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Series / The Bernie Mac Show

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The Mac family channeling their inner Huxtables. Otherwise, they'd kill each other.

Im'ma bust yo' head 'til the white meat shows!
Bernie Mac (on a bad day)

I thought those kids were just spoiled
But all this time, they wanted to go back to the projects.
Isn't that the stupidest thing you ever heard?
Oh those beautiful, stupid kids.
Bernie Mac (on a becoming-good-but-not-for-too-long day)

Parenting is hard. When The Bernie Mac Show debuted on November 17, 2001, audiences watched the stand-up comedian Bernard "Bernie Mac" McCullough learn that lesson the hard way when he adopted his two nieces (Vanessa and Bryana) and nephew (Jordan) from their Chicago home. It was for good reason, since their mother was stuck in rehab and unable to properly care for her kids. With his wife Wanda, Bernie helps raise the young trio in his Los Angeles home and give them a sense of stability they lacked at home. The results are...quite varied, what with Vanessa's rebellious streak, Jordan's mix of hypochondria and odd obsessions (one being breasts), and Bryana's sugary innocence.

The sitcom is loosely based on Bernie Mac's real-life experiences (something Everybody Hates Chris also benefited from years later), and was also inspired by a Kings of Comedy routine he performed a year earlier. Ratings for the show were initially mediocre, but it gained a solid following during its debut season. Critics and viewers connected with the comedian's cruder, more honest perspective on parenting and appreciated the subversions of several tried-and-true sitcom devices along the way. These subversions include the lack of a Laugh Track, the episodes are more narrowly focused on a singular theme instead of balancing several storylines, and the comedian addresses the audience in fourth wall breaking discussions when he deals with his frustrations, woes and epiphanies. In a TV environment that restricted many black comedies onto UPN (and mostly derivative ones at that), this was considered a breath of fresh air.

Despite The Bernie Mac Show's strong reception during the first season, the biggest roadblock to its future success was...well, Fox itself. When My Wife and Kids aired on ABC during 2002's fall season on the same time slot, trepidation set in when the ABC sitcom kept beating The Bernie Mac Show in the ratings. As a result, Fox demanded executive producer Larry Wilmore to emulate the more traditional style of My Wife and Kids for The Bernie Mac Show. This caused conflicts between them and eventually resulted in the producer's firing. Fox constantly shuffling The Bernie Mac Show around its schedule hardly helped, which made many fans think it was canceled a season or two before it actually was, especially considering that these changes came from the Fox executive who screwed over Joss Whedon's Firefly royally.

Nevertheless, The Bernie Mac Show stayed on the air for 104 episodes and 5 seasons, which was long enough to snag syndication status (it currently airs on FX and BET). With the comedian's death from pneumonia in 2008, the sitcom has become one of his most well-known and respected works.

Provides Examples Of:

  • Aborted Arc:
    • The arc about Bernie and Wanda trying to conceive a baby is forgotten about in the near the end of the series. In ended on Wanda having a chemical pregnancy.
    • The kids never reunite or reconcile with their mother, who also never recovered from her drug addiction.
  • Acid Reflux Nightmare: Bernie gets a series of these from eating undercooked turkey in the Thanksgiving episode.
  • A-Cup Angst: During an episode that took place in a movie theater, Jordan sneaked into an R-rated film and happened to get an eye full of an actress' well endowed chest during a sex scene. Upon being forced out of the movie by Bernie, he started teasing Vanessa about how her breasts can't compare to the ones he laid his eyes on only moments earlier. For the rest of the episode, Vanessa becomes self-conscious about her underdeveloped body.
  • An Aesop: Bernie will often drop some knowledge on what he either learned or was reinforced via an episode's worth of experiences. The episode with Bernie Mac letting his paranoia from a home break-in keep him from functioning like a rational human being (see Properly Paranoid) ends with an inspirational speech about not letting fear rule your life.
  • All Men Are Perverts: The basis of one episode, regarding Vanessa's growing attention to teenage boys. Bernie gets worried about this during a pool party. It doesn't help when Bernie's own middle aged poker buddies are checking out the overdeveloped teenage girls either.
  • Artistic License: Seeing as this series is loosely based off Bernie Mac's life, it's expected.
  • Berserk Button: Do NOT mess with Bryana's doll, or very bad things will happen.
    • Vanessa has this too. When hearing any negative comments aimed at her, Jordan and Bryana's mother, Stacy. Despite their mom's numerous mistakes, Vanessa still loves her deeply enough to defend her from all naysayers, Bernie included (although Bernie himself isn't happy with Stacy's addictions, and he points out to Vanessa that he has a right to worry about her). It's implied that this is because she knew her mom as more than just the drug addict that the viewers and various characters constantly hear about.
    • Bernie has many, but his biggest one seems to be when Vanessa is obliviously wasting her potential.
  • Black and Nerdy: Jordan, complete with the stereotypical nerdy traits, like being big into Star Wars, good with technology, and unsuccessful with girls, on top of not being too great at sports.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: A staple of the series. Bernie spends a most episodes continually speaking to "America" (i.e., the audience) in his study in a big comfy chair, with a number of celebrity guests joining up. In the pilot, Wanda also talks to the viewers as she leaves for work.
  • Broken Aesop: "Secrets & Life" has all the family members confessing to lies they told in the past. The moral is that honesty is important. Problem is, the family praises Bryana for her honesty, but the end shows she's also a liar, with the show playing it for laughs.
  • The Cameo: Frequently. When there is one specific theme to an episode, Bernie will often have a celebrity on the show who can help to demonstrate, advance, or comment on the point. For example: when Bernie is trying to learn how to act, he talks to Angela Basset(who starred alongside Bernie Mac in the film Mr. 3000), and when Wanda's irresponsible little sister, Valerie, comes along, Bernie has a discussion about protective older sisters and flighty younger ones with the elder Williams sister, Serena.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Bernie is scarcely shown taking part in any of major film or TV roles like his real life counterpart. Also, while he is still famous in the show, he isn't as famous as he was in real life, being able to to go to grocery stores and barber shops without drawing much if any attention to himself. Though, it happens that way only part of the time, as average Joes do recognize him just as often.
  • Cheerful Child: Jordan and Bryana on a good day at least. Very rarely, another kid will show up with a happy attitude.
  • Children Are Innocent: Played straight with Bryana... until Jordan does something really, really bad to her favorite doll. Played with and usually almost averted for every other kid on the show, as children seen out to help others within this show are very rare.
  • Children Raise You: A no-brainer, given the show's concept. Bernie will learn a lesson from them every so often.
  • Uncle's Girl: Bryana, Bernie's "baby girl," is usually given a bit more preferential treatment than Jordan and Vanessa, especially in the early seasons when she was rarely defiant compared to the other two.
  • Double Standard: In one episode, after Jordan admits that he has a crush on a classmate, Bernie gives him tips on how to talk to girls, and even how to be a player. When Vanessa heres them, she calls out Bernie in the obvious double standard that as a boy, Jordan is allowed to talk to, and even pick up girls, while she can't date despite being older tha Jordan, and Bernie proudly tells her that it is a double standard, and he will enforce it. Later, when Bernie orders her to take out the trash, she says that she will also enforce the double standard as taking out the trash is a boy's chore.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: In the first episode, Wanda talks to the camera just like Bernie does, implying that all everyone was originally supposed to break the fourth wall.
  • Enfante Terrible: Jordan as a mischief-maker and, more as the series went on and she grew more spiteful and likely to exploit, Bryana, though somewhat Depending on the Writer.
  • Flushing Toilet, Screaming Shower: Bernie was on the receiving end of one in the Season 1 episode "Here to Stay".
    Bernie "No, boy! Don't flush it!"
  • Follow the Leader: An in-show example, with Chris Rock admitting to Bernie Mac that he's his biggest inspiration for getting into comedy, in order to kill animosity Bernie's accusation against Rock for stealing a joke. Nowadays, this episode moment becomes Hilarious in Hindsight with the existence of Everybody Hates Chris, a sitcom loosely based on Chris Rock's life (even more so with the reruns of both sitcoms airing concurrently on BET). Everybody Hates Chris launched right around the time this show ended, and, it, like this show, was pitched to Fox execs (though it was rejected before the sitcom got sent to the UPN/CW).
  • Gone Horribly Right: In the few moments that Bernie's plans come into fruition, the consequences are more lethal than he intended. For example, when Bernie used surveillance technology to spy on the kids, he got to know every dirty detail on his family. Including a few that he didn't expect to hear, like how Wanda admitted to a friend about how much she hated one anniversary gift he gave her, and promptly sold it back. Bernie didn't take this too well.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: The many lessons and schemes Bernie has for the kids usually fall here.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Often of the slightly fouler variety... While Bernie is one to throw his weight around and can seem outright mean, he more rarely does so unprovoked. The three kids have been quick to exploit or attack each other verbally or physically with a great sense of self, with Bryana getting an especially bad attitude (at least compared to when she was younger) as time went on, Jordan on rare occasion belittling others while being generally mischievous, and the standoffish Vanessa being less proactive in her aggression than expected, all while Wanda tries to be nice and usually succeeds. The high and middle schools are plagued with bullies and backstabbers - children are rarely nice to others here, while the adults are more often neutral, with some freeloaders and such, as well as some bad attitudes around. And then there's the grim Father Sean, who has a hidden sense of humor.
  • Groin Attack: Bernie gets a few of these throughout the series. So does Jordan in a particularly painful and awesome fashion during a pee-wee football game. He dives into the path of a kicked football to prevent a successful field goal and is hit so hard it cracks his cup (which is then bronzed).
  • Hidden Depths: Over the course of the series, Vanessa develops an affinity for music, and isn't half-bad at singing either. She keeps it a secret to most people, because she doesn't want the exposure (though Jordan helped Bernie upload the song to Vanessa's classmates through e-mail anyway, to Vanessa's disapproval).
  • Honorary Uncle: Subverted; Bernie actually is the children's uncle, but pronounces himself their Father figure in order to assume more authority over their lives.
  • Hypocrite: Vanessa will keep talking about how she can raise herself, but you can bet that she's still going to keep living off Bernie's hard work. However, this positioning is reversed when Vanessa points out the double standard that Bernie exhibits when he encourages Jordan to date girls, but prohibits Vanessa from dating boys.
  • Hypocritical Humor: During the pilot episode, after Bernie kept asking the kids if they wanted a big ass donut on the way home, Vanessa later responded sardonically with the "big ass" phrase attached to her message. Bernie then told Vanessa to watch her mouth.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: The one of the last plot lines of the series is Wanda wanting to get pregnant before she gets too old while Bernie believes he's already too old to have to deal with raising another child. After difficulties conceiving, they go to a fertility clinic where they learn that Bernie is exceptionally fertile for a man his age while Wanda is revealed to be infertile ( and having a chemical pregnancy.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Bernie and Vanessa. Bernie cares for the kids, make no mistake, but his way of showing tends to be much to be desired. Vanessa cares for her family, too, but having to contend with an addict mother and being the sort of mother figure to her siblings made her rather jaded.
  • Kids Are Cruel: How about the time those three girls Vanessa trusted and thought were her friends followed their leader when she took things the wrong way and beat her up? It is often that children (usually high- and middle-school aged ones) in this show display rude attitudes, being likely to gang up and bully others. Meanwhile, a number of children with neutral personalities show up, and it is quite rare when generally nice children appear.
  • Laugh Track: None whatsoever. Big aversion.
  • Manly Tears: Bernie sheds this, as per one of a few occasions, when he found out the truth about his "uncle" being his dad after his funeral from an old birth certificate.
  • Memetic Mutation: Happens In-Universe. When Bernie Mac's sense of fashionable clothing and house decorum caught the eye of a bunch of housewives, they also caught his peculiar yet effective method for punishing his kids. At the end of the episode, they all chant with Bernie "I'm going to beat you until the white meat shows!"
  • Mistaken for Gay: Jordan's bizarre behavior and general lack of interest in "manly" activities (save a small stint in football) make Bernie assume this, alongside Mac's blatant homophobia. This is Played for Laughs most times until Jordan hears the disparaging comments about his "softness". Later on, Bernie's less worried about Jordan's sexuality when he openly admits to his crush on a girl (albeit Vanessa's classmate).
    • In another episode, Bernie Mac mistakes two guys who are writing partners as life partners, and was pretty cautious around them until one of their wives appears. Hilariously enough, in an additional episode, when Bryana's dad comes to visit her and Bernie, a female store manager thinks Bryana's dad and Bernie are life partners because they're shopping for Bryana's first bra. What makes the exchange funnier is that the store manager admitted to experimenting with other women in college.
  • My Way or the Highway: Bernie has this attitude quite often. In one episode, Vanessa drops out of the cheer squad when Bernie sees the very suggestive routine and admits that new toned down version was his idea. She then joins the economics club, where near the end of the episode, Jordan tells Bernie that Vanessa was skimming money from the club's candy sales to buy a bus ticket to Chicago. Inside the bus, Bernie asks why she's doing this and she snaps back: "You're always telling us 'it's my way or the highway,' so you know what? I'm choosing the highway!"
  • Naked People Are Funny: The writers had a bizarre obsession in the early seasons with having Jordan appear naked or semi-nude. They eventually had the sense to knock it off.
  • N-Word Privileges: Mostly averted, though in one episode, Bryana overheard a private conversation between Bernie and Wanda, and Bernie dropped the slur when describing how one of his friends is "nigga rich". This caused some turmoil at Bryana's school when she uttered the word to a classmate. After this and another similar incident, Mr. Cooly, the kids' therapist, made Bernie re-examine how he spoke around his house. Mac's attempts to censor himself...fails...badly. Fortunately, the episode never got Anvilicious at any point with the racial slur, in an era when many other black sitcoms at the time would use similarly themed episodes as a Very Special Episode.
    • In another episode, Bernie's sister Benita tells Bryana about the idea of "reparations", which leads to an awkward incident during her school play of "Snow White" as she calls Snow White "Snow Whitey".
  • Never Speak Ill of the Dead: Averted with Bernie's uncle's funeral in Chicago. A lifetime of unresolved anger with his uncle's son, D, caused Bernie to lose his temper and insult D as his uncle Ellis's casket was being lowered, even claiming that he hoped D would burn in hell. Bernie later apologized to his aunt for disrupting the funeral, but she was sympathetic with his actions, since she knew how Dee drove people crazy. Played straight in the sense that Bernie wanted to give a proper eulogy to his uncle Ellis, but got caught up in D's bullish behavior.
  • Nice Mean And In Between: The three kids. Bryanna (AKA Baby Girl) is the nicest and enjoys being with Bernie, who even considers her his favorite of the three. Vanessa is the mean, being rather rude and flippant towards Bernie and does anything to test his patience. Jordan is in-between, as while he's much nicer and more obedient towards his uncle, he has a mischievous side and can be just as bratty at times. Later episodes have Jordan and Bryanna switch roles, as Bryanna has been flanderized into a Bratty Half-Pint while Jordan grows to be more down-to-earth.
  • No True Scotsman: Bernie is bound to think that real men don't act as Jordon does. For instance, Jordan's hokey dancing during a family reunion made one of Bernie's relatives criticize him for not raising Jordan properly, because according to him, Jordan didn't act like a young black boy should. Later averted with Big Mamma, who criticized Bernie's cousin for being so judgmental about Bernie's parenting skills.
  • Oh, Crap!: These happen from time to time. In one episode, Jordan has been annoying Triple H ever since he found his phone number. At the end of the episode when Jordan walks into the kitchen. Guess who he finds.
  • One-Hour Work Week: Bernie is only occasionally shown going on comedy tours and is never seen making any appearances in movies or television.
  • Parental Abandonment: Stacey, Bernie's sister and the kids' mother, cut all ties with her family after she went into rehab, refusing to see them or call them. Vanessa and Jordan's father is in jail, most likely for life, due to committing multiple violent crimes. The trope is only averted with Bryana father, Bryan, who reconnected with her in the final season.
  • Perpetual Frowner: Vanessa, and with good reason.
  • Promotion to Parent: Due to their mother being so unstable, Vanessa raised Bryana and Jordan until the kids were adopted by Bernie. This authority carries over after they move in with him, since both Jordan and Bryana still look to Vanessa at times for approval. This is part of why she's often angry or frustrated. In "The King and I" when Wanda reprimands Bernie's opinion of Vanessa, she reminds him that Vanessa 'never got to be a child' and he visibly softens over it. Eventually, Vanessa works through these issues, and both her relationship with her family and her self image improve.
  • Properly Paranoid: An inversion. During the opening of "Lock Down", Bernie Mac caught a robber breaking into his home, and only knew the robber entered his house because he thought Wanda walked back into the house. After that, Bernie Mac was so spooked, he nearly attacked Bryana when she sneaked into the kitchen at night, he went into overdrive setting up the house with ridiculous security measures, and later restricted the kids' after school activities. This frustrated the kids enough to clash with Bernie in an intense argument until a tragic news report suddenly aired on TV. After the family found out a young girl Bryana's age (at least presumably) died from a carbon monoxide leak in her house, Bernie Mac came to realize that no matter how hard he tried, there was not much he could do to protect his kids from some random incidents. However, the realization ended in optimism, since Bernie became reinvigorated to take control of his life again.
  • Serious Business: In one episode, Bernie Mac wanted to get the lead role in "Conrad's Prerogative", a Oscar-worthy film about an athlete who suffered from a stroke, to prove that he could be a serious actor. His attempts at becoming "Conrad" received far too many unintentionally hilarious moments for his friends, family, and the studio. When Bernie talked to a stroke victim for research purposes, he gets laughed out of the room. By episode's end, he gives up on the project, but isn't too broken up about it.
  • She Who Must Not Be Seen: Stacey is frequently mentioned but never appears.
  • Shout-Out: People arbitrarily reference Bernie Mac's Kings Of Comedy routine.
    • The episode with Bernie Mac spying on his family with surveillance technology references classic totalitarian novels. Not only did he utter statements like "It's a Brave New World out here", even the episode itself is called Big Brother.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Bernie and Wanda not seeing eye to eye on how to raise the kids is a persistent issue throughout the series, though one episode used this trope as the central conflict. Because the kids saw Wanda as the fun, lighthearted parent, they use her as leverage against the more authoritative, take-no-prisoners attitude that Bernie represented. When Bernie complains about his wife not supporting his disciplinary decisions, Wanda reluctantly agrees to back him up. However, this turned the kids' friendlier attitude towards Wanda into a nastier one that's usually reserved for Bernie. Not wanting to be burdened with being seen by the kids as a cold, callous parent, Wanda gave the kids more leeway in order to dissipate their stigma against her. As it turns out, Wanda's idealistic approach comes back to bite her. Not only did giving Bryana apple juice before bedtime result in wet bedsheets, but Wanda couldn't control Bryana and Jordan's fighting as well as Bernie could, and Vanessa abused Wanda's giving her permission to let her drive early by taking Wanda's car for a cruise without a permit. Later, Wanda uses Bernie's more authoritative approach with Vanessa after she catches her driving her car, then has a Lighter and Softer discussion with Vanessa after feeling guilty about brutally scolding her. Although Bernie's approach wins out by the episode's end, when he witnesses Wanda and Vanessa talking casually after the car incident, he seems disappointed that Vanessa was still much friendlier to Wanda.
  • Thicker Than Water: Particularly in the pilot. What really kicks the series off is that despite both his not wanting his comfortable life as a successful comedian spoiled and his sister being a drug addict, he agrees to take in her children. In "Here to "Stay", he tells the children that he loves her despite her issues.
  • Took a Level in Badass: When Bryana got angry at Jordan for hanging her mutilated doll on a tree, she did not take this well. What she did next was relieve her fury by breaking all his toys revenge. Petty? Very. Display of Hidden Depths? You betcha.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Bernie sees the kids as this, and not entirely without reason, as he saved them from their state of neglect by their drug-addict mother. It should be noted that they lie, cheat, and steal from Bernie, Wanda, and each other. Vanessa, despite being a generally sympathetic character, will constantly insult Bernie (usually calling him "Bigfoot") and say that she doesn't need him—-all while she continues to benefit from his work without so much as a "thank you" ( thankfully though, she seems to have gotten better by the end of the series finale). This seems to run in the family: Bernie's relatives constantly try to freeload off of his success.
    • In addition, Stacy. She sneaks out of her room before Bernie brings the children to see her, and shouts down Bernie on the phone when he calls to find out where she is and what she's doing. After Bernie took in her children and saved them from having a life like hers.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Bernie and his poker buddies - W.B., Chuy, and Kelly usually keep their elbow-jabs on each other light.