In the years since, I've always remembered "Martin" as a product of its time period - very 90's. "Martin", for those not familiar, was a series in the early days of Fox the show ran from 1992-1997) that starred popular stand-up comedian Martin Lawrence as Martin Payne, a radio show DJ on station WZUP (and later, a TV talk show host.)
The plot of the series isn't anything out of the ordinary. Martin hung out with pals like Cole (Carl Anthony Payne) and Tommy (Thomas Mikal Ford), as well as girlfriend Gina (Tisha Campbell). Conflict is provided in the form of Pam (Tichina Arnold), Gina's friend who hates Martin and serves as his nemesis.
Most episodes have Martin getting into trouble, whether professionally or personally with Gina. Despite boasting that he knows all about women, it's usually Gina who ends up teaching him a lesson or two and when Martin gets into trouble otherwise, he's usually faced with having to fast talk his way out of it.
It's Lawrence's rapid-fire delivery and often over-the-top physical comedy that powered the series, and the rest of the cast plays off of Lawrence's riffing quite nicely, especially Ford and Payne, whose somewhat more straightforward styles compliment Lawrence well. Although there were some considerable discussion that Campbell and Lawrence didn't get along (which reportedly got worse as the show went along), it doesn't show on-screen, as the two have fine chemistry with one another and she stands up to his force-of-nature delivery well - at least in the early half of the show's run. Lawrence also makes up some of the "supporting cast", playing several other characters, including Bob, Gina's oddball co-worker, and bizarre neighbor Sheneneh (although these characters were seen less and less as the series went on.)
As for seeming "dated", the series does look its age, with sets and costumes that look their age. Otherwise, the series held up pretty well throughout most of its run, as the episodes often tried to toss out as many jokes as possible in the hopes that some would stick. While not all the jokes in the series were terrific or even great, Lawrence's high-energy, rapid-fire performance salvaged some of the weaker gags.
The fifth season of the series still does manage some highlights, but the show does seem to be a lot more uneven in this final season, as the behind-the-scenes controversies may have begun to wear on the cast. Lawrence, for example, seems to be straining to try and get a laugh in some scenes and appears more subdued (at least in comparison to his performance in prior seasons) in others. Campbell, who had sued Lawrence for harassment, is seen less and less throughout the season and had reportedly requested fewer scenes with the comedian. The scenes between the two that do appear don't have the same chemistry that the two had in earlier seasons, either.
By this time in the show's run, Lawrence's character had moved on from his radio job to hosting a TV Talk show called "Word on the Street", which doesn't set up too many amusing moments (and Garrett Morris as Martin's boss at the radio station was terrific.) The change from Martin leaving his radio show gig and becoming a talk show host wasn't as big a "Jump the Shark" moment as Campbell's character leaving the series, but it was a "Jump the Shark" moment, nonetheless. The decent finale of the series sees Martin leaving Detroit for California because his talk show was picked up for syndication.
While the quality of the plots take a dip in this season, there are still some decent ones, such as "Banging Hard in the School Yard" (When Martin tells Gina that women can't compete in sports, she challenges him to a game of basketball with her team - which turns out to be the women's olympic basketball team), the holiday-themed "Scrooge", "Goin' Overboard" (a 2-parter where Martin and his friends go on a cruise, which Gina misses), "Power to the People's Court" (Tommy represents himself when he's sued by Sheneneh), "One Flew Over the Hoochie's Nest" (Pam's relative - who looks like Pam - escapes from a mental ward) and the two-part finale, "California, Here We Come".
VIDEO: "Martin" is presented by HBO Home Entertainment in 1.33:1 full-frame, the show's original aspect ratio. The series is pure 90's and looks to have been shot on video, but the episodes look fairly good, considering. Sharpness and detail aren't exceptional, but at least the presentations appear crisp and in good shape, with no visible wear. There's some slight artifacting, but no edge enhancement or other issues. Colors appear bright and loud, with nice saturation and no smearing. This presentation definitely isn't going to dazzle anyone, but the DVDs present the show at about the same level visually as when they were first broadcast.
SOUND: The stereo soundtrack boasts clear dialogue, music and a fairly loud laugh track.
EXTRAS: One would think that since this is the final season, there'd be some sort of retrospective featurette or something like that. However, if you would think that, you would be kind of (and by "kind of", I mean "totally") wrong. There's no extras to be found here, move along.
Final Thoughts: I found "Martin" to be a mostly very funny series when it initially aired and have found most of the show's run amusing watching it again on DVD sets years later. However, the show's fifth season is a disappointing end to the show, as on-set tensions and other issues appear to have been taking a toll on the series. The DVD set provides fine audio/video quality, but no extras. Recommended only for fans looking to complete their collection.