Damon Wayans Brought Much-Needed Chaotic Energy to Sitcoms with My Wife and Kids

TV

You’d be excused if you didn’t notice that Netflix recently added the forgotten sitcom My Wife and Kids to its servers. With the labor stoppages over and TV back up and running once again, streaming services are pushing full steam ahead to get regularly scheduled programming back on the market. It doesn’t seem like there would be any room for a show more known for its Nick at Nite run than its original broadcast on ABC, but anyone who ignores the Damon Wayans-centered sitcom is missing out on one of the funniest, most chaotic comedies of the 2000s. 

At first glance, My Wife and Kids looks like your typical comedian vehicle from around this time period. So many stand-up comics got their own network sitcom that the genre turned into TV junk food during the late 20th century. Everybody Loves Raymond, Home Improvement, The King of Queens, George Lopez, and so many others gave the keys to funny men who didn’t possess a lot of pre-existing acting experience or knowledge. Wayans broke that mold due to his hilarious work on In Living Color at the beginning of the 1990s, but the initial premise of My Wife and Kids still fits nicely into the template of dysfunctional family plotlines. Several key differences help the series age well, though, and give sitcom fans a different style of show if they want a nostalgic trip.

Wayans plays Michael Kyle, a demanding father and husband who gets easily frustrated with the daily vigors of family life. His relationship with his wife Jay (played by the brilliant Tisha Campbell-Martin of Martin fame) creates a lot of the friction in each episode, and the quick quips between Wayans and Campbell-Martin feel genuine. The three kids of the Kyle family don’t get as many solo storylines as the adolescents in shows like Full House or Family Matters, but they each serve a unique purpose that shines a light on Michael’s personality. 

There is no doubt My Wife and Kids revolves around Damon Wayans. One of the most famous members of the Wayans family, Damon is always a welcome presence in front of the camera. It’s incredibly rare for any scene in the series to exclude Wayans’ character from the screen. This stunts the individual growth of the other characters in the show, but the 22-minute sitcom format always has to make sacrifices for the sake of stylistic authenticity. 

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We aren’t supposed to see a complete picture of the Kyle children. They aren’t nearly as interesting as Michael or Jay, and their issues reflect Michael’s hilarious parenting triumphs and failures more than anything. Oldest son Michael Jr. struggles with maturity and emotional intelligence, something he gets from his dad. Middle daughter Claire thinks like most teenage girls on sitcoms, often too ambivalent to care about anything in life. Youngest daughter Kady has an adorable rapport with her father that brings out Michael’s soft side. 

Each episode moves like lightning with Wayans utilizing impressions, humorous voice work, uncouth retorts, and even some light potty humor to keep the energy in the room keenly synergetic. Fans of other ego-centric shows of the decade, like George Lopez, will surely love the way My Wife and Kids unabashedly dedicates its existence to the star. It’s rare for a network to give a Black actor this type of freedom, especially because Wayans’ sense of humor doesn’t always conform to white audience expectations. What you see is what you get with him. The Kyle family lives in controlled chaos, and it’s a perfect representation for a time period in which the most of the popular Black sitcoms of the ’80s and ’90s had all come to an end (The Cosby Show, Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air).

My Wife and Kids opened the doors for future Black sitcoms such as Black-ish and even Abbott Elementary to embrace storylines with subtle morality teachings that don’t hit the audience over the head with preachy dialogue. No cheesy music will be played while Michael talks to his kids about dating or responsibility, but the message remains just as vital. These qualities make the series incredibly binge-worthy and a perfect fit on Netflix. As the multi-camera laugh track sitcom ages into the ancient past, shows like My Wife and Kids somehow feel fresh because they are rooted in the true purpose of family television: fun!

All five seasons of My Wife and Kids are available to stream on Netflix now.

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