Not a Good Week For People Named Bernie

The premature death of Bernie Mac is really, really depressing.

His self-titled TV show was always a little underrated. It was, technically, a success, since it ran 100 episodes, but it actually proves that a long-ish run doesn’t necessarily make a show a success. It never got great ratings, it didn’t do well in syndication (stations that had the syndicated reruns dropped them almost immediately) and the first and best season tanked on DVD. It was an interesting and often funny show, though, and Mac was really good in it.

It was one of a number of quirky single-camera comedies that came along in the late ’90s and early ’00s, the most successful of them being Malcolm in the Middle (though that also tanked in syndication). These shows tried to deal with the creakiness of the sitcom format by doing traditional family-sitcom subjects — in Mac’s case, a formerly childless guy put in charge of raising three kids — with single-camera technique, asides to the audience, funny camera angles, fantasy sequences and sudden cuts. It was a type of comedy that was right in-between the multi-camera shows of the ’90s golden age and today’s more informal, quickly-shot comedies like The Office and 30 Rock. (The only comedy that is in the same style as Bernie Mac and Malcolm is probably My Name is Earl, which, guess what, also burned out really quickly. There seems to be something about this style of comedy, maybe because it’s so expensive and time-consuming to shoot, that leads to early burnout.) But in its prime, Bernie Mac was a very entertaining show that demonstrated how creative use of single-camera style could actually enhance a comedy, and Mac was very shrewd in not throwing himself into yet another sure-to-fail multi-camera show like most comedians were doing at the time; instead he tried something a little different, and became a character we hadn’t really seen on television in a while: a parental figure who has real authority, isn’t a befuddled idiot, but at the same time clearly struggles to maintain control of the situation, and isn’t always in control like post-Cosby TV parents usually were.

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