WARNING: Spoilers for season 5 of The Walking Dead.
In honor of Noah, the latest addition to the Ricktatorship, played by Tyler James Williams, I decided to evaluate his fighting skills in the pilot of the show that made him famous. And while we’re talking about Tyler James Williams, how cute is this?
Okay, now let’s fast forward from that 2000 appearance to 2005. If you watched Everybody Hates Chris, you might remember protagonist Chris — based on series creator Chris Rock — as a put-upon but cheerful misfit. If you check out the pilot, you’ll see he’s kind of a badass.
The show is set in 1982 in Brooklyn. The conceit is that 13-year-old Chris, the eldest of three siblings, has recently begun junior high school. His parents are sending him to an all white school, two bus rides away, with the belief that he’ll be safer and get a better education than he would in their own drug-addled neighborhood.
In Chris’ first encounter with bully Joey Caruso (Travis T. Flory), we’re expecting Chris to get a beatdown, but he doesn’t hesitate to speak up for himself. Joey isn’t expecting that kind of response, either. “Do you know who I am?” the bully demands. Chris retorts, “You step on my shoe again, I’m gonna show you who I am.” Oh, yeah.
It may be a stretch, but I can’t help but compare this to Noah’s mugging of Daryl and Carol. He successfully holds them up and takes their weapons. You know he’s shitting himself. I mean, look at those two. But he does what he has to do, and that’s going to make him a solid member of the group. As an actor, he can portray an innocence that might lead other characters to underestimate him. Like Carol, his characters wear their toughness under the surface.
Back to EHC, the confrontation doesn’t end in triumph for either boy. This is a pilot, after all, so we’re just getting started. The principal puts his foot down, literally and figuratively, showing no sympathy for either. But he does give Chris a pseudo-compliment, comparing his attire favorably against Joey’s. And bullies love that.
Later, there’s a rematch on the agenda, and Chris doesn’t back down. He’s scared — he’s no dummy, after all — but he struts right toward his fear. The scene provides a small dose of suspense, while managing to be hilarious. Chris expects the fight to be broken up by an authority figure any moment, but it drags on for half an hour. A cop strolls by, un-phased.
The real boss battle is not to be had with the bully, but with Chris’ mom. Basically, he’s more scared of her than he is of Joey, as we see when he boldly snatches his bus pass from Joey’s pocket and runs like hell. Apparently, he’s pretty fast, too, and I don’t think that’s just a stereotype. It’s a testament to his need to get the hell home, bus pass intact, and stop his little sister from waking up their dad.
This is not a dark show, obviously, but the very title conveys the level of suck that our protagonist will live with. Courage, in his case, is not giving in to all the haters or becoming an inner city statistic but — dare I say it — shaking it off. And, you know, growing up to be Chris Rock.
Fun fact: Tyler is the second Everybody Hates Chris alum to live in Walker World. Vincent Martella, Patrick in Season 4, played Chris’ best friend and fellow bullying victim Greg. Greg is also introduced in the pilot, by Chris’ side for the first of many battles.