Now, who does not like CBS comedies? They are whacky, quirky, ridiculous, rib-tickling hoots of joy. Just recently CBS saw the return of its cult fake newsroom sitcom ‘Murphy Brown’. A comeback that resonated a wave of laughter across orange- lipped America. Now, it looks like that CBS is beefing up its novel original line up with unconventional farces that are going to kill with fun. On Monday, October 1st CBS premiered its new family sitcom ‘The Neighborhood’ at the 8.00 PM prime time slot.
The Neighborhood, as suggested by its title treads on the heels of two culturally departed adjacent families. The White Midwestern Johnsons have just moved into a predominantly African- American neighborhood, where they are highly unwelcome. And that too for the quite obvious reasons.
If insisted to put things in one line. We will simply say this multi-camera setup takes too much chuckle from one lead while letting the other one regrettably fade to the background. Cedric The Entertainer, last seen in The Last O.G. plays Calvin. A reluctant neighbor who is insecure about the financially stable white Dave (Max Greenfield) moving into his society. He fears that Dave will seek an opportunity to culturally bend everything around, much to the disliking of the present neighbors there. While all Dave wants to do is to just be ‘Good’.
The dynamic pairing- has no dynamics so to say. Jim Reynolds has loosely adapted the sitcom from his own life, but he barely knows how to exploit the comic potential of two immensely talented performers. Resolutions are generally one-sided, characters are self-involved rather than developing an interactive chemistry.
Dave wants people to like him, but in the most typical style of misadventures he ends up articulating things that precipitate an opposite effect. When Calvin points out that Johnson is a common last name for black people, Dave turns back at him by turning into a punchline. In fact, he almost ignorantly slips how the surname ‘Butler’ is a household name for white domestics.
Cedric’s Calvin bitter verbal batter is the highlight of the entire show. He would judge, suspect, and scorn- but Cedric would know how to imbue some laughs along with that. Dave is supposed to be a stone cold weirdo, but the script rarely ever allows him to be anything but a regular man. However, when the script slips, Greenfield steps out of his shell and makes us laugh until our bellies hurt.
The Neighborhood is exactly the problem with sitcoms today: it is not about jokes. In fact, it relies greatly on the physical self of its actors and very seldom does it sieve out something corny, edgy and sharp jokes. The bad jokes would not glance through the curtains, they would be front and center. For instance, when Dave tries to get Calvin to come to his housewarming party, he says, “Don’t go to the bar and throw darts — come to the party and throw down.” The line was literally cringe-worthy. This was palpable on the faces of the characters as they stood around in sheer discomfort, the audience felt it, but it appears the writers were largely oblivious.
Race, racism and changing attitudes- they are all vast subjects. In Trump’s America, they are all essential subjects. Shows like Blackish and Fresh off the Boat have successfully satirized the concepts. But simply following suit does not make you a winner. The show started with an immense feeling of disconnection and unease. Those who will continue watching it will probably do so for the love of their favorite stars. Only time will tell if The Neighborhood will turn over a new coat for its tenants or simply see the curtains pulled down.