Martin Lawrence

Munyaradzi Vomo

When Martin Lawrence’s sitcom Martin hit the scene it was the best thing since ‘The Cosbys’. Other shows in their prime at the time included ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ and ‘Family Matters’, but ‘Martin’ was in a league of its own. The show had an amazing cast of hungry actors who were just starting out.

Most of us had not heard about Lawrence, but he had swag that matched Will Smith and funnier jokes than Jeleel White’s character, Steve Urkel, in ‘Family Matters’.

He was excessively stylish and delivered suggestive jokes that probably influenced the scriptwriting for future sitcoms.

His co-star, Tisha Campbell, who played his girlfriend Gina, was equally good, combining beauty and brains. Although she was overly sensitive to the way Martin treated her, she stuck by him even when he did her wrong.

A thorn in their relationship was Pam (Tichina Arnold), Gina’s best friend. Their close bond always messed up Martin’s plans. They made an interesting trio.

Then there were the other characters Lawrence played in the sitcom. This was obviously inspired by Eddie Murphy, but we have to give it to Lawrence for trying because he pulled it off.

There was Sheneneh, the ugly girl who lived across the hall. She was butch and had a mouth to match. She liked Martin and hated Gina and Pam. Lawrence also played Martin’s mother, Momma Payne, who was a sweet lady with a sharp tongue.

She had a soft spot for Gina and loved baking biscuits. Lawrence did a great job in breathing life into this character.

Well, that was then. The show came of age five seasons later and the actors had to part ways and, honestly speaking, for Lawrence this was the beginning of the end. Granted, the movies came calling and soon we saw a much older Lawrence in ’Big Momma’s House’, ‘Life’ and ‘Bad Boys’. But these are the good ones.

Often you find Lawrence in the most ridiculous movies – you would swear he was desperate. Think of ‘College Road Trip’ or ‘Death at a Funeral’; you can’t recognise the man who starred in classics like ‘Blue Streak’ or ‘Black Knight’. He is probably trying to pay bills.

As Martin returns to our screens, you can’t help but compare Lawrence with Campbell and Arnold.

The two ladies, whose professional future he secured by including them in the hit sitcom, have done well for themselves.

Campbell joined the hilarious Damon Wayans on ‘My Wife and Kids’, a show that overshadowed anything she had done before.

Arnold signed on to Chris Rock’s ‘Everybody Hates Chris’, where she has displayed her talent best.

You wonder what must go through Lawrence’s mind when he sees the success these two women have had since starting out on his sitcom.

‘Martin’ airs every Tuesday at 5.30pm on Vuzu (DStv channel 123).