If you can recall my review last week, I made an impassioned argument in favor of giving network television a chance. And, well, how should I put this?
I take everything back.
A lot can change in a week. For example, last week I still held onto the wild, optimistic notion that regardless of how shitty the quality of a show is, there must be someone behind the scenes that gives at least a sliver of a care about what type of product is presented to the world. Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was last week. CBS’s newest comedy, “The Neighborhood,” premiered this week.
From creator Jim Reynolds (I want everyone to know his name), “The Neighborhood” is simply one of the worst things I have ever watched. The show is a classic fish-out-of-water tale, and by “classic” I mean “would have been topical in 1976.” Dave (Max Greenfield, “New Girl”), a professional conflict mediator from Mich., runs into a big conflict of his own when he and his family relocate to a predominantly Black neighborhood in Los Angeles and aren’t exactly given a warm welcome. Did I mention Dave was white? Did I mention the neighbors were Black? You’re going to want to remember that, because it’s not like they mention it every 30 seconds. Essentially, Dave just wants to be friends with his new neighbors, but is thwarted from this goal by Calvin (Cedric the Entertainer, “The Last O.G.”), the patriarch of the family next door. Calvin, whose job, ostensibly, is to wear oversized Chaps polos and pace around angrily, wants nothing to do with Dave because — oh wait, it’s never explained. Everyone just assumes it’s about race. Which it is. Oh wait, it isn’t? No, it definitely is. And that’s the show!
The show’s treatment of conflict could be likened to a child trying its hardest to fit a circle block in a square hole: It is repetitive; it is frustrating for onlookers who know better and it feels easily solvable. But, alas, with CBS’s track record for continuously renewing mediocre content well after its expiration date (looking at you, “Big Bang Theory”), we may just have to watch this one-dimensional conflict stretch over seven seasons.
The show’s issues do not stop at its weak premise. Like many other fish-out-of-water tales that have preceded it, “The Neighborhood” requires the audience to suspend some of their disbelief to conclude why two opposites would ever come into contact, and further, why they are forced to stay in contact with one another. Unlike “The Nanny” or even “The Beverly Hillbillies” who have set-ups somewhat based in reality, “The Neighborhood” gives us no explanation as to why a family as vanilla as Dave’s would choose to move to this predominantly Black neighborhood that hasn’t even begun to show the first signs of gentrification. The characters on the show do not speak like humans. Every line of dialogue is tailor-made to fit between insufferable drags of the laugh track. On top of that, the tonality is erratic. Shortly after making a joke about a neighborhood crackhead, Nick goes off on a legitimate tangent about how the opioid epidemic has shown him that addicts are victims. Which is true. But what?
Worst of all, the show takes itself entirely too seriously. Jim Reynolds and company actually carry this show as though they are at the vanguard of a new racial discourse in America, when in actuality they are peddling the same ideas that have been in circulation since the ’90s. Yet, rather than refining those ideas, they somehow do it with less tact. In this episode, a Black character actually has to break down the idea that Black people can’t be racist. And he is treated like he’s being the stubborn one. I know CBS’s target audience is the AARP crowd, but come on. Aren’t we tired of hearing this same thing? Aren’t we tired of white people’s aversion to educating themselves on systemic racism being treated as a punchline? A punchline that is, conicidentally, written by a white man. Similarly to the comedy of the show, Reynolds cannot seem to figure out what he wants the show to be. Is it a commentary on the tone-deafness of the “colorblind” millennial generation, or is it simply just a vehicle for a bunch of white guys to test out “Black People Be Angry” jokes? No matter what the answer truly is, the result appears to be the latter. In the same way that Dave simply being in a Black neighborhood will not end racial tensions there, merely placing Black people in dated, buffoonish roles does nothing to end the diversity issue in Hollywood.