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Rap star says Fox keeps show too unreal

Times Staff Writer

The mood was lively on the set of Fox’s new comedy “Method & Red” Thursday morning. But the show’s star, Method Man, wasn’t, to use a popular hip-hop term, “feelin’ it.”

It didn’t matter that the show’s premiere the night before had scored encouraging ratings. It didn’t matter that the day’s production was moving efficiently. On this day, Method Man, who is also an executive producer on “Method & Red,” was seeing red.

“I’m just not happy,” the rapper-actor said during a brief break as he launched into a multi-pronged diatribe against the series, ranging from anger over criticism of the show to his dissatisfaction on how the series had veered from his original vision.

Much of his rage had been triggered hours earlier by statements he had heard on the radio from a so-called “hip-hop acting” coach who thought the acting by the two stars was “coonery.”

“I’m no coon,” said Method Man, almost spitting out the words. “I’m being criticized by people who have never set foot inside the ghetto, who have never put up a brick inside the ghetto. I’m from the ghetto. We can’t all be the Cosbys. There needs to be a yin and yang as far as what is shown of black people on television. But I don’t want us to be used as a scapegoat for their crusades.”

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Despite the show’s initial success, Method Man said he had disagreements with the network and other creative forces about the direction of the series.

“This is frustrating for me, and it’s not turning out for me as expected.... I know what I wanted this show to be, but there’s been too much compromise on our side and not enough on their side. I want more ghetto stuff, but all they care about are the people who have the Nielsen boxes.”

Among Method Man’s numerous concerns is the show’s laugh track: “This show doesn’t need it, and I had no idea they were going to put one in.”

He said he was also incensed that other creative forces involved in the show had come up with story lines such as a “booty pageant.” And although he and Redman share top billing, he said they don’t have enough control on content, which he fears could potentially alienate their core hip-hop devo- tees.

Soon after making these comments, Method Man -- one of the leaders of the Wu-Tang Clan rap group -- glowered as he moved though the lines in the 20th Century Fox cafeteria. “I’m trying to keep this show ghetto, and there’s a way for it to be both ghetto and intelligent,” said Method Man. “But it’s not going that way. I hate the title because it locks both of us right in, rather than just calling it something like ‘Two Guys in the ‘Hood.’ We’ve got a lot on the line here. I’m a musician.

“At the end of the day, if this show fails, all these other people can go on to other projects. We’d have to go back to where we came from, and they’d be saying, ‘Oh, there goes Method Man and Redman, they went Hollywood.’ Where are we going to go?”

Fox executives declined to be interviewed for this story. On Friday, however, Method Man explained that he had been in a “particularly bad mood” the previous day because of the criticisms he had heard on radio. Although he stood by most of his comments, he added that some were “far-fetched.”

“That remark about ‘cooning’ really, really hurt me. I’m a sensitive dude, and it really set me off all day, " he said. “What I want to make clear is that working on this show is a learning process on both sides. I just flew off the handle. At the end of the day, I want to be proud of this show and what we do.”

In “Method & Red,” which airs at 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays, the two rappers play fictionalized versions of themselves -- hugely successful hip-hoppers who move into an affluent, predominantly white gated community in the suburbs along with Method’s hardworking mother Dorothea (Anna Maria Horsford).

The comedy attracted more than 8 million viewers in its debut Wednesday, boosted in large part by its lead-in, the season premiere of “The Simple Life 2: Road Trip.”

“Method & Red” received some favorable reviews. But others blasted the show, including a scathing review on BET.com by James Hill, who said the series contributed to the “downward spiral of black entertainment.

“Not only was the show phenomenally unfunny ... but it boiled down two talented rappers, Method Man and Redman, in a benign, buffoonish broth ready for mainstream consumption,” Hill’s review said.

Although rappers, including Will Smith and LL Cool J, have been stars of sitcoms, and Eve currently has a sitcom, Method Man and Redman are the rawest and most aggressive rap artists yet to be featured in a network series. Their records and 2001 movie “How High,” in which they play pot-smoking hip-hoppers wreaking havoc at Harvard, are laced with profanity and drug references.

Method Man said on Friday that he didn’t feel some of the executives or writers understood the series and were trying too hard to make the show appealing to “Middle America.” When he has objected to a story or a character, he said “they try to overcompensate with lame jokes.”

“I’m not Hollywood,” he said. “In hip-hop, we didn’t have to buck our teeth or do anything wrong to get an audience. We weren’t trying to please the crowd. The audience came to us, buying our records. If we’re allowed to do what we do, the audience will come.”


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