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October 27, 2012

Let’s discuss Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns.


Me, discussing a TV show?  It’s more likely than you think.

I want to start off by saying this: I am black.  I’ve made many allusions to my on-again, off-again afro here and elsewhere, and a few jokes about how I’ve willingly eaten fried chicken (and enjoyed it).  Even though I could potentially pass as a really-tanned white guy, I’d say I’m in a good place with my race.  I certainly have no problems making jokes about it, as you may be well aware.

I have a sneaking suspicion that my family always thought otherwise, though.  I remember how my mom would line the family bookshelves with books about black culture, and stock the bathrooms with magazines solely targeting African-Americans of varying status and concerns with beauty tips.  I remember how my mom would always tell me that “I need to learn more about my people”, and how I would silently wonder if she actually hated all races except our own.  I know it’s important to consider the difficulties, characteristics, and triumphs of one’s culture, but I’ve always taken a laissez-faire (read: lazy) approach to it.  I’m black, yeah, but more importantly I’m a human being.  THAT’S the race I belong to, and I don’t want to form any sort of divide between myself and others, well-meaning and subtle as that divide may be.

It'd help if I was more than a collection of pixels, but one thing at a time.

But with that in mind, I feel like there are certain…pressures.  Like there are certain things that African-Americans are expected to like and do.  I’d argue that things are starting to get a bit better thanks to media portrayals (barring examples like Grover from the abhorrent Percy Jackson movie), and I know for a fact that just as there’s truth to some stereotypes, there are more than enough examples that split off from them.  I’m an example of dissent if there ever was one, and I’ve known and met plenty more who could say the same.  We’re all human beings with different characteristics -- some similar, some unique.  Some expected, some unexpected.  That’s all.

Why do I bring all this up, you ask?  Because I want to offer a framework.  I want people to understand where I’m coming from beforehand.  Because I’m about to discuss a certain show, and the bile might really start to spew. 

But it won’t spew because of anything related to race.  It’ll spew because the show seriously pisses me off.


Before I get too ahead of myself -- and because I haven’t done enough meandering apologizing and excuse-making yet -- let’s talk a bit about Tyler Perry.  I want to make it very clear that I don’t have anything against the man.  Quite the contrary; I respect the work he’s done, both in the sense that he’s the ultimate rags-to-riches story AND in the sense that he’s made thousands, if not millions of people happy.  He’s someone that I can’t help but respect and aspire to become -- he’s a creator whose stories and works entertain, inspire, and ultimately make people happy, something that I hope to do on my own (and on a massive scale) one day in the future.

That said, I can’t say I actually LIKE anything with Perry’s name on it.  Admittedly this is more because I haven’t exposed myself to his works -- he does stage plays? -- but from what I’ve seen of TV shows with his brand and my limited understanding of the Madea movies, they are things that I would do well to avoid.  And that’s fine.  Just because I don’t like them doesn’t mean that others are wrong or worse off for liking them.  And again, if people -- LOTS of people -- are enjoying them, then clearly he’s doing something right.  Who am I to decry him, when the most I can do is post clips that spoof the hell out of him?


So for the longest time, I was willing to let it ride.  Perry could go on and do his thing, and I could do mine.  If our roles were reversed, I’m certain he’d let me do the same -- go on pumping out material that made him groan, but otherwise remain peaceable and understanding.  He is (I imagine) a pretty cool guy like that.

And then I watched Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns.  And I actually banged my head against a wall.

I don’t know how much of a hand Perry had in the show.  I mean, the Wikipedia page lists him as a director, but one of several.  And one episode has him listed as an executive producer and creator, but NOT as one of the writers or directors (at least for that episode).  I imagine he had some other effect and impact on the series, given that it’s roughly the same canon as the stage play version, as well as canon with the Madea universe.  But even if he did have a hand in this, he’s not doing it alone.  There are people lending a hand every step of the way, up to and including the very actors dancing for our amusement.  So I’m not about to play the blame game here and say “Tyler Perry should feel bad about himself for making this!”  I’m going to avoid doing a lot of poop-flinging at the people responsible for the show.

You're off the hook...for now.

I’m just going to talk about how abysmal this show is.  Because, really, it takes talent to be this bad.

Meet the Browns is terrible in ways I never thought possible.  It’s horrifically bad.  Its badness is myth made real, and almost biblical in its magnitude.  Its badness is a gargantuan, writhing beast that would make Scylla look like the average Chihuahua, and deserves its own epic poem just to convey even a fraction of the badness offered.  What I’m getting at is that the show is bad…but it’s an almost fascinating badness.  I’ve explained before that in my eyes there’s no such thing as a “so bad it’s good” product, because I find it hard to enjoy something inherently awful.  But I do believe in products that are “so bad you can’t help but look away” or “so bad you have to find out more”; it’s because of that trait that I found out Twilight had vampire fang c-sections long before the movie ever came out.  If nothing else, Meet the Browns is worthy of examination, just to see how an abject failure like this is even remotely possible.

So let’s take this step-by-step.  Get ready.

1) The main character is awful in ways I never would have imagined.
I think I’ve made this abundantly clear by now, but I think it bears repeating: the main character of a work, regardless of the medium, DEFINES the work.  No Homer means no Simpsons.  No Tony Stark means no Iron Man.  No Luffy means no One Piece.  A main character is the means in which a story puts its best foot forward, and makes its most compelling argument as to why you should spend time and/or money on it.

Leroy S. Brown offers no such argument.  He is the human embodiment, no, the lesser god of noise.  All of his lines are shouted in a high-pitched whine, and delivered at a rate at least fifty percent faster than a normal human.  I can understand trying to make a wacky patriarch for a comedy (most sitcoms are built on them, as you’ve probably noticed), but “Mr. Brown” comes off as just a caricature of a caricature -- nothing substantive besides a shouting old man who may very well lack basic English skills and reading comprehension.  Some -- maybe most -- of his jokes don’t even make sense.  When he’s in an art class and has to do a life drawing of one of his rivals, he asks if he can draw some fruit because it has more of a personality.  What?  Why?  What does personality have to do with painting?  They’re both going to be sitting still anyway.  And since when does this guy not have a personality (bad writing aside)?  Surely he has as much as Mr. Brown.  Also, you’re there to draw the human body, so unless that pear you’ve been eyeing suddenly sprouts a wang, you’re going to have to suck it up.

Why does nature have to be so phallic, anyway?

From what I’ve seen of the show -- more than I’m comfortable with for the sole purpose of this post -- there’s nothing to Mr. Brown besides wearing loud clothing, shrieking like a wounded parrot, and trying to make a quick buck by any means necessary.  He’s a clown, and nothing else…and even that’s being a bit generous.  Even a clown knows when to put down the seltzer bottle.

Also, why do people -- even family members -- call him “Brown”?  Eighty percent of the cast has Brown as their last name.  And he has a first name -- how about using it instead of treating him like a damn stranger?

2) All these characters are idiots.
So here’s a --

Hold on, I need to go smoke a Wal-Mart’s weight in cigarettes.

So here’s a scenario for you.  You’re a fairly well-off doctor who’s responsible for an adoptive daughter (the quintessential bratty teenage daughter, but your daughter nonetheless).  You overhear her plans to attend a frat party, and she badgers you to go.  Naturally, you refuse her.  So later that night, you prepare to go out.  You see that said daughter and her friend have their robes on and have made plans to stay in for the night.  Naturally, your first response is to ignore the highly-telegraphed fact that the girls are hiding their evening wear -- their frat party wear -- under their robes, and leave them home alone so they can sneak out the moment your back is turned, right?

What?  You wouldn’t?  Well color me surprised.


I’m convinced that Meet the Browns takes place in some horrific parallel universe where no one has any foresight or rationality.  Will the father figure lets his daughter and her friend escape the house and head to the party (though how he let them escape when I imagine he’d barely left the driveway is a mystery).  Will’s wife Sasha is quick to assume Will is going to cheat on her when his ex slinks into town, but is unable to detect the warning signs when a co-worker starts moseying up to her.  Brown tries to con a man who’s fluent in Spanish into thinking that he’s fluent as well so he can get a bonus on his paycheck, in spite of stumbling his way through conversations he’s planned himself…and he almost succeeds in the con.  Did I mention that if he managed to pull it off, he would have been put into a position where he’d be communicating with Spanish speakers?  In a hospital?  WHERE LIVES WOULD HAVE BEEN ON THE LINE?

But hey, anything for a quick buck, right?  A few lives would be a small price to pay for some new suspenders.   

3) All these characters are assholes.
So that scenario I mentioned earlier?  We’re not done with it yet.

Almost immediately after the two girls head to the frat party, one of them -- the non-daughter -- ends up getting attacked and…well, I don’t think anything conclusive was said, but the implications of what could have happened ring loud and clear.  The two girls head to the hospital and the daughter (who didn’t get attacked) remains unfazed by the whole ordeal.  When the parents head to the scene to give her a sound thrashing -- and justifiably scold her for her lack of empathy -- Will comes to a simple conclusion on how to teach his daughter a lesson.  He’ll disown her and send her back to foster care unless she apologizes sincerely.  What’s that?  That’s a terrible idea?  Don’t worry, he didn’t really mean it; see, it was all part of an elaborate scheme.  He just wanted to put the fear of God into her!  He’s not really going to disown her; he just asked a nurse to pretend to be a part of child services.  All a part of the plan.

Somebody get this man a Father of the Year award.

I don’t know much about parenthood, but…um…isn’t it better to talk things out instead of using a lie to bend your unsuspecting daughter -- one who apparently had several bad experiences with foster care -- to your will?  What do you do when she finds out?  Do you just pretend that there’s always going to be a threat of disowning her if she misbehaves?  Is this how you build trust and camaraderie amongst family members these days?  Because if that’s the case, I think this guy’s got Benjamin Spock beat when it comes to child care.

He wrote the book on...something.  I'm sure it's not important.

I wish I could say that was an isolated incident of dickishness, but it isn’t -- come to think of it, I have a hard time remembering a single moment where any of these people act less like wacky arch-nemeses and more like people that care about each other.  Will’s mother actively works to break up his marriage.  Will’s wife immediately assumes that Will is going to cheat on her if he spends time alone.  The wife and the mother can’t get along at all.  Will flies off the handle when his wife asks him to -- hope you’re sitting down for this -- watch the kids while she’s out.  The daughter tosses around the baby doll used for a school assignment, which you’d think she’d be more eager to care about given that she’s had an undoubtedly difficult life without a strong parental figure.  Her twelve-year-old brother pours out an entire box of cereal onto the table for no damn reason -- a twelve-year-old, not a six-year-old.  Brown will immediately betray anyone around him just to make a quick buck, up to and including the conning of his adoptive granddaughter.   

I could buy all of this if this was supposed to be a deconstruction of an American family.  I could buy it if we got to see these people develop, even microscopically, towards a higher high or a lower low.  I could buy it if there was some constant antagonizing force that made them set aside their differences, come together, and realize what really mattered.  But they don’t.  These are all terrible, terrible people -- and we’re supposed to believe that they all love each other deep down.  I’ve seen jackhammers that have shown more believable affection.

4) All conflict in this show is artificially engineered.
Apparently in this parallel universe, not only are people stupid, but the worst case scenario is the only scenario.  Everything that can go wrong will go wrong, if only for the duration of the episode.  Will warns the two teen girls that bad stuff can happen at a frat party, so of course one of them ends up being assaulted.  The daughter takes Will’s car to go to the mall, so of course she nearly gets someone killed.  Will’s improbably buxom ex shows up to try and reconnect, so of course she wants to jump his bones.  Sasha has a few conversations with a male coworker, so of course he goes in for a kiss (and apparently sexual harassment lawsuits are a foreign concept in this universe’s hospital). 

If these were issues that came up organically in the overall narrative of the show, that’d be fine.  That’d be great.  But when you put them back-to-back, again and again and again, it cheapens the overall effect.  It’s not a matter of “How will the Browns overcome this dilemma, and what will they learn from it?”  It’s a matter of “Gee, what can we throw at the Browns today?”  And that’s ignoring the mini-conflicts between characters over absurdly trivial matters, like Sasha and Will’s mom competing to give Will the best medicine for his cold…and forcing Will to choose between modern medicine and homebred family recipes.  What’s stopping him from taking both and ensuring he becomes healthy?  What’s stopping him from taking one, and then taking the other in secret?  What’s stopping him from telling both women to get off his damn back and let him sleep off the cold?

Ah, the eternal struggle between in-laws...

 If I had to give the show credit for something (had to -- I’m still not giving it any form of blessing), it would be that it at least tries to have a continuous story arc.  Will ends up getting suspended from his doctoral duties thanks to a combination of a patient dying under his care and Sasha’s confession that he made an offhand comment about the patient deserving to die.  It offers the perfect chance for character development and genuine conflict between the two of them, and can change the shape of the family and the show forever…at least, if it were handled adroitly.  But because there are so many other needless, pointless conflicts (and the presence of Mr. Brown bringing every thematic development and serious moment to a halt), it all becomes a mess.  An endless sea of bickering that annoys, not endears.

A show about family…if this is supposed to be a family, then so is the dried-up dog poop in my neighborhood.  Plus it’s all brown, so that’s an automatic bonus.

5) Meet the Browns?  Seriously? 
They might as well have called the show Spend Twenty-Two Minutes with Black People.

6) This show doesn’t know how to handle drama.
You know, I usually like to talk about the impetus for my posts before I dive into the actual discussion.  I try to offer a framework, a mentality, and hints as to where I’m going to go in terms of ideas.  Even if I don’t, you can more or less expect me to adhere to a basic rule: to paraphrase That Guy with the Glasses’ Doug Walker, you should talk about something you really love or really hate.

You can probably guess how I feel about this show, but there was actually a reason why I decided to talk about it.  One day I was minding my own business, sitting down to eat some tasty hot dogs.  I turned on the TV, and it just happened to be on the same channel that hosted Meet the Browns.  So I figured, “Eh, why not?  It’s pretty much half-over; it won’t kill me to watch it.”  And it didn’t.  But it offered a glimpse of the madness within -- because apparently, someone thought it was a good idea to sandwich a bullied kid holding another kid at gunpoint (and holding the gun gangsta style, natch) in the middle of a classroom, forcing the teacher (another Brown) to diffuse the situation in between the rest of the family’s hijinks

"Get behind me, y'all!  My wackiness'll deflect all them bullets!"

I don’t know what happened up to that point, but I suspect that I wouldn’t have missed much if I’d seen the whole episode.  Thankfully the situation is resolved without anyone getting hurt, but unfortunately the situation is resolved without any form of a resolution.  The kid lowers his gun and the teacher comforts him, but…nothing else happens.  Does the kid get carted off to jail?  Do the police even show up?  Does the kid get some help from someone, anyone, even the school counselor?  Does the bully get to apologize, or reconcile with the kid he tortured to extremes?  Does the whole incident even get brought up again after that?  No, of course not -- because that would make sense.  The most closure we get is the teacher pointing out that the bully wet himself, forcing him to run out of the room and triggering the laugh track.  That’s like ending Titanic with a pie in the face.

From what I’ve seen, Meet the Browns has a huge problem with giving the drama the gravitas it needs.  The middling and frequent conflicts are a part of it, yes, but there’s another issue: the drama is often made the B-plot while the wacky hijinks are the A-plot.  Frequently.  You would think that the problems the family faces would be given more time to develop than, say, Mr. Brown’s misadventures as a hospital janitor.  But then again, you and I live in a universe that uses logic.  The frat party incident?  Sandwiched between Brown’s antics.  Teenage daughter going for a joy ride?  Who wants to see that when you can see Brown wear a funny shirt?  Bruised trust between husband and wife?  Nah, man, it’s all about the laughs.  Missing woman in the neighborhood?  Eh, just stick it in the resolution somewhere near the end -- and who cares if she’s hinted to be developing Alzheimer’s?  Brown has yet to reach his wackiness quota!

Oh well.  Even if it can’t do drama, at least Meet the Browns has a handle on the comedy.

7) This show doesn’t know how to handle comedy.
Why did the chicken cross the road?  To get to the other side.

You know what that is?  It’s a joke.  It’s a played-out joke that damn near everyone on the planet knows by heart, but it’s still a joke.  When it was first spoken, it got a laugh out of someone, somewhere.  It was once a clever means of entertainment.

Certainly more so than the cassowary joke, which often ends with death.

Chickens make for a good meal.

You know what that is?  It’s a statement.  There’s no intention to amuse or be clever; it’s just there to convey information.  Maybe an opinion, if you’re lucky.  It is not a joke.  It is not something worth laughing about.  It is not something that deserves laughter.  There is nothing to laugh about.

Meet the Browns has yet to understand that.  Oh, sure, there are cute statements under the guise of a joke, but there is nothing worth laughing about.  And yet we’re supposed to believe that the words from some bratty teenager constitute something worth a laugh?  Does the line “I may have a baby, but I still have a life” sound like a joke?  What about “You sung Barry Manilow”?  No.  Those are statements.  They are not jokes.  Half of the lines in this show are statements, not jokes.  They are not funny.  They are not worth laughing about.  Of course, you could be forgiven for forcing yourself to laugh, given that the average joke has the same punch to it as half a whoopee cushion.

But it wouldn’t be so bad if not for…

8) The laugh track.  Oh God, the laugh track.
You know, I’ve never really had a problem with laugh tracks in the past.  I can see why people would get annoyed with them, and I’ll admit that sometimes they’re not the best tool around (particularly when a joke falls flat), and there have been times when my patience has been tested, but for the most part I’m in a good place with them…provided that a laugh track is used well.

To be fair, the bar is set pretty low.

Really, do I even need to say anything here?  Meet the Browns can’t even get its laugh track right.  Rather than let its use be natural and organic, it’s used as a stimulus to try and provoke laughter.  Remember what I said about this show confusing a statement and a joke?  Well the laugh track gets confused too -- so if someone says something in a tone featuring any amount of sass, tomfoolery, annoyance, or just plain volume, you can bet your sweet bippy you’re going to be hearing some uproarious laughter.

Again.  And again.  And again.  And again.  Can you imagine what it would be like if everything abused its laugh track?


…Okay, maybe that was a bad example, because that was kind of cool.  But you get my point.

9) This show has neither style nor substance.
I’m having a hard time nailing what genre Meet the Browns is supposed to fall under.

Is it a comedy?  No, it can’t be, because it’s painfully unfunny.  Is it a drama?  No, that’s impossible -- the drama is weak, and constantly undercut by the “comedy.”  It couldn’t possibly be an action thriller…sooooooooooo…maybe it’s actually a foray into serialized horror?

Look, I’m an optimist.  If someone’s got an idea, they can do whatever they want with it.  If you’re going to make a comedy, make a comedy.  If you’re going to make a drama, make a drama.  If you’re going to make a dramedy, make a dramedy.  But for God’s sake, whatever you do, do it well.  There is no way a group of people sat down to make this show -- write it, stage it, act it -- and at any point they all nodded and said, “Yep, this is great.  This is everything we need.”  No.  NO.  I refuse to believe it, especially if that team is working under the illustrious name of Tyler Perry -- especially if Perry himself has a direct hand in the project.

This.  He made this.  He wrote this.

There is nothing defensible here.  Nothing.  The comedy is full of rambling and histrionics.  The drama is at once pointless, inconsequential, and token.  All of the characters are distorted approximations of the average person, and then deprived of sleep for the past week with nothing to eat but bowls of sugar.  Every episode is a test of will, a measure of how far you can push your limits before breaking under the pressure.  Can you withstand an episode full of unpleasant people, unpleasant jokes, and unpleasant situations?  Can you watch even five minutes of the show without scrambling for your remote, or in the worst case scenario just flinging your TV out the window?

I would say “I dare you to watch it” but I’m pretty sure that would make me liable for a lawsuit.

10) This show isn’t offensive to black people.  It’s offensive to everyone.
And so we come full circle.

Like I said, I’m black.  I know black people.  Sometimes black people can act pretty extravagantly.  Sometimes they don’t.  Some adhere to tradition and family, while others try to make their own way through this brave new world of ours.  But you know what?  When you think about it, what separates a black family from any other family besides their choices of conventions and traditions?  Okay, you could argue that there are historical precedents that help shape a family tree (pretty much everything up to, including, and beyond the 1960s in America says hi), but every family has different issues at their roots.  Every family handles them differently.  Every family acts and reacts differently to stimuli, be it societal events or internal issues. 

With that in mind, I have to wonder: who is Meet the Browns for?  It can’t possibly be for black people, based on how over-the-top the depictions can get.  And I doubt it’s a show made solely for black people, because why limit yourself to one demographic and audience when you can spread your message to dozens more?  If the lessons therein are universal and applicable to every family, then it should work out, right? 


Meet the Browns is a vacuum of thought and expression.  There is nothing to learn.  Nothing to gain.  No chance for entertainment, no chance for thought, no chance for discussion.  I cannot, in my heart of hearts, imagine anyone being a willing audience for this show besides Tyler Perry sycophants -- and even then I’d assume they have their limits.  What does the show offer to people that its predecessors couldn’t or wouldn’t?  A family trying to make it in the world?  No.  Impossible.  We’ve had countless sitcoms that have treaded that ground, and treaded it well.  Everybody Hates Chris got it right.  My Wife and Kids got it right.  Family Matters got it right.  Good Times got it right.  And that’s just naming a few of the shows starring black families.  Everybody Loves Raymond, Eight Simple Rules, George Lopez…hell, even Full House, sugary as it was, managed to offer more than Meet the Browns ever will.  I’m not saying any of those shows are masterpieces (barring Everybody Loves Raymond, but I’ll get to that one day), but consider this: how much do you have to suck to get beat by all those shows?  How much do you suck when you have less believable characters than fucking Urkel?


It’s a sobering thought, but a true one nonetheless.  I was tempted to give my thoughts on what Meet the Browns’ spirit was, since I’m all over that these days.  But I won’t.  I can’t.  Meet the Browns is a swirling abyss of blackness; no light, no warmth, no hope can escape it.  By the time you manage to mute your TV to spare yourself from Mr. Brown’s high-pitched dramatics, he and his show have already afflicted you with dark magicks; you have no choice but to cry in pain as its slithering hell-vipers carve their nests within your mind…and eventually, your soul.  To watch it is to accept -- to become despair itself.  Avoid it, no matter what or who you have to sacrifice to do so.

…It’s still better than Family Guy, though.

6 comments:

  1. I laughed aloud at number 5. Still, This is a festering virus among all family sitcoms. I never thought I would look back at things like Full House and think they were 'good'. But at least there is the Cosby Show, Roc, and the Jeffersons to show how appalling this stuff is.


    Hell, MARTIN was a decent show and that had the same problem as this one.

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  2. Oh man, I haven't thought about Martin in years. I'd ask if Lawrence was doing well for himself these days, but then I remember that he's done, what, three Big Momma's House movies? So...I guess it could go either way.


    Truth be told, I'm a little curious about some of Perry's other works -- as an optimist, I'd like to believe that Meet the Browns was just a horrible, horrible misfire and everything else with his name on it does better. Perhaps I'll watch one of the Madea movies. Hopefully it won't make me want to stab myself in the eye. Because I like my eyes. Both of them.

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  3. What wonderful hate, Mr. Payne. Please, give us more, more...

    I never thought I'd see this on your blog, but GodDAMN is your pissed off writing voice entertaining!

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  4. You may have to wait a while before I come up with another hate-filled article like this; as I actively try to avoid terrible things, it's not often that I find something that gets me so riled up that I feel like I HAVE to write something about it. And I don't like being Mr. Negative, either. There are plenty of other critics online that do stuff like this much more frequently, so I'd rather leave the raging to them.


    That said, it's certainly not impossible for me to give something like this another shot. I just need to find/watch/play something really unpleasant. Maybe Final Fantasy 13-2 can do the trick...but the minus side is that I'd have to PLAY Final Fantasy 13-2, so...we'll just have to see how it goes.

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  5. Unfortunately, Meet the Browns isn't just a misfire. Everything that has Tyler Parry's name on it sucks the asses of 10,000 monkeys and that is being nice. Stay away from anything labeled Tyler Perry. Stay away. Stay far, fary away and never look back.

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  6. But how will I ever learn the presumably valuable life lessons from Madea Goes to Jail? Virtues beyond human comprehension are nestled within!


    I suppose the question with Tyler Perry works isn't "Is it good or bad?" It's "How bad is it?" And if Meet the Browns is any indication, the bar starts in the negatives and plunges to theoretical depths.


    ...A part of me's kind of interested in seeing for myself, though. Because I'm a dummy who has to let his curiosity get the best of him. "What could possibly go wrong?" asked everyone just before dying in a towering inferno of their own creation.

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