“Smart Guy” is more than a nostalgic Sitcom rewatch
The WB’s family sitcom about a child genius is as sharp and entertaining now as it was in the late ’90s.
When I think of the sitcoms that made me laugh, I usually don’t think of the “smart guy” and for that I’m sorry.
“Smart Guy” often gets lost in the pantheon of sitcoms, overshadowed by decades of long-running predecessors like “Full House,” “Fresh Prince” and others. Created by Danny Kallis, the series stars Tahj Mowry as TJ Henderson, a 10-year-old genius who jumps from fourth to tenth grade and has to attend high school with older kids, including his two brothers. It ran on The WB from 1997 to 1999 and was rerun on the Disney Channel until 2003.
That’s when I and many other young millennials discovered the exceptional series. “Smart Guy” became the foundation of my sitcom education, alongside watching “Boy Meets World” as an after-school package deal (usually with my dad on the couch). In the following years, “Boy” moved to ABC Family, but “Smart Guy” disappeared from my viewership. DVDs were elusive when home video models changed, so the show was barely available until it debuted on Disney+ in 2019. When I finally rewatched “Smart Guy,” it was more than a nostalgic rewatch; the series is charming, funny and eminently watchable, even breaking away from my existing fandom. While most dated sitcoms evoke an earlier attachment to the show—that “Oh, I loved that as a kid” feeling—I was shocked by how much I love “Smart Guy” as an adult.
The show stars Jason Weaver’s brother Marcus, John Marshall Jones as Floyd’s father, Essence Atkins as Yvette’s sister, and Omar Gooding as Marcus’ best friend Mo. They bond instantly where other comedies — and shows in general — sometimes struggle. finding the right chemistry, character combinations and pacing for the cast. Marcus and Mo’s friendship, in particular, remains a delightful constant through serious fights and inevitable sitcom outbursts (like sneaking out of the house to host a late-night radio show and falling asleep in the Hendersons’ kitchen). Gooding’s Mo finds a special sweet spot between comic relief and emotional resonance, not to mention pairing well with any member of the Henderson family for unique and consistently satisfying storylines. Jones Floyd is a quintessential sitcom dad, whether he’s trying to support a genius or manage a wayward teenager, he doesn’t let his daughter miss her mother or his own business and dating life (he’s also strikingly handsome and 38) a real number on this on the 32-year-old fan when he returned to the show).
©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection
The timing of “Smart Guy” may have kept it from becoming a TV legend, but it also led to one of the healthiest and most evergreen sitcoms out there. It’s generally free of politically incorrect “period” humor, culturally relevant even now, and smartly apolitical (except for two strategic Clarence Thomas jokes and someone’s “cheating Arkansas ass”). Marcus and Mo are every girl-crazy sitcom guy of the era, but they—not the women—are the bottom of every romantic exploit. There are episodes that touch on alcohol and sex, and even one about the dangers of online chat rooms and predatory adults—all of which passed Disney’s strict censors at the time, deftly handling each topic in a way that’s accessible to parents, teens, and adults alike. for the children.
More specifically, “Smart Guy” is a real blast. The jokes are as sharp as any modern sitcom (“You don’t understand how a will works, do you?” Floyd tells an attacking Marcus), the hokey sitcom jabs expertly paced and timed (“How many times have I told you, you shouldn’t experiment on people!” ).I haven’t watched this show in 20 years, but whole plot lines (TJ sits in!), jokes (“Flody!”), and theme songs (as well as Mackadocious “”Don’t hate me because I’m a dog”), shot right to the surface of my brain as soon as I pressed play. Prolific guest stars include Taraji Henson, Paul Dano, tap dancer Dulé Hill, and Destiny’s Child (I’m part of it, along with Dann Florek’s coach, Gerber).
And when we revisit it, “Smart Guy” presents an interesting subplot: this TJ is a pint-sized egomaniac who pulls all of his loved ones into his chaotic orbit. It’s at its strongest in the first season (seven episodes, a mid-season premiere) and then settles down, but young Mowry does the brilliant genius thing better than anyone else then and most now. The actor teased a possible ‘Smart Guy’ reboot since 2020. in 2022 reunited with Jones on “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” prompting countless nostalgic comments and begging to meet. While there haven’t been many updates on that front, the comforts of Piedmont High and Henderson home are just a few clicks away thanks to Disney+, drinking faster than most convenience shows, and a brisk walk down memory lane. Reboot or not, “Smart Guy” deserves all the love.
“Smart Guy” is now streaming on Disney+.
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