As Max Greenfield can attest, sometimes it doesn’t take one to know one.
For instance, he’s never lived in a gentrifying neighborhood. But for the past year he’s been schooled in that reality as Dave, an earnest, annoyingly upbeat Midwestern guy who moves with his wife and son to the titular African-American Los Angeles neighborhood in “The Neighborhood,” an old-school sitcom tackling a contemporary American issue.
The series, taped with multiple cameras in front of a live audience, is a throwback to the kind of show that ruled TV 40-some-odd years ago but was usurped by single-cam comedies in recent years.
Season two, which premieres Monday, Sept. 23, picks up where we left Dave at the end of season one, desperately trying to connect with his cranky African-American neighbor, Calvin (Cedric the Entertainer, who also co-executive produces). Calvin, a classic TV grouch a la Archie Bunker or George Jefferson, is all-too-aware (even if Dave is not) of how gentrification drives up rents and saps local culture, and he’s not happy about it.
Greenfield, 40, who is married and dad to Lily, 9, and Ozzie, 4, is best known for playing Zooey Deschanel’s lothario housemate on “New Girl,” and recently revived his Deputy Sherriff Leo D’Amato in this summer’s “Veronica Mars” reboot. He recently spoke by phone with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.
Dave moved into the neighborhood wide-eyed, optimistic and kind of oblivious to community changes gentrification can bring. What can fans expect this season?
I think our first episode answers that—it’s written by our creator, Jim Reynolds. We’re having another “Yardecue” (the annual barbecue block party), just like in the pilot, but it’s a year later, and Dave is feeling out how far he’s come and his place in this community now. He has one vision—and Calvin certainly has another. So it’s a reality check for Dave.
What about Max? Do you have a different take on the show now that you’ve got a season under your belt?
Well, I was a little nervous coming back in. We finished so strong last year. I was worried about getting back into the rhythm and cadence of it, We tape the show in front of a live audience, and it requires a certain amount of energy.
Cedric the Entertainer, who’s a stand-up comedian, must be a pro at that.
I’d never met Cedric before (last season), but I knew people who’d worked with him, and I’d only heard unbelievable things…in terms of his work ethic and how involved he is in the creative process—on-screen, and off, in the writing.
What’s your own experience with gentrification?
I don’t know that I’ve ever had that direct an experience with it. But these differences, especially the racial ones…they’re such touchy subjects, and often I think you can be almost too gentle with them, and treat them with too much fragility.
I just think…you can get so scared to say certain things and… (He pauses.) And it’s just…I’m trying to articulate it myself… (Then he chuckles.) I’m probably in that situation right now, where you don’t know, like, is what I’m saying okay or not? (Dave is) a guy who doesn’t know if what he’s saying is okay to say or not.
I think people everywhere are feeling that, and not just about race. They feel awkward about all sorts of things, like, “Do I have to start using a whole new set of pronouns for people?” The culture is shifting and it’s hard to know how to speak. That can be frustrating.
This show allows you to see a couple move into a neighborhood…and make mistakes—be corrected—and it not be, you know, the end of the world. We know they’re coming from a good place.
I guess that’s it, isn’t it? We worry about mis-stepping—and being corrected.
It doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person or a racist. It just means… (He laughs.) You made a mistake. And it ultimately brings you closer to the person that you’re with if you’re allowed to just…you know, uhhh, listen.
I identify with Dave in this show because I’M a Dave. I moved to Harlem nearly 20 years ago and it seemed like I was the only white guy for miles. At first. Then things changed. Do you have any advice for people like Dave and Calvin about how to get along better with neighbors they think they have nothing in common with?
Oh, gosh—watch the show! (He laughs.) Monday nights at eight o’clock.
How far along are you in taping?
We’re doing episode five.
Oh, that’s early in the season. So you have no idea where things are headed.
Hopefully we’ll find out—in eight to ten seasons.