Chances are you best remember Lil Rel Howery as Rod Williams from Jordan Peele’s 2017 comedy-horror flick Get Out. Rod/Rel was the exasperated voice of you, the viewer, and best friend to Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris Washington—and possibly the very best friend that anyone has ever been to anyone, ever. Failing that, then certainly the most beloved TSA agent. Rod was known for such things as: being an expert dog sitter; outing Rose Armitage as a murderous sociopath; and, when the police were sitting on their hands in the third act, stealing an airport police car to mount a search and rescue.
I love Rod. You love Rod. We all owe Rod several beers for being Get Out’s primary source of comic relief and a shining light in the darkness. But before he was our rock, he was Jerrod’s brother, Bobby Carmichael, on The Carmichael Show who, having been priced out of the neighborhood, bemoaned how everything had avocado in it now. The Carmichael Show was canceled after three seasons and aired its last episode in August 2017. Since then, you may have seen Howery wearing a bow tie and Skyping with Molly about casual workplace racism in Season 2 of Insecure. This past summer he played Reggie in Tag; Dax in the extremely OK sports comedy Uncle Drew; and Brian Irvine in BET’s two-part TV event, The Bobby Brown Story. Which is all to say that Howery has kept busy.
This fall Lil Rel is returning home to the half-hour comedy on Rel, his new show on Fox. Rel—written and executive produced by Howery, as well as Josh Rabinowitz and Kevin Barnett (both of whom Howery worked with on The Carmichael Show)—is set in Chicago, and borrows liberally from Howery’s real life. Rel is a divorced father of two, and, in the pilot episode, he sits on the floor of his unfurnished apartment and has a long conversation with a customer service representative about how his wife cheated on him with his barber. She absconded to Cleveland with their two kids.
Whereas The Carmichael Show sought to capitalize on a political moment and tackle social issues head-on—such as offering a take on Ferguson—Rel hopes to work in reverse by rendering everyday situations upon which those social issues might intrude. “Keeping the conversation honest,” as Howery calls it.
In the pilot, we are still in the table-setting stage. We are in Chicago. Rel’s brother is an ex-convict who sold ecstasy, not crack. Sinbad is his father, and his mother has passed away. Rel’s got empty cups of Oodles of Noodles on the counter as his breakfast nook sits unassembled in the corner. In the first few minutes, Rel goes to church and sits for a sermon led by … himself, as the reverend. Apparently, Howery will play additional, different characters in every episode, just like Jamie Foxx and Martin Lawrence before him. “When Martin came on, he introduced us to Jerome and his mom and Sheneneh and all these different characters,” Howery said recently. “It’s almost like he let us figure out who we liked.”
It’s early yet, but I think I’m going to most like Jaymo, played by internet personality D.C. Young Fly. From the moment he shows up it’s clear that his sole purpose is to make fun of Rel’s life, which is already hilarious by virtue of being profoundly sad. In addition to being all alone, Rel can never get a haircut again. It’s looking rough.
Should You Watch It? Only if you like Lil Rel, and/or jokes that leap and hope either you or the laugh track will catch them. Despite real conversations occurring when you might not expect them, this is still a network sitcom, and no more or less slapstick than that suggests.
Should You Check on It Later in the Season? I would say so. Half-hour comedies need time to grow into themselves. But if you choose not to, you may not miss much.