There is hope to be found among the clichéd lines of CBS’s new Monday night show.
Cedric the Entertainer, once known for his stand-up, his role as Maurice in Madagascar, and game show hosting days, finds himself starting fresh at the 8 p.m. time slot for The Neighborhood. A show that utilizes comedy to talk about the racial tensions that are currently prevalent throughout the country often would not find its roots it a tell-tale American sitcom, but The Neighborhood speaks up.
Co-starring New Girl’s Max Greenfield, Cedric the Entertainer’s character Calvin Butler does his best to not miss a beat. Calvin is a middle-aged family man, an owner of an auto mechanic store, and likes to talk about race relations as a white family has now bought the house next to his.
Greenfield plays Dave Johnson, a white man from a small Michigan town who has moved into a middle class, predominantly black neighborhood. Dave’s soft smiles and virtually endless enthusiasm display his hope that his new neighbors will like him. He attempts to break down the wall created by his sometimes off-putting or ill-constructed lines.
One of the first scenes with Greenfield and Cedric’s characters both present delivers some banter between the two protagonists. Calvin remarks that Johnson is often a last name in the black community, rattling off names like Magic Johnson and Dwyane Johnson. Just as Dave points out that Butler is often associated with the household job. Calvin’s wife, Tina (played by Tichina Arnold) swoops in to de-escalate the situation.
This is not the first playful remark Calvin makes in regard to Dave and the stereotypes where people like Dave often fall. Whether it is the love of Rihanna and her beauty, the tiny shorts worn out on morning jogs, or remarks about having tons of black friends, Cedric speaks just as if he is doing one of his stand-up shows. To further the comedic effect, Calvin impersonates Dave and goes on to say Dave is hard to trust when he is desperate to create a bond between the two neighbors.
What gives the show its power and attractiveness are the actors and the roles they play. Beyond Cedric and Greenfield, there are laughs to be had while listening to each character’s family. Cedric’s children, portrayed by Marcel Spears (The Mayor) and Sheaun McKinney (Vice Principals) deliver one-liners that are relevant yet funny for viewers of all ages. There is a well-received chemistry between the cast and especially between the two siblings when they are sharing screen time. Dave’s family members fall a bit flatter, with Beth Behrs as his wife Gemma, who creates a bond with Tina as she is taught new slang that is uncomfortably delivered.
One scene in the pilot, delivered by Dave’s son Grover (Hank Greenspan), was almost worth turning off the rest of the show,. As the Johnson family is driving into their new neighborhood, Grover continues to quote his grandmother, Dave’s mother, who appears to make racially and culturally insensitive remarks about the location of their move. Grover then “plays the game” of pointing out every black person they drive past, to which Gemma replies, “Sweetie, please stop counting black people.”
Here is the difficulty of watching a portrayal of the segregation that lingers in our country today. Writers for the show tried to break down a wall while using a spoon, doing nothing but cracking a plastic spoon on a brick wall. The desire to be relevant lingers throughout the show, and while most of it is bearable, this scene was not.
Beyond that scene, there is again hope for the new CBS comedy to flourish post-pilot. The final two minutes display all that the show could be if written and delivered properly. Dave finds himself in conversation with McKinney’s character Malcolm Butler. There is a moment they discuss in a genuine manner the racial issues so prevalent today, all spoken without a single one-liner or peep from the laugh-track. The Neighborhood could be a solid addition to the Monday night lineup if the writer’s channel more from the closing scene and keep viewers around the neighborhood.
Featured Image by CBS