THE SERIES “The Neighborhood”
WHEN | WHERE Premieres Monday at 8 p.m. on CBS/2
WHAT IT’S ABOUT Calvin Butler (Cedric the Entertainer) and adult sons Malcolm (Sheaun McKinney, “Vice Principals”) and Marty (Marcel Spears, “The Mayor”) are getting ready for a barbecue, when a new white family moves in next door. Dave Johnson (Max Greenfield, “New Girl”) and wife Gemma (Beth Behrs, “2 Broke Girls”) are just arrived from the Midwest and very friendly. Cranky, suspicious Calvin is not.
MY SAY CBS has long held a reputation as TV’s whitest network in terms of show casts and, as a consequence, same for the audiences that watch those shows. Whether entirely true or not, reps are hard to shake. Nevertheless, “The Neighborhood” and the 8:30 sitcom “Happy Together” are CBS’ biggest efforts in decades to do some serious shaking. Consider that the last time CBS had a comedy with a black lead was 1997’s “The Gregory Hines Show.” As of Monday, it has two.
Because CBS has had so little practice at this, it’s apparently reached back to the good old days for a model, specifically “The Jeffersons” fish-out-of-water trope, which pretty much describes “The Neighborhood.” Of course, everything, or everyone, is reversed. Here it’s the white family that’s movin’ on up, so to speak.
While good-natured, there’s also an astringency to this newcomer. Race isn’t the subtext of the comedy — it’s the whole text. “Black people can’t be racist,” says an offended Marty when challenged on the subject. “We can be racial, no ‘cist.”
The comedy here can be broad, and is usually far from subtle, but there’s a buried message that promises better episodes ahead. “It’s hard when you see yourself one way,” says Malcolm at the end of the opener, “and the rest of the world sees you the other way.” The studio audience is dead silent, and no punchline arrives to defuse — or deflate — the message. It hangs there, for everyone to absorb.
A little more of this and maybe a better series is ahead too.
BOTTOM LINE Good-natured, a few funny lines, and Cedric stars as only Cedric can, “The Neighborhood” has potential.