The Ten Best MARTIN Episodes of Season Five

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! This week, we’re concluding our coverage on the best of Martin (1992-1997, FOX), which is currently available on DVD and HBO Max.


By Season Five, Martin has devolved into a traditionally subpar sitcom — far more predictable, and free of the sketch-like surprises (e.g., wacky side characters, also played by star Martin Lawrence) and unexpected comic centerpieces that once made this series so special. Now, it’s like any other subpar sitcom… with stories that could happen on any other subpar sitcom, as a result of this show’s chronically mediocre understanding of character. That is, none of its leads are well-defined enough to genuinely push/inspire plot, and this in turn makes most ideas feel false and/or clichéd. Accordingly, as Martin has become more like a subpar sitcom, shedding the elements of its formerly delicious rebellion, the show has only emphasized its own shortcomings; in Five, both its character work and comedy are strained. However, the first part of this season offers a glimmer of hope, as there seems to be a renewed focus on the central relationship between Martin and Gina, as they embark on a baby-making quest after a year of their bond largely being sidelined. Although neither character is brilliantly depicted, the pair has fine chemistry, and stories about their romance grant the show weight, both as a rom-com and a “hangout” sitcom with them as an anchor. Essentially, their relationship provides the series something dramatically tangible to hold onto in story, and that’s welcome now, for otherwise episodic plots are likely dedicated to gimmicks (in the absence of strong leads). Unfortunately, this relationship engine never kicks into gear, and it’s completely dead in the latter half of the year, when Tisha Campbell left the set and sued Lawrence for harassment. She missed ten whole episodes — taking with her the Martin/Gina romance and its presence in weekly story — and even during her finale return, the stars never even share a scene. Apparently, they have since resolved their issues, but not until well after 1997, when Martin was forced to make do without their romance — the primary element of its “situation.” And with the back half of Five (heck, all of Five) consumed instead by plots that are neither great as a sitcom nor as a showcase for Lawrence’s comedy, there’s little to celebrate. For that reason, I could barely craft a full list of ten favorites — Martin simply isn’t Martin anymore. A sad end for such a once-funny show.


01) Episode 109: “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t” (Aired: 09/05/96)

Gina thinks she could possibly be pregnant.

Written by Michael Carrington | Directed by Gerren Keith

Season Five opens with a premiere that suggests an arc for Martin and Gina (their efforts to have a baby) — one that might restore a more palpable rom-com focus to episodic story, giving scripts something to hold onto instead of weekly gimmicks. As such, it’s an optimistic half hour, and even though it’s not hilarious, the scene with Martin at the drug store is funny enough to make highlighting this entry justifiable here. (Sonya Eddy and Jeri Gray appear.)

02) Episode 110: “Back In Trouble Again” (Aired: 09/12/96)

Martin injures his back ahead of an important event for Gina.

Written by Barry Vigon & Tom Walla | Directed by Gerren Keith

A somewhat traditional sitcom idea (see: Dick Van Dyke), this excursion nevertheless allows Martin Lawrence to perform some physical comedy when Martin injures his back ahead of an important event for Gina, and while he’s pretending that he’s not in pain, the laughs come from the obvious fact that he is feeling lousy. This kind of broad humor — centered around Martin — looks a bit reminiscent of the series’ Golden Age, and that’s not only why I highlight it, but why I’ve also selected it as my MVE (Most Valuable Episode), for it meets the fundamental criteria I’ve applied to all of Martin‘s finest offerings: it’s the year’s best showcase for its star, whose brand of comedy infuses this series with the aspects of its identity that make it most enjoyable. Now, honestly, I wouldn’t usually call this a classic, but Five’s pickings are slim as far as “a good showcase for Lawrence” is concerned, and so that’s why I’m staking my claim on “Back In Trouble Again.” There simply is no other choice, given what Martin does best.

03) Episode 113: “Boo’s In The House” (Aired: 10/31/96)

Martin and Gina buy their dream house… which turns out to be haunted.

Written by Barry Vigon & Tom Walla | Directed by Gerren Keith

Truthfully, I’m not someone who typically loves the “haunted house” routine on sitcoms (even on the great Dick Van Dyke) — I think it’s a collection of gags that has very little to do with most “situations” and most characters. Any series could do it, and it might as well be a sketch. However, Martin is sketch-like and not above gimmicks such as this, and with the cast clearly having a lot of fun, it’s another entry that could be of the show’s Golden Age. (Mr. T guests.)

04) Episode 115: “The Life You Save May Make You Rich” (Aired: 11/14/96)

Martin accidentally sells Gina to an African prince.

Written by Charles Proctor | Directed by Gerren Keith

With a one-joke plot point informing its entire narrative value, this beloved installment wouldn’t ordinarily be my cup of tea, especially because its story involves ridiculous circumstances not totally motivated by the regulars. And yet, Martin is a series whose merit is predicated on its comedy, and that one-joke plot point really is hysterical enough to praise, for Martin accidentally selling Gina to an African prince as his concubine, not knowing what “concubine” actually means, is unforgettably funny. I’d miss this one if it wasn’t here. (Ernest Thomas guests.)

05) Episode 116: “Snow White” (Aired: 11/21/96)

The group is shocked when Tommy brings a white woman on their ski trip.

Written by Bentley Kyle Evans | Directed by Gerren Keith

One of the more popular outings from this brief and much-critiqued final season, “Snow White” indulges the comic idea of what happens when one member of the “hangout” ensemble dates outside his race — specifically, what happens when Tommy dates a white woman. It’s a notion that this series has never explored before, and while it seems a bit stuck in the 1970s (like a lot of this show’s loglines), I appreciate this use of the ensemble for a story with a rom-com “Singles in the City” bent. It acknowledges some of the sitcom guardrails that once gave Martin its definition. An MVE contender. (Note that Living Single’s Shaun Baker guests, and this is also the debut of Maura McDade as Cole’s recurring girlfriend, Shanise McGillicuddy — she has a basic personality and is a solid addition.)

06) Episode 117: “Come On Over To My Place” (Aired: 12/05/96)

Cole finally moves out of his mother’s place.

Written by Kenny Buford | Directed by Gerren Keith

This is one of the year’s best character entries — something I’ve rarely said about Martin — for it grants us another glimpse of Cole’s home life and attempts to evolve him as he gets his own place: a rundown, disgusting dive that earns the kind of laughs this series requires. In this regard, it’s a happy medium of both “situation” and series-validating comedy… even though, unlike the true best of this lot, it’s not really Martin Lawrence who’s inspiring the biggest guffaws. (Laura Hayes returns as Cole’s mom, and Maura McDade is back as Shanise.)

07) Episode 122: “Goin’ Overboard (I)” (Aired: 02/13/97)

Pam hopes to reunite with Tommy on a cruise, while Martin is chased by a strange woman.

Written by Michael Carrington | Directed by Gerren Keith

Our list has now entered the Gina-less portion of the season, and it’s rough. However, this two-parter (airing originally in a single hour-long block) seems to be among the year’s more popular, and while I can’t claim to truly be a fan, I appreciate the “Singles in the City” maneuverings where Pam is interested in reuniting with Tommy, only for him to be distracted by a shipboard romance, leading her to wind up in bed with Cole. It’s a memorable gimmick that doesn’t have an appropriate pay off in Part II, which climaxes in a gaudy centerpiece (involving Martin and an insane woman played by his A Thin Line Between Love And Hate pal Lynn Whitfield) that doesn’t show off Martin Lawrence well or acquit this as great sitcommery, especially with all the stunty Love Boat cameos. But, alas, at least Part I has some of the right ideas…

08) Episode 124: “Power To The People’s Court” (Aired: 02/20/97)

Tommy represents himself in court after Sheneneh sues him for hitting her car.

Written by Michael Ajakwe Jr. | Directed by Gerren Keith

Martin Lawrence shines as Sheneneh in her last major episode, where there’s another court set piece — albeit, one not nearly as funny as Season Two’s “No Justice, No Peace” (because this version puts a lot of stock in the undefined Tommy), but it’s at least comedic enough for our star to clown around as a classic character, or caricature: someone indicative of this series’ unique humor, and in particular, its Golden Age. (Mark Curry guests, and Shanise is back.)

09) Episode 125: “I, Martin, Take Thee Pam?” (Aired: 03/06/97)

Martin learns that he’s technically married to Pam instead of Gina.

Written by Teri Schaffer | Directed by Gerren Keith

With a rewrite to include Gina, I think this could have been a decent finale, for its story has Martin trying to remedy the fact that he has accidentally been married to Pam all along. It’s a familiar but funny sitcom notion, enlivened by the well-established antagonism between Martin and Pam, which really goes a long way in making this outing comedic, and hooked, however lightly, to the specifics of these characters. Also, there’s the return of David Alan Grier as the hysterical Reverend Leon Lonnie Love — another symbol of the show’s Golden Age, but more importantly, the rom-com sensibilities that helped give this series’ “situation” some weight. Accordingly, with an amusing idea and the resurrection of themes that flatter the kind of “sitcom” Martin was designed to be, this is the best of the Gina-less lot. (And I wish she was there to make it even better — for this is much more thematically rich than the actual finale!)

10) Episode 127: “Daddy Dearest” (Aired: 04/03/97)

Tommy’s ex-marine father visits.

Written by Darice Rollins | Directed by Gerren Keith

John Amos guest stars in this installment as Tommy’s visiting father, a tough ex-marine who clashes with his son in a way that’s fairly predictable and not totally compelling, given that Tommy is fundamentally a blank canvas (so much so that sometimes the series mines laughs from his lack of definition). And yet, the very inclusion of a regular’s parent is revealing, creating a history that’s character-focused and memorable enough to earn the entry a spot here.


Other notable episodes that merit mention include: “Scrooge,” a formulaic Christmas Carol take-off, “You Play Too Much,” which has a funny idea and guests Erik Estrada, “One Flew Over The Hoochie’s Nest,” which is far too ridiculous to praise but gives the hilarious Tichina Arnold a chance to clown, and the aforementioned  “Goin’ Overboard (II).” (Oh, and yes, “Sophomore Jinx” is another Martin/Gina show, but it’s unfunny and unmotivated!)


*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Five of Martin goes to…

“Back In Trouble Again”



Come back next week for Living Single! And stay tomorrow for a new Wildcard!