Mark Curry definitely knew how to warm up the studio audience before the start of an episode. Curry, a proud Oakland, California native, starts the meet and greet for season one episode four by highlighting the city's vibrant musical scene, mentioning artists like 'En Vogue' Tony! Toni! Tone!, MC Hammer, Too Short, and The Pointer Sisters.
He jokingly teased the audience with the promise of live performances by these artists, only to be hilariously informed by his producer that there were no famous singers backstage. As he exits the stage to start the show, you hear the audience signal with laughter and applause that they are ready for more.
I'm relatively new to writing down my thoughts. As I embark on this journey, I find myself compelled to discuss the sitcoms that lit up my family's living room with laughter, watching from that broken-down (but loved) and still working television that required a wire-hanger to get a good signal.
Over its five-season span, Hangin' With Mr. Cooper and sitcoms like it played a significant role in my youth. For this article, I want to highlight season one, episode four, as a great example of the valuable lessons the show imparted early on.
Hangin' With Mr. Cooper follows Mark Cooper, a retired NBA player who returns to his hometown of Oakland to work as a substitute teacher and part-time gym coach. With Mark Curry in the lead role, alongside Holly Robinson Peete as Vanessa Russell and Dawnn Lewis as Robin Dumars, this sitcom brought humor and life lessons into living rooms for 101 episodes from September 22, 1992, to August 30, 1997.
Mr. Cooper faces a moral dilemma when he tries to help his struggling student, Andre pass a crucial algebra test in 'Please Pass The Jock.' Meanwhile, Vanessa helps Robin find a creative way to afford a ski trip by getting more students to teach music lessons.
The plot thickens when Coach Ricketts (played by Roger E. Mosley) approaches Mr. Cooper, requesting he help Andre cheat on a makeup test. While earlier, Cooper was willing, against his better judgment, to let Andre skip a class, and as he started to become concerned, he reflected on his own experience and the pride he felt in passing algebra.
"I know what Andre is feeling, man. When I passed algebra, it was a turning point in my life." When Coach Ricketts' motives become more apparent, Cooper explains that he couldn't take away that sense of accomplishment from Andre. "I knew if I could do that, I could master anything. And I won't rob Andre of that feeling."
I thought I heard the sound of glass cracking when Coach Ricketts told Cooper (with a smile), "It's gonna hurt me to say this. You didn't pass algebra. I put a little heat under your teachers and made sure you passed the final."
If this sounds all too familiar, that's because academic fraud remains a pressing issue today. You may have heard of some recently famous incidents involving some high-profile parents. While this episode spotlights a coach's involvement, academic dishonesty can involve parents, teachers, and proctors. In the show's first season, it's clear the showrunners, writers, and actors didn't shy away from being topical early on.
Discovering that one of his most cherished moments was a lie due to Coach Rickett's interference visibly shook Cooper. Despite his firm stance against cheating, he finds himself torn about how to assist Andre. Later at home, Mr. Cooper shares with his roommates what happened.
Vanessa questions the fairness of the education system, "Should a child succeed or fail based on his weakest subject?" Igniting a debate between the roommates. And when Cooper says cheating is wrong, Robin chimes in, highlighting the school's responsibility to provide basic education. The discussion unfolds hilariously, with Vanessa and Robin absorbed in their debate, sidelining Mark's views.
Back in the classroom, Andre (Carter), upset by Mr. Cooper's declining to help him cheat, desperately pleads with Mr. Cooper for help,
"I got a shot at gettin' a scholarship and playing in college. I can't blow that over one algebra test." What stands out to me in this scene is that it's not overly melodramatic, and both characters feel relatable. Cooper, not giving up on reaching his student, argues back, "Man, this is more than just about one test. If I could take that test all over again, believe me, I'd take it the right way."
Andre (quickly) responds, "Take it with me," surprising his teacher. Setting up one of my favorite moments, as Andre tells Cooper, "You all talk," after he refuses to take the test a second time. It's a must-see moment that will have you missing that Gen-X-90s slang.
Christopher Carter, who plays Andre Ballis, studied acting at Jane Fonda's performing arts summer camp with other students such as Troy Garity, Cole Hauser, and Angelina Jolie. And it shows because he has great comedic timing in these scenes with Mark Curry. Carter is the son of actor Robert Hooks, who Star Trek fans will remember best as Admiral Morrow in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
This episode also guest starred a young Jurnee Smollett, who you may remember from Birds Of Prey and Lovecraft Country. In this Hangin with Mr. Cooper episode, Smollett plays a young piano student with an infectious smile named Denise Frazer and will return to the role three more times. She is currently co-starring in The Burial alongside Tommy Lee Jones and Jamie Foxx.
Chris Tucker is also briefly seen in the episode as part of Robin's story. Fun fact: Tucker was in House Party Three, and Christopher Carter would later lend his voice to the character Kid in the short-lived animated series Kid-N-Play.
After taking the exam, Andre waits anxiously for the results at Mr. Cooper's home. You know sitcoms, so the answer is, yes, they passed the test. Coach Ricketts (Mosley) shows up at the house to tell them the result personally, giving Mr. Cooper a hard time before letting him see the passing grade.
Shortly after, Ricketts laughs and tells Cooper he was impressed he passed the exam a second time. Did you see that coming? Coach Ricketts (laughing out loud) explains that he lied about convincing the teachers to pass Cooper when he was a student.
The late Roger E. Moseley made guest appearances on well-known shows like Night Court, Kung Fu, Starsky & Hutch, Kojak, The Rockford Files, and Sanford and Son. But, it's in the beloved television series Magnum, P. I. that fans will warmly remember his notable laugh and radiant smile.
On Magnum, he brought to life Theodore "T.C." Calvin, the owner of Island Hoppers, a tourist charter and was one of Magnum's closest and most trusted friends, serving as his helicopter pilot or extra muscle when a case called for it. Their friendship was marked by the recurring and humorous theme of T.C. unsuccessfully trying to persuade Magnum to settle his bills for using the helicopter during their crime-solving adventures.
Luis Avalos is in this episode as Principal Rivas, a character he will play on the series four more times. You may remember Luis Avalos starring for 650 episodes alongside names like Mel Brooks, Morgan Freeman, and Rita Moreno in the variety show The Electric Company.
'Please Pass The Jock' aired October 20, 1992, and was directed by Jeff Melman and written by Jeff Franklin, Jeff Astrof, and Mike Sikowitz. It was produced by Jeff Franklin Productions and Warner Bros. The series was later added to the TGIF Friday night lineup on ABC, where it remained from 1993 to 1996 during its second, third, and fourth seasons. The show then moved to Saturdays for its fifth and final season.
"You know that feeling you've been talking about? The one where you can do anything if you just set your mind to it? I got it." While Cooper is upset after Coach Ricketts admits he lied to get Mr. Cooper to cheat, Andre reminds his teacher that it was not all for nothing because he got something out of it.
This episode embodies all the elements that make a sitcom worth watching: a blend of light drama, heartfelt moments, and plenty of comedy. I've intentionally left out details to hopefully encourage you to watch and find out what happened when Vanessa tried to help Robin grow her business. And what were Jeffrey Anderson-Gunter (Encino-Man, Naked Gun) and Chris Tucker doing there?
Sitcoms, often dismissed for their quick resolutions, hold a special place in our hearts. Just like Aesop's Fables, where the moral lesson can be condensed into a couple of paragraphs, sitcoms offer wisdom in bite-sized doses.
We don't always need entire seasons or hour-long episodes to grasp valuable lessons. Sitcoms are modern fables, that offer insight while entertaining us. So, the next time you watch one, look beyond the laughs, and you might find a treasure trove of life lessons. After all, as Aesop's stories show, it's not about the time but the message that counts.
As always, thanks for reading, and whether you've seen it or will watch it for the first time, Comment below, and let me know if you're Hangin' With Mr. Cooper.
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