As the latest in a long line of talented stand-up comics to discover there's a world of difference between being funny on stage and being so in the movies, Chris Rock has turned his attention to the small screen with new sitcom Everybody Hates Chris (TVB Pearl, today at 8pm). Anyone familiar with Rock's uproarious stand-up performances, such as Bring the Pain and Bigger and Blacker, will have felt a little cheated by his so-so appearances in the likes of Dogma, Head of State and The Longest Yard. Everybody Hates Chris, however, should go a long way to repairing his reputation.
Unlike most stand-up comics who have taken the sitcom route, Rock does not appear in the show, instead choosing to narrate and let Tyler James Williams portray his 13-year-old self as he attempts to negotiate the pitfalls of adolescence in Brooklyn, circa 1982.
The cause of many of the young Rock's problems - and occasionally the solution - is his family. His obsessively cost-conscious but big-hearted dad, Julius (Terry Crews), tries vainly to boost the family's fortunes and warns his brood to work hard at school because 'we can barely afford kids - we sure can't afford stupid kids'. Rock's little sister, Tanya (Imani Hakim), strives to get her elder sibling in trouble with his parents at every opportunity, while his 'little' brother, Drew (Tequan Richmond), who is taller and older-looking than Rock, is 'so cool he got girls at 10 that [Rock] couldn't get till [he] was 30'. Their mother (Tichina Arnold), a 'ghetto snob', attempts to keep the family on the straight and narrow amid their neighbourhood's delinquent residents.
The first episode sees the young Rock starting at Corleone Junior School, where he is the only black student. Proving the show's title, he manages to fall foul of the school bully and the headmaster and is soon topping the bill on the after-school fight card, with the geeky Greg (Vincent Martella) his only supporter. Who would have thought being mistaken for diminutive Diff'rent Strokes star Gary Coleman could be the highlight of the day?
Williams is perfectly cast as the young Rock, while Crews and Arnold provide many of the show's highlights as larger-than-life parents. The scripts provide more than their share of laugh-out-loud moments, while Rock's narration, like that of a jived-up Wonder Years, ties the programme together, making Everybody Hates Chris a sharp and streetwise comedy with originality and heart.
The granddaddy of television science fiction, meanwhile, returns for a new series this week as Doctor Who (ATV World, today at 11.15pm) takes on all manner of nefarious alien rascals after a nine-year hiatus. Christopher Eccleston (above; 28 Days Later) stars as the ninth incarnation of the time-travelling doctor, who battles to save the world from an invasion of plastic people in the first episode, with Billie Piper (above) as his Earthly companion, Rose Tyler.
The special effects might have improved immeasurably since the days of wobbly sets and piffling explosions, but the show has remained admirably true to its original spirit and Eccleston brings a sense of humour and a Northern English cockiness to proceedings. 'If you're an alien, how come you sound like you're from the north?' asks Tyler. 'Lots of planets have a north,' replies the doctor.
A hit in Britain - with casual viewers and Doctor Who fanatics alike - the show has been picked up for a second season, although Eccleston has stepped aside to allow David Tennant (Bright Young Things) a turn.
The only gripe concerns the show's scheduling; why is a programme of interest to children being shown at such an unfathomably late hour? It's a pity the good doctor can't jump in his Tardis and travel back to a more family-friendly time slot.