Reading the TV tea leaves seems fairly simple once you read enough of them, because television executives tend to follow certain predictable patterns. Such as: If you hype a new sketch comedy series featuring a relative unknown comedian but backed by a famous TV/movie comedic actor, tell us you’re going to debut it in a sneak preview after American Idol, then decide not to do that, but instead cut the episode order in half, and burn it off in August before the new fall season…well, maybe that sketch comedy series wasn’t so hot after all?
So what are we to make of In The Flow With Affion Crockett? The first two of its six episodes aired this past Sunday (and repeat at midnight Saturday).
Crockett’s specialty is impersonations, and he opened his debut episode as Jay-Z. He’s also done Tiger Woods, Manny Pacquiao, Drake, Russell Simmons and more.
In one segment, sitting next to Damon Wayans Jr. and another young next-generation Wayans, Crockett says, “In Hollywood, man, when you’re a young black man with a sketch comedy show, you’re always going to get comparisons to these guys elders — Keenan, Shawn and Marlon, In Living Color, or Chappelle most recently, right? So. They gave the blessing, their uncles gave me the blessing, they said, Aff, do what you do.” Crockett then, doing what he wanted to do, threw to a sketch of him portraying Dave Chappelle, supposedly giving his blessing but also jokingly warning about the white man and also Tyler Perry. Notably, Crockett could not get Chappelle himself, although he could get Chappelle’s Show sidekick Donnell Rawlings to appear in the sketch.
Crockett borrows liberally from the Chappelle template, if not from his sense of humor.
In another segment, Crockett mentioned his YouTube series, Hustles with Russells, to introduce a new TV sketch version of the series with Russell Simmons. Problem is, not just in this sketch but others, the real-life celebrities outshine and earn more applause from the studio audience than Crockett does.
Here’s the first Hustles with Russells from Crockett’s 2010 web series:
Despite having more than 41 million views and counting on Crockett’s YouTube channel, YouTube stardom does not always, or often, translate into TV stardom. We’re living in a new media world, but the old-fashioned boob tube continues to abide by its own rules for success.
MADtv co-creators Fax Bahr and Adam Small should know from experience (though they were attached to Crockett’s series at an early point, neither of their names showed up in end credits on the first two episodes). FOX’s most recent long-term foray into sketch comedy, MADtv tried casting YouTube’s Lisa Nova for a hot minute, but that didn’t take. She now has more than 173 million YouTube views, however. And Anjelah Johnson similarly didn’t last long on the cast of MADtv, although one of her sketches, “Bon Qui Qui,” is the second most popular sketch from the show on YouTube with more than 48 million views.
The executive producers that are backing Crockett include Jamie Foxx, Marcus and Jaime King (previous Foxx production partners), Mitchell Hurwitz (yes, Arrested Development‘s Mitchell Hurwitz), and also Eric and Kim Tannenbaum (who have had success with Two and a Half Men, but not with recent Hurwitz creations Running Wilde and Sit Down Shut Up).
Earlier this week on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Jamie Foxx appeared alongside Crockett to promote the series. Foxx said:
“Well, I’ll tell you what. The thing is. What’s great about this is, like, he’s bringing this new energy. It’s been so long since we’ve had this type of comedy where it’s cutting edge, it’s urban, and even when we were selling the show and we were saying it’s urban, I was making them understand, Lil Wayne sells four million records (Crockett interjects as Lil Wayne)…
Has it been so long, though, since Chappelle’s Show? Or since David Alan Grier’s Chocolate News on Comedy Central in 2008? Or The Tony Rock Project the year after that (which featured, among others, a then-unknown Whitney Cummings)??
And if urban means finally a comedian willing to broadcast an Obama sketch in which he secretly fulfills all of your worst “black” stereotypes, as Crockett did in episode two? In 2011? Not 2008, when all of the stand-up comedians had already explored that joke. 2011. Well, maybe that undercuts your pitch that this show is cutting edge. So what was your pitch, again? And where is that show?