav stars as an ex-con who moves in with his rich brother after he gets out of prison. As Flav raps in the show's theme song, his brother got rich from the same accident that sent Flav to the big house, and now he's living with a white woman and his totally un-gangsta, Carlton-esque son and snotty, Hilary-esque daughter. If you think Flav is the uptight square who can't dance and his brother is the jive-talkin' homeboy who shows him a thing or two, you're close but totally wrong! It's actually the opposite!
What I've seen so far has been pretty freakin' stupid, but not quite the transcendent level of fucking stupidity I was hoping for. The first episode I saw involved the prissy son pretending to be a gangsta rapper in order to get rich. An upper class black kid pretending to be from the streets in order to make it in show biz is a potentially rich satirical material, and while Under One Roof didn't anything with it, merely touching on the idea lifts the show out of the deepest, darkest TV comedy swamps. Also, Cockroach from The Cosby Show made an appearance as one of Flav's ex-cons friends, and I can't totally hate anything involving Cockroach. I plan on DVRing tonight's episode, but I don't think Under One Roof will go beyond being a forgettable piece of shit to being a historic piece of shit.
What do you guys think? Have you seen Under One Roof? What do you think the worst sitcom of all time is?