Best of The Chris Rock Show:(HBO Home Video, 10.11.2005)
Volumes 1 and 2
The Chris Rock Show has never been given its due on DVD. Previously, the two "best of" volumes of Rock's show gathered highlights from four solid seasons on the air. And while these volumes did manage to string together wall-to-wall funny bits, the appealing eclecticism of the original program's format was lost. Unfortunately, in collecting these previous editions in a new set, held together by nothing more than a flimsy slipcase, HBO has done nothing to improve the stature of Rock's Emmy-winning show in the realm of digital entertainment.
As they originally aired, episodes of The Chris Rock Show combined monologues and sketches with earnest, in-depth, and politically astute interviews and musical performances. The interviews and musical performances have been lost here, reducing Rock's show down to a lean combination of a traditional talk show (Rock often wears a suit, several of his sketches consist of him interviewing passer-byers on the street) with the edgy, racially conscious voice that has defined Rock as the pre-eminent stand-up of his day.
Initially, cutting Rock's show down to its leanest and meanest bits might sound like a good thing. However, if HBO doesn't plan to re-release complete episodes of Rock's show on DVD anytime soon -- and it doesn't look like they do -- then this collection amounts to little more than a cut-and-paste version of a show that deserves to be seen in its entirety.
Remember Beavis and Butthead? Why did it play so well as a combination of short narrative sketches, interspersed with voice-overs making fun of music videos? I'm not sure, but once those bits were released on video without the music videos, it became obvious how one element strongly complemented the other. The same goes for Rock's show, in which the format itself seemed pedestrian yet was somehow special, deftly combining elements of Saturday Night Live with a straight-up talk show and some previously-filmed bits on the street.
Personally, I was most consistently impressed by Rock's restraint when discussing matters of race with people on the street. Besides the humour generated, the consistent message of Rock's "street bits" is that no matter where you go, thoughtless, out-of-the closet racists will be found. That Rock does not go off on some of the people, whose comments and passive-aggressive hostility is downright disturbing, is either a testament to Rock's professionalism, or a testament to the fact that at this point in his life, as a black man, he realizes that the way to combat idiots is to let them be heard in all their glory, while controlling the context and volume of stupidity at which their opinions are heard.
As dominant as Rock's presence is throughout this collection, these DVDs also highlight the substantial talent of several other performers, particularly Wanda Sykes, whose hilariously bitchy, irreverent presence elevates several sketches to another level of funny, often when the original point of a sketch has been played out and is dried up.
I can't recommend this set outright because, if HBO won't make the effort to offer new material when creating a box set of The Chris Rock Show, why should fans make an effort to pick it up? On the other hand, the content of these discs is so strong, I'd be a fool to tell you not to buy them. Hardcore Chris Rock fans no doubt already own the individual volumes collected here, so there's no need to duplicate your purchases. Others need not proceed cautiously. We can all hold on hope that HBO will eventually release more complete episodes of Rock's show on DVD. In the meantime, let's sit back and enjoy some humour, Rock-style. -- Jason Woloski