The Underrated: Smart Guy

By @SpeedontheBeat

Hey, hey, hey! Don't laugh at me on this one. I'm serious.

Smart Guy is an underrated sitcom from the OG era of WB sitcoms (read: back when either UPN or WB had most of the black folks' shows on 'em). Clocking in at 51 episodes over the course of two-and-a-half seasons (it was a midseason replacement its first season), the series featured a young Tahj Mowry not aping his sisters' popularity at the time, instead, appearing as a kid genius in high school named T.J. Henderson.

Of course, this leads to a lot of age goofs and jokes. But, for the most part, it's still a fun show which deals with high school--and preadolescence--gracefully. So, why is it underrated? I'll give a huge reason and then a smaller one.

For starters, while it didn't overstay its welcome, it debuted around the same time that The Jamie Foxx Show was getting more buzz, Martin, Roseanne, and Living Single were ending, Sister, Sister was going through its "let's get a bit more mature because Tia and Tamera are almost twenty in real life" stage and other series were trying to "grow up" or were already at that point (to a degree). In other words, a kid-skewing series was all but destined to get lost in the shuffle. I mean, even Cory and Topanga were thinking/talking more about sex.

However, somehow, this kid-skewing series managed to continuously fire off some pretty legitimate shots at excellence. Did they all go in? No. But, a show that managed to talk about breast implants, child molesters, sexual activity and underage drinking and still manage to maintain a bit of cutesy innocence is something that needs to be applauded.

In some ways, it was a show that did what Full House couldn't: it was cutesy and kid-friendly, but still had moments mature enough to get the whole family watching and not in that "oh, Lord. This is so over-the-top, it's magically amazing" way that Full House leaned towards in its last few years. Seriously, who thought that having Michelle fall off a horse would be the best way to end the series? I would've rather they had ended the series with something similar to the "The Last Dance" episode. Ya know, give people that emotional send-off versus that "oh, hey. We got cancelled so we're going to have Michelle lose her memory as kind of an 'eff you' to ABC" sort of thing they were forced to do in the finale.

Before I digress more, let's get into the second reason why Smart Guy was underrated: Omar Gooding. The guy, while playing the "dumb friend" stereotype many 80s/90s sitcoms had, displayed some pretty great comedic timing. Thankfully, he got his moment in Baby Boy, but still...Omar should've had a more bountiful career. People often look at his character in Smart Guy and see nothing more than goofy-ass Mo. But, Mo was mo' than that. I mean, come on! The character, who was, what, 16, 17, managed to still be a legitimate friend and mentor to a preteen (versus just being the older friend who cracked jokes about the younger bro). That's pretty awesome.

As a bonus, the series acted as a launchpad/"don't forget about me just because I'm young/I'm rebuilding/I'm not on Law and Order anymore" spot for Hollywood folks such as Naya Rivera, Taraji P. Henson, Tahj Mowry himself (yes, I'm aware he was Teddy on Full House before he was T.J.), Kyla Pratt, Dann Florek, Essence Atkins, and more. So, think about that. Without Smart Guy, Cookie Lyon wouldn't be Cookie Lyon, Santana Lopez probably wouldn't have had the same bite, and--well, Dann Florek probably would've been Don Cragen regardless, because Law and Order: SVU needed a hard-ass boss with a heart of gold.


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