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I'm going to beat you until the white meat shows!
—Bernie Mac (on a bad day)
I thought those kids were just spoiled
—Bernie Mac (on a good day)
Parenting is hard. When The Bernie Mac Show debuted on November 17th, 2001, audiences watched the Kings of Comedy comedian learn that lesson the hard way when he adopted his two nieces [Vanessa and Bryana] and nephew [Jordan] from their Chicago home. It was for good reason, since their mother was stuck in rehab and unable to properly care for her kids. With his wife Wanda, Bernie Mac helps raise the young trio in his Los Angeles home and give them a sense of stability they lacked at home. The results are...quite varied, what with Vanessa's rebellious streak, Jordan's mix of hyponchondria and odd obsessions (one being breasts), and Bryana's sugary innocence.
The sitcom is loosely based off Bernie Mac's real life experiences (something Everybody Hates Chris also benefited from years later), and was also inspired by a Kings of Comedy routine he performed a year earlier. Ratings for the show were initially mediocre, but it gained a solid following during its debut season. Critics and viewers connected with the comedian's cruder, more honest perspective on parenting and appreciated the subversions of several tried-and-true sitcom devices along the way. These subversions include the lack of a Laugh Track, the episodes are more narrowly focused on a singular theme instead of balancing several storylines, and the comedian addresses the audience in fourth wall breaking discussions when he deals with his frustrations, woes and epiphanies. In a TV environment that restricted many black comedies onto UPN (and mostly derivative ones at that), this was a breath of fresh air.
Despite The Bernie Mac Show's strong reception during the first season, the biggest roadblock to its future success was...well, Fox itself. When My Wife and Kids aired on ABC during 2002's fall season on the same time slot, trepidation set in when the ABC sitcom kept beating The Bernie Mac Show in the ratings. As a result, Fox demanded executive producer Larry Wilmore to emulate the more traditional style of My Wife and Kids for The Bernie Mac Show. This caused conflicts between them and eventually resulted in the producer's firing. Fox constantly shuffling The Bernie Mac Show around its schedule hardly helped, which made many fans think it was canceled a season or two before it actually did.
Nevertheless, The Bernie Mac Show stayed on the air for 103 episodes and five seasons, which was long enough to snag syndication status (it currently airs on FX and BET). With the comedian's death in 2008, the sitcom has become one of his most well-known and respected works.
Show provides examples of:
- Acid Reflux Nightmare: Bernie gets a series of these from eating undercooked turkey in the Thanksgiving episode.
- A-Cup Angst: During an episode that took place in a movie theater, Jordan sneaked into an R-rated film and happened to get an eye full of an actress's well endowed chest during a sex scene. Upon being forced out of the movie by Bernie Mac, he started teasing Vanessa about how her breasts can't compare to the ones he laid his eyes on only moments earlier. For the rest of the episode, Vanessa becomes self-conscious about her underdeveloped body.
- All Men Are Perverts: The basis of one episode, regarding Vanessa's growing attention to teenage boys. Bernie gets worried about this during a pool party. It doesn't help when Bernie's own middle aged poker buddies are checking out the overdeveloped teenage girls either.
- Artistic License: Seeing as this series is loosely based off Bernie Mac's life, it's expected.
- Berserk Button: Do NOT mess with Bryana's doll, or very bad things will happen.
- For Vanessa, when hearing any negative comments aimed at her mother. Regardless of her mom's numerous mistakes, she still loves her deeply enough to defend her from all naysayers, Bernie Mac included.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: A staple of the series. Bernie Mac begins and ends most episodes with him speaking to "America" (i.e., the audience) in his study in a big comfy chair. There are also yellow captions which remark the events that unfold during the episode.
- Children Are Innocent: Averted with Jordan and Vanessa, but played straight with Bryana...until Jordan does something really, really bad to her favorite doll. Played with for every other kid on the show.
- Children Raise You: A no brainier, given the show's concept.
- Creator Breakdown: Even if Fox didn't cripple the show by the fall of 2004, Bernie Mac's now publicly known pneumonia hampered production during the fourth season. This forced Fox to place the remaining episodes on hiatus until the star recovered. Eventually, the show returned in the spring of 2005, but was given the Friday Night Death Slot for the rest of that season and the next one, its final season. Ouch.
- A Date with Rosie Palms: Bernie Mac thought Jordan was acting weirder than usual on one episode, and thought puberty raised more than his acne count. It turns out that after the obligatory The Talk, Bernie realized his fears were misguided, since Jordan was acting strangely for other reasons. Still, by the end of the episode, Jordan happily went into the bathroom to relieve himself anyway, since he thought Bernie said it was A-okay, much to Wanda's dismay.
- Dueling Shows: This show and My Wife and Kids had the dilemma of sharing the same audience with the same time slot on two opposite networks (Fox and ABC). As the main description states, this became detrimental for The Bernie Mac Show once its ratings wasn't up to par with its time slot rival, leading to the abundance of Executive Meddling that crippled the show.
- Follow the Leader: An in-show example, with Chris Rock admitting to Bernie Mac that he's his biggest inspiration for getting into comedy, in order to kill animosity Mac's accusation against Rock for stealing a joke. Nowadays, this episode moment becomes Hilarious in Hindsight with the existence of Everybody Hates Chris, a sitcom loosely based on Chris Rock's life (even more so with the reruns of both sitcoms airing concurrently on BET). Everybody Hates Chris launched right around the time The Bernie Mac Show ended, and, like The Bernie Mac Show, was pitched to Fox execs (though it was rejected before the sitcom got sent to the UPN/CW).
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Bernie Mac's more colorful swearing gets reduced, though it's easy to imagine what he really wanted to say after his "that's bull!" statements.
- Gone Horribly Right: In the few moments that Bernie Mac's plans come into fruition, the consequences are more lethal than he intended. For example, when Bernie Mac used surveillance technology to spy on the kids, he got to know every dirty detail on his family. Including a few that he didn't expect to hear, like how Wanda admitted to a friend about how much she hated one anniversary gift he gave her, and promptly sold it back. Bernie Mac didn't take this too well.
- Gone Horribly Wrong: The many lessons and schemes Bernie Mac has for the kids usually falls here.
- Groin Attack: Bernie gets a few of these throughout the series. So does Jordan in a particularly painful and awesome fashion during a pee-wee football game (he dives into the path of a kicked football to prevent a successful field goal).
- Hey, It's That Guy!: One of the priests in Jordan's Catholic schools eventually became Officer Bellick, the asshole guard on Prison Break.
- Speaking of which, who let Father Dougal run a school?
- In the pilot episode, a pre-Mind of Mencia Carlos Mencia happens to be Bernie mac's poker playing Latino buddy.
- Hidden Depths: Over the course of the series, Vanessa develops a natural affinity for music, and isn't half-bad at singing either. She keeps it secret to most people, because she doesn't want the exposure (though Jordan helped Bernie upload the song to Vanessa's classmates through e-mail anyway, to Vanessa's disapproval).
- Hypocritical Humor: During the pilot episode, after Bernie kept asking the kids if they wanted a big ass donut on the way home, Vanessa later responded sardonically with the "big ass" phrase attached to her message. Bernie then told Vanessa to watch her mouth.
- Kids Are Cruel: There are numerous examples throughout the show, but the standout had to be when Vanessa returned to Chicago one episode. The neighborhood kids she once viewed as close buddies turned their back on her and rejected her as a stuck up Hollywood snob.
- Laugh Track: None whatsoever, and the show was all the better for it.
- Life Imitates Art: Or rather the opposite. The real Bernie Mac only had only one daughter, versus the three nieces and nephews on the show. Similarly, in one episode, Bernie recalled his earliest years as a broke stand-up comedian, which mirrored his real life journey to stardom.
- Manly Tears: Bernie sheds this when he found out the truth about his "uncle" being his father after his funeral from an old birth certificate.
- Mistaken for Gay: Jordan's bizarre hobbies and general lack of interest to "manly" activities (save a small stint at football) make Bernie Mac assume this, alongside Mac's blatant homophobia. This is Played for Laughs most times until Jordan hears the disparaging comments about his "softness". Later on, Bernie's less worried with Jordan's sexuality when he openly admits his crush to a girl (albeit Vanessa's classmate).
- In another episode, Bernie Mac mistakes two guys who are writing partners as life partners, and was pretty cautious around them until one of their wives appears. Hilariously enough, in an additional episode, when Bryana's dad comes to visit her and Bernie, a female store manager thinks Bryana's dad and Bernie are life partners, because they're shopping for Bryana's first bra. What makes the exchange funnier is that the store manager admitted to experimenting with other women in college.
- N-Word Privileges: Mostly averted, though in one episode, Bryana overheard a private conversation between Bernie and Wanda, and Bernie dropped the slur when describing how one of his friends is "n***a rich". This caused some turmoil at Bryana's school when she uttered the word to a classmate. After this and another similar incident, Mr. Cooly, the kids' therapist, made Bernie re-examine how he spoke around his house. Mac's attempts to censor himself...fails...badly. Fortunately, the episode never got Anvilicious at any point with the racial slur, in an era when many other black sitcoms at the time would use similarly themed episodes as a Very Special Episode.
- Never Speak Ill of the Dead: Brutally averted with Bernie's uncle's funeral in Chicago. A lifetime of unresolved anger with his uncle's son Dee caused Bernie to lose his temper and insult Dee as his uncle Ellis's casket was being lowered, even claiming that he hoped Dee would burn in hell. Bernie later apologized to his aunt for disrupting the funeral, but she was sympathetic with his actions, since she knew how Dee drove people crazy. Played straight in the sense that Bernie wanted to give a proper eulogy to his uncle Ellis, but got caught up in Dee's bullish behavior.
- No True Scotsman: Jordan's hokey dancing during a family reunion made one of Bernie's relatives criticize him for not raising Jordan properly, because according to him, Jordan didn't act like a young black boy should. Later averted with Big Mamma, who criticized Bernie's cousin for being so judgmental with Bernie's parenting skills.
- Oh Crap: In one episode, Jordan has been annoying Triple H ever since he found his phone number. At the end of the episode when Jordan walks into the kitchen. Guess who he finds.
- Promotion to Parent: Vanessa, due to her mother being so unstable, raised Briana and Jordan until the trio was adopted by Bernie. This authority carries over after they move in with him, since both of Vanessa's younger siblings still look to her at times for approval. It also serves, at times, for angsty moments with her difficulties at following Bernie's authority, her unresolved anger and dissapointment over being forced to take care of her siblings, and her own difficulty at acting like a girl her age. At one point, when Wanda reprimanded Bernie's opinion of Vanessa, she reminds him that Vanessa 'never got to be a child' and he visibly softens over it. Eventually, Vanessa works through these issues, and both her relationships with her family and her self image improves.
- Properly Paranoid: An inversion. During the opening of one episode, Bernie Mac caught a robber breaking into his home, and only knew the robber entered his house because he thought Wanda walked back into the house. After that, Bernie Mac was so spooked, he nearly attacked Bryana when she sneaked into the kitchen at night, he went into overdrive setting up the house with ridiculous security measures, and later restricted the kids' after school activities. This frustrated the kids enough to clash with Bernie in an intense argument until a tragic news report suddenly aired on TV. After the family found out a young girl Bryana's age died from a carbon monoxide leak in her house, Bernie Mac came to realize that no matter how hard he tried, he can't protect his kids from random incidents. However, the realization ended in optimism, since Bernie became reinvigorated to take control of his life again.
- Screwed by the Network: How do you ruin a critically lauded sitcom? Easy. Demand the executive producer to dumb down the show and then fire him, and then air the show on different time slots every year. The fact that it beat 24 in the first year ratings with a much cheaper budget (a win-win all around) makes these moves even more brilliant.
- Serious Business: In one episode, Bernie Mac wanted to get the lead role of "Conrad's Prerogative", a Oscar Bait worthy film about an athlete who suffered from a stroke, to prove that he could be a serious actor. His attempts at becoming "Conrad" received far too many unintentionally hilarious moments for his friends, family, and the studio. When Bernie talked to a stroke victim for research purposes, he gets laughed out of the room. By episode's end, he gives up on the project, but isn't too broken up about it.
- Shout-Out: People at random reference Bernie Mac's Kings Of Comedy routine.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: A constant debate between Bernie Mac and Wanda on how to raise the kids throughout the series, though one episode used this trope as the central conflict. Because the kids saw Wanda as the fun, lighthearted parent, they used her as leverage against the more authoritative, take-no-prisoners attitude that Bernie represented. When Bernie complained about his wife not supporting his disciplinary decisions, Wanda reluctantly agreed to back him up. However, this turned the kids' friendlier attitude towards Wanda into a nastier one that's usually reserved for Bernie. Not wanting to be burdened with being a cold, callous parent, Wanda gave the kids more leeway to remove their stigma against her. As it turns out, Wanda's idealistic approach came back to bite her. Not only did giving Bryana apple juice before bedtime resulted in wet sheets, Wanda could not control Bryana and Jordan's fighting as well as Bernie could, and Vanessa misconstrued Wanda permission to let her drive early by taking Wanda's car for a cruise without a permit. In the end, Wanda used Bernie's more authoritative approach with Vanessa after she caught her driving her car, but later applied a Lighter and Softer discussion when she felt guilty about brutally scolding Vanessa. Although Bernie's approach won out by the episode's end, when he witnessed Wanda and Vanessa talking casually, even after the car incident, he seemed defeated that Vanessa was still much friendlier to Wanda.
- Took a Level In Badass: When Bryana got angry at Jordan for hanging her mutilated doll on a tree, she did not take this well. What she did next was reciprocate her fury with all of his toys and broke them in revenge. Petty? Very. Hilarious and awesome. You betcha.
- Why Do You Hate the Dog?: Bernie on a regular basis.