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Two Sitcoms, Too Bad
October 1, 2018  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment
 

As Jerry Seinfeld once proved, a sitcom can succeed without having a profound point.

Two sitcoms debuting Monday on CBS, The Neighborhood at 8 p.m. ET and Happy Together at 8:30 p.m. ET, need a point. Or at least they need something.

To be fair, each show has some laughs, if only because each has a legitimate comedian up front: Cedric the Entertainer (top) in The Neighborhood and Damon Wayans Jr. in Happy Together.

But neither show seems to go anywhere, instead feeling like sketches that may be more elaborate than a Saturday Night Live bit, but fall short of comprising a series.

The Neighborhood puts a kind of reverse twist on black-ish, moving a seemingly stereotypical Midwestern white family into a black section of L.A.

Max Greenfield (right) plays Dave Johnson, the white guy, and Beth Behrs (right) plays his wife Gemma, with Hank Greenspan as their precocious and unfiltered son Grover. Behrs, in particular, shines, showing the comic timing she honed on 2 Broke Girls.

Cedric plays next-door neighbor Calvin Butler, who is convinced that a well-meaning and clueless white guy from Michigan can only upset the karma of a middle-class black neighborhood.

Calvin, more than Dave, seems to be a racial profiler, complaining to his open-minded wife Tina (Tichina Arnold, top) and unemployed adult son Malcolm (Sheaun McKinney, top) that the Johnsons must be squirrely quasi-liberals. They will insist they love black people, says Calvin, but in reality, they understand nothing about black life and are never more than one telltale offensive quip away from revealing their latent racism.

Dave tries hard not to be “that guy,” though his nervous eagerness often propels his foot into his mouth. When Calvin introduces himself and says his name is Butler, Dave instinctively jokes that this is good, because he just sent out for some tea.

That opens the door to a stream of racial exchanges, many of them credible and even insightful, but ultimately also forced. Since none of these characters seems to have a deep obsession with race – Calvin mistrusts Dave, he doesn’t hate him – we’re left to wonder why that’s all they seem to talk about.

Yes, exaggeration is an essential element of comedy. The problem with The Neighborhood is that instead of creating characters whose natural conversation can become provocative and humorous, which describes black-ish at its best, it seems to have written the jokes first and then drawn characters to deliver them.  

Tension and misunderstanding certainly happen in real life, and there’s undoubtedly an interesting, amusing and insightful show to be written about a naïve white family parachuting into an established black neighborhood. The Neighborhood will need some fast hustling to get there.

Happy Together, meanwhile, will be lucky just to escape its own pretzel of a premise.

Wayans (left) plays Jake, a celebrity accountant in his early 30s. He’s married to Claire (Amber Stevens West, left), a restaurant designer. They’re successful, happy and so well settled that they have let their once-exciting lives become mundane.

A major adventure for them now is recording a zany new message on their voicemail.

Then one Saturday night they get a visit from Cooper Lawrence (Felix Mallard, left), a hot young star and one of Jake’s clients.

Seems Cooper has just broken up with his airhead celebrity girlfriend and he needs to crash in a place where gossip reporters and paparazzi can’t hound him.

So he moves in with Jake and Claire, who rediscover their sense of fun at the same time Cooper is rediscovering the pleasures of the ordinary and non-famous life.

And no, this isn’t how Happy Together sets up the show. This is the show. Some successful people in their 30s no longer behave like spirited teenagers. Sometimes fame and fortune can have a downside.

Okay, got it. Next, please.

Happy Together has its moments. When the tabloids photograph Cooper with Claire and conclude they must be having an affair, the online descriptions of Claire are hilarious.

But that’s it. As a five-minute sketch, we have a winner. As an ongoing series, we have a five-minute sketch.

The Neighborhood and Happy Together earn CBS more points for diversity than for comedy.

 
 
 
 
 
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1 Comments
 
 
Mac
These two awful previews and your review-no reason to watch. They are not alone. Leave it to CBS to pull a Black-ish in reverse. Will CBS take these off as The Voice gets closer to their cycle? Putting fresh meat in the way of The Voice seems as foolhardy as originally green-lighting these shows. Reruns of Big Bang Theory/Young Sheldon? A multi-part 60 Minutes investigation of Les Moonves and 60 Minutes? Throwing Murphy Brown to the dogs? The return of T.J. Hooker? Heather Locklear could use the dough. William Shatner? Speaking of-10/26 brings "Shatner Clause"-a Christmas album to follow-up his dreadful audio readings ("Lucy In The Sky"). Listed as comedic,there are two religious songs promised-a big no-no whatever one believes. At 87,in 2018, Bill -no feck.
Oct 1, 2018   |  Reply
 
 
 
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