The toughest, truest parents since Roseanne? Ken Tucker explains which shows get it right and which don't
Bernie Mac, The Bernie Mac Show
Credit: Bernie Mac: Richard Foreman/Fox

Here are TV’s best parent-kid sitcoms

The high ratings last week for two back-to-back premiere episodes of ”The Bernie Mac Show” suggest that viewers weren’t turned off by TV commercials and reviews emphasizing the fact that this sitcom takes its parenting seriously.

The premise of the show has stand-up comic Bernie Mac playing stand-up comic Bernie Mac, a rich Beverly Hills resident who must take in two young nephews and a niece when his considerably poorer (and, significantly, unseen) sister succumbs to drug addiction. Mac and his wife, played by Kellita Smith, are childless, and their skills at dealing with children are nil. The most-quoted line in reviews was Bernie’s threat to the misbehaving children: ”I’m gonna bust your head till the white meat shows!”

We long ago allowed — even encouraged — the TV networks to shield us from the blunt realities of life, and Mac, as cocreator and guiding voice of the show, is one of the few people who, thank goodness, doesn’t seem to have gotten the message. He insists on playing himself as a man exasperated, infuriated, and (most daringly) bored by children; he loves these kids, but he’s not going to perpetuate the TV fantasy that rearing a child is a matter of hugging and exchanging wisecracks. Mac is the toughest parent on TV since Roseanne, and more power to him.

The only other depiction of parenting that rings as consistently true as Bernie Mac’s is the one on ”Everybody Loves Raymond,” where the characters played by Ray Romano and Patricia Heaton fall into oh-so-familiar good-cop/bad cop roles. That is, Dad is the haplessly indulgent parent, and Mom the one who has to lay down the law. Who among us wasn’t either raised like this, knows scores of people who were, or isn’t filling one of these roles ourselves right now?

Beyond Bernie Mac and Raymond, however, TV-parenting has become exaggerated in ways both good and bad. It’s fun to watch the snappy mother-daughter exchanges on ”Gilmore Girls,” but no fan really thinks a single parent and her teenage daughter really talk and act like that. ”Gilmore” is idealized escapism at its finest.

At the other extreme is ”Titus,” in which creator/star Christopher Titus insists that his autobiographical nightmares, most prominently embodied by a brutish Stacey Keach, are funny stuff. I’m not saying all the tales of drunkenness, in-front-of-the-kids carousing, and verbal and physical abuse didn’t actually occur, since Titus makes a fetish of insisting they did. All I’m saying is, he hasn’t re-cast these experiences in a way that makes them funny.

By contrast, ”The Bernie Mac Show” is a healthy contrast to silly-parent shows like ”Yes, Dear” and ”My Wife and Kids.” Mac is often breathtakingly funny because he lets us recognize situations and emotions we all feel but rarely see recreated on the small screen. He knows that you can say things like, ”I’m gonna kill those kids!” and still have deep love in your heart for them.

Everybody Loves Raymond
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