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'Rel' Could Be One of the First of the Fall Shows to Fall
September 8, 2018  | By David Hinckley
 

Lil Rel Howery isn’t the first standup comedian to mix elements of his life with elements of his act and serve it up as a sitcom.

He also isn’t the first for whom the recipe doesn’t quite work out.

Rel, which premieres on Fox Sunday at 8 p.m. ET – or whenever the football doubleheader ends – stars Lil Rel as himself, a guy living in an empty Chicago apartment because his wife just took the kids and left.

While that may not sound like the classic setup for comedy, it enables Rel to start the show with a telephone monologue that summarizes his situation in his own sometimes droll and sometimes amusingly clueless words.

Part of the gag involves the party with whom he’s talking. Mainly, the monologue reassures us that while Rel is upset and a little sad, especially about the kids, he’s resilient and recognizes the grim humor of the situation.

It gives us viewers permission to laugh, as the therapist might say. Trouble is, it not only gives us permission, but it also prods us with a laugh track that’s just a little too persistent and too loud.

We’re okay with finding the humor in Lil Rel’s misery. Push us to laugh too hard, and things get awkward.

By the end of the first episode, not surprisingly, we’ve gotten into some pathos, like the reason Lil Rel’s wife left. Every new factoid also comes packaged with a gag, reinforcing the sense that much of the script here is an expanded version of a standup routine on divorce.

That, in turn, creates the all-too-familiar situation where a sitcom feels like it’s being written to the joke. Rather than letting the characters and their stories drive the plotline, scene X or Y feels like it was created to set up joke Z.  

That almost always wears thin fast, and it quickly shows signs of wearing thin here.  

On the more positive side, Howery does have some good comedy partners. Jessica Moore does a fine job as Rel’s sassy friend Tiffany, and newcomer Jordan L. Jones is a winner as Rel’s shady brother Nat.

Nat got out of jail just in time to give Rel advice on how to put his life back together. Thanks, Bro.

Sinbad plays Nat’s and Rel’s father. Or rather, overplays Nat’s and Rel’s father. That keeps him in synch with almost everyone else in the cast because, through no fault of their own, they too seem written to serve the jokes.

That said, much of the banter is not unpleasant, even an extended gag about a woman named Monica (Angel Parker), who is also known as “Loose Boots.”

But by the end, it feels like Rel needs more story and less standup if it’s going to stick around.

 
 
 
 
 
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