A highly successful sitcom that aired from 1976-1979, "What's Happening!" became a surprise hit thanks to lovable characters, who still are fondly remembered by many and occasionally referenced (see "Scrubs", which has referenced the series a number of times.) The series followed the misadventures of three African-American teens Roger "Raj" Thomas (Ernest Thomas), Frederick (Freddie) "Rerun" Stubbs (Fred Berry) and Dwayne Clemens Nelson (Haywood Nelson) as they often tried to avoid Dee Thomas (Danielle Spencer), Roger's annoying younger sister. The three often spent their time hanging out at Rob's Place, a restaurant overseen by waitress Shirley Wilson (Shirley Hemphill), who often traded one-liners with the three.
After the series did well in syndication, "What's Happening?" was brought back years later as "What's Happening Now?", a "sequel" to the original that ran from 1985-1988. The series picked up years after the original, with Roger returning to the old neighborhood after having moved away and gotten married to Nadine (Anne-Marie Johnson). A struggling writer, Roger finds some aspects of the neighborhood, the same, but other things have changed - Rerun is now a used car salesman, while Dwayne makes a living as a computer clerk (and the two are roommates.) The biggest change of all, however, is their old hangout, Rob's Place, which was abandoned and has fallen into disrepair (Roger: "I spent all of my time and I spent all of my money there." Shirley: "Should've spent more.") in the years since Roger and his pals were teens.
While the series eventually would run into difficulties (Fred Berry would eventually leave the show), the first season of "Now" manages to at least come close to capturing the charm of the original series at times, with some very funny one-liners and the performances and writing doing a pretty good job of portraying these characters trying to find their way as adults.
Some of the highlights of this season include: "Raj Returns" (Roger is now married and returns home to the old neighborhood, only to find that "Rob's Place" is abandoned and run-down), "The House Guest" (when roommates Dwayne and Rerun have a falling out, they take turns living with Raj and Nadine, making their lives miserable), "Dueling Menus" (Raj and Shirley head-to-head to win customer loyalty at Rob's Place when Dwayne's accounting calculations lead them to believe the diner is losing money), "The New Kid" (Nadine tries to convince Raj to let a 10-year-old orphan live with them), "Dee's Dilema" (Dee decides to drop out of college to pursue a career selling cosmetics, much to Raj's dismay) and "The Improbable Dream" (after being knocked out, Carolyn finds herself and the rest of the gang in a "Wizard of Oz"-style tale.)
VIDEO: "What's Happening Now"'s first season is presented by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in the show's original 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio. The picture quality was a little better versus what I would expect from a series of its age. Sharpness and detail were not noteworthy, but the picture still was nicely defined and looked consistently so.
Some minor shimmering and scattered slight instances of wear were the only issues noticed with the episodes presented here. No edge enhancement or pixelation was spotted at any time throughout. Colors had a nice snap, looking crisp and well-saturated. Overall, a fine quality transfer of this set of episodes.
SOUND: Clear, crisp stereo soundtrack with no distortion or other issues.
Final Thoughts: "What's Happening Now?" doesn't quite reach the level of comedy of "What's Happening?", but the series does come close in this first season, managing some good laughs. The DVD offers satisfactory audio/video quality, but no extras. Recommended for fans.