Small Screen: Comedy Rel gets early jump on fall TV flood

The 2018-2019 network television season will generally start the third week of September. It is the beginning of a period of hope, chaos, success and failure that will continue for about a month. During those few weeks, the networks will look to draw viewers back to returning shows and get as much attention as possible for new series.

Fox has only two new original programs starting in the fall with The Cool Kids and Rel. The network is also adding Last Man Standing, the Tim Allen comedy that has been off the air for a year since being cancelled by ABC.

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To make sure Rel gets attention before the flood of new shows launch, the network will air the comedy starring Lil Rel Howery (The Carmichael Show) immediately following the NFL on Fox doubleheader tonight. The second episode will air Sept. 30 in its regular 9:30 p.m time slot.

The first episode has Howery playing a hardworking father and husband on the West Side of Chicago whose perfect life falls apart when he learns his wife has been having an affair with his barber. After his wife and children move to Cleveland, Rel looks to rebuild his life.

Howery and Jarrod Carmichael, an executive producer on Rel, talked long before the Carmichael Show ended regarding what Howery’s stand-up would look like if presented as a multi-camera TV comedy. Once NBC cancelled Carmichael’s show, Howery was available to take on a series that would give him the opportunity he wanted.

“What I love about the multi-cam live studio audience feel, it kind of feels the same,” Howery says. “It’s been an easy transition. I think, for a stand-up comic, to be honest with you, sitcoms are, to me, the easiest way to translate your material into a television show, because you still have the same feel.”

Howery loves the instant feedback he gets when filming the show in front of an audience. If there are elements of the script that aren’t getting laughs on the night the show is taped, then Howery knows it won’t get any laughs from the viewers sitting in their homes.

Being in front of an audience feels natural to Howery because most of the Chicago native’s early years were spent working in comedy clubs. He made a few TV appearances, including Last Comic Standing, but the past few years have given Howery a lot more exposure between the two seasons of The Carmichael Show and his work in the popular horror film Get Out.

In a similar way to how Jerry Seinfeld and Carmichael adapted their routine to a TV series, Howery will do the same. Those who have seen his stand-up will hear him talk about some familiar topics such as deadbeat dads, his views on pastrami, gangs, politics and the unnerving nature of dating a woman who wears “loose boots.”

One other element Howery is bringing from his time on The Carmichael Show is the willingness to mix in dramatic moments when it fits the story. The TV comedies Howery liked the most when he was younger often slipped in serious moments. He specifically mentions an episode of the Michael J. Fox comedy Family Ties, where Alex’s friend got killed by a drunk driver.

“I love stuff like that,” Howery says.

“And throughout the season, you are going to see different moments like that. We’ve got an episode that, right now, it’s more or less almost really dedicated to my mom, who passed away in ’09, . . . the way I want to do it is very beautiful.”

The bottom line for Howery — whether it be comedy or drama in Rel — is to be as honest as possible. He’s getting some help, as the cast also includes Jessica Jess Hilarious Moore, Jordan L. Jones and Sinbad.

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