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How ‘Rel’ Tried to be the New Cosby Show but Missed the Mark


What is it About?

Rel (Lil Rel Howery) picks up the pieces after his marriage falls apart. His father (Sinbad), his best friend (Jessica "Jess Hilarious"), and younger brother (Jordan L. Jones) offer him support as he regroups.

From the cast alone, I anticipated nothing but laughs. Sinbad is a legend and Lil Rel is no stranger to sitcoms as he was a fan favorite on the Carmichael Show. It saddens me to say that it has not lived up to my expectations.

After watching the most recent episodes of the Rel show, I can no longer watch in silence. It has disappointed me week after week with failed attempts at “staying woke” smothered by a laugh track that makes every scene cringe-worthy. Although Lil Rel Howery, comedian and actor, is entertaining and I find his previous projects enjoyable, ‘Rel’ feels like a sad example of an after-school special.

The Halloween episode was by far the worst thing I’ve seen in quite some time. In Episode 5, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Malcolm X teamed up to kill zombies. Not only was the zombie slaying crew ridiculous and historically inaccurate, but every joke fell flat. I experience secondhand embarrassment with every fallen punchline.

I’m here for quirky, dry humor, but the writers over at FOX in the Rel writer’s room left out the comedy entirely. Watching Rel is as disappointing as going to McDonald’s for an ice-cream cone and being informed that the ice-cream machine is broken. It’s not funny and the delivery is far too predictable. 

They’re trying to leave the audience with feel-good words to live by. I get it. But the show has not exhibited having the depth or breadth to tackle serious topics like sexual harassment and gang violence, although they insist on doing it anyway. The writers of Rel are the staff of The Carmichael show, so I know they can dig deeper and have the language to discuss social issues in a way that’s funny and enlightening. But they have refused to do so in this series up to this point. They have played it too safe in their effort to educate without ruffling feathers and made a detour into a pothole instead.

Each episode feels like they ran out of time to develop the topic and immerse viewers in the storyline, so instead, they gave us a corny joke to soften the blow. It’s like Lil’ Rel and the writers watched an episode of ‘Family Matters’ (a classic sitcom) and copied and pasted their formula. The only issue is the era of “did I do that” comedy is over.  

Jessica “Jess Hilarious” Moore is, hands down, the star of the show. Her quick wit and boss chick mentality is the only thing keeping the show afloat. If we can get more of her backstory instead of the occasional clapbacks, then I will happily give the show another shot.

I can only imagine the hard work that goes into developing a show, especially a show that has your name as the title. I’m sure this is not the vision Lil Rel Howery had for the show when creating it. Maybe the FOX executives watered it down to the version that we have been exposed to? I don't know.

Rel should get a shot at a second season to redeem himself; however, it’s just hard to digest in its current state. Moving forward, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the Rel writers remember to make the audience laugh or at least chuckle without help from the laugh track.

I’ll give Rel a C-. And that’s with a grading curve.

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