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With ‘Marlon,’ the Cast Seems to Exist as Not Much More Than Straight Men to Marlon Wayans
August 16, 2017  | By David Hinckley

Warning: Watching NBC’s new sitcom Marlon might wear you out.

Premiering Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET with back-to-back episodes, Marlon uses the “situation” part of sitcom primarily to set up comic bits by main man Marlon Wayans (top).

Wayans plays a character named Marlon who seems to make his living by posting zany videos on YouTube and convincing manufacturers to pay him for promoting their products in those videos.

In the first episode that includes alcohol-free tequila, which as it happens neatly sets the bar for the show’s level of humor when Marlon films his preteen son enjoying an alcohol-free margarita.  

The plotline nominally revolves around Marlon’s relationship with his ex, Ashley (Essence Atkins, top). The “ex” part is the wild card since they spend more time with each other and with the kids – Marley (Notlim Taylor, left) and Zack (Amir O’Neil, left) – than any other television family that isn’t being held hostage in a darkened warehouse.

Ashley, who has custody of the kids and lives in a big house, seems fine with this. In fact, she seems fine with everything Marlon does, including stalking her at a restaurant when she goes out with someone else on a date.

Okay, she gets slightly annoyed over the stalking, only because Marlon makes a huge scene and ends up getting thrown out.

When she asks why he did it, he tells her he was afraid of losing her, which is a weird thing to say to your ex, and she smiles, and he smiles, and we’re left to wonder if anyone has ever explained to these two people the meaning of the word “divorce.” Where’s Tammy Wynette when you need her?  

Viewers have a more serious concern, however, rooted in the fact that almost every scene in this show seems to have been written so it can launch Marlon into a crazy character riff – the kind of thing you might see in, oh, say, his stand-up comedy act.

When Marley complains that two girls at her otherwise all-white private school are bullying her for being a nerd, Marlon counsels her to “go ghetto” and breaks into a strutting, over-the-top example of a young black woman “going ghetto,” punctuated emphatically by constant repetition of the phrase “Hell, no.”

“If you black up,” he tells Marley, “they gonna back up.”

As advice, who knows? But unlike, say, black-ish, which Marlon occasionally resembles, Marlon seems written less for its characters than to tee up Wayans’s solo routines.

It’s not that Wayans isn’t funny. His shtick would just work better as seasoning than as the entrée.

His domination also means the characters themselves, including Ashley’s skeptical sister Yvette (Bresha Webb) and Marlon’s layabout friend Stevie (Diallo Riddle, right), often tend to get downsized to sitcom stereotypes.

With the breadth of the TV landscape these days, there should be a place for Marlon Wayans’s physical comedy. Trying to smuggle it to us in the guise of a sitcom may not be the best way to find it.

Wayans does get a bonus point, however, for building one of his jokes on Franklin, the relatively short-lived token black character many years ago in the Peanuts comic strip.

Can’t wait for the tribute to Pigmeat Markham.

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