‘The Neighborhood’ Season Premiere | TV Recap

October 2, 2018
Jonathon Wilson 5
TV, TV Recaps
3.5

Summary

The Neighborhood will undoubtedly drive a certain contingent of people crazy, but it’s legitimately funny and has a lot of promise if handled the right way.

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3.5

Summary

The Neighborhood will undoubtedly drive a certain contingent of people crazy, but it’s legitimately funny and has a lot of promise if handled the right way.

In 2018 you might argue that the last thing we need is a sitcom like The Neighborhood, which builds all of its comedy on the flaky foundations of contemporary race relations. It’s about a while family that move into a black neighbourhood, and the black family that find their presence hilarious and aggravating, in about equal measure.

Lots of people will be suspicious of and aggravated by a show that plays up division and racial stereotypes for laughs; lots of people would consider such a show to be “part of the problem”. But that’s mostly just a juvenile way to sweep these issues under the rug and pretend they don’t exist rather than address them head-on. Of course some black people have preconceived ideas about white people, and of course some white people have preconceived ideas about black people. To pretend otherwise is silly. And I’m happy that The Neighborhood doesn’t, especially since, at least in the pilot, it builds to a frank conversation about race relations that feels like the kind of thing the show is ultimately trying to encourage. (Rel is also doing this over on FOX.)

Cedric the Entertainer plays Calvin Butler, a grouchy mechanic who assumes, for no real reason, that his new neighbour Dave Johnson (Max Greenfield) and his family are racists. There are, according to him, two types of racist: those that hate black people, and those that love black people. Dave, a helplessly try-hard professional “conflict mediator”, falls into the latter category. Most of the punchlines in the pilot are about how that’s a distinction Dave can’t challenge; if he tries to be nice, he’s a racist, and if he doesn’t, he’s a racist. This isn’t an accident.

By making Dave’s plight frustratingly unwinnable, The Neighborhood gets at something pretty real and authentic about how people see and communicate with each other – prejudices stem from generations of cultural experience, and aren’t easily shelved. And why should they be? Obviously for the betterment of society as a whole, sure. But it’s not enough to simply expect that you, no matter how well you know yourself, should be treated any differently, even if you feel you deserve to be. That’s what’s funny about Dave’s near-constant social blunders; he’s trying so hard because he isn’t racist, which just makes him look more and more racist. That’s funny, at least to me, and happens all the time. It isn’t fun trying to convince people that you aren’t something they’ve assumed you are without evidence, but, again, it happens all the time. And like Calvin’s unemployed son Malcolm (Sheaun McKinney) says at the end of the pilot, it’s a lot easier for some people to put aside their expectations than others.

Calvin’s wife, Tina (Tichina Arnold), is more willing to get along, and quickly befriends Dave’s wife, Gemma (Beth Behrs), mostly by teaching her slang which she revels in using to prove she’s understood it. The irony is that Gemma is, initially, more affronted by her neighbours’ assumptions than Dave is, yet she makes less of a fool of herself than he does precisely for that reason. By trying to be blasé he just seems sneaky, which is also funny, but will need to be used sparingly if it’s to keep working.

Funniest is Marcel Spears as Calvin and Tina’s other son, Marty, who’s so up-front about what’s going on that he’s basically a stand-in for the audience whose job is to highlight the absurdity of all this so it feels okay to laugh at. But he runs with that role and steals every scene he’s in, while also seeming like the most switched-on member of either family; he’s perfectly open about how his family feels and why, but it’s also clear that he thinks it’s ridiculous.

The Neighborhood has a great cast with crackling chemistry, but more important is that I found it hysterical, and I suspect anyone without an axe to grind will think so too. It occasionally ventures into territory that is a little tone-deaf and awkward, but that’s to be expected with this kind of material; what matters is not only that the show’s funny, but that it seems to have a point to make. I’m moving in.

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4 thoughts on “‘The Neighborhood’ Season Premiere | TV Recap

  • October 4, 2018 at 3:37 am
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    So…if I don’t like it I have an “ax to grind”?

  • Pingback: ‘The Neighborhood’ Episode 2 – “Welcome to the Repipe” | TV Recap

  • November 12, 2018 at 2:46 am
    Permalink

    I really like this show. It makes me think, and makes me laugh at the same time. “Marty” shines, but the whole cast is good. The show grows on me with each new episode.

  • February 12, 2019 at 2:30 am
    Permalink

    Some of the reviews so far of this show are reflective of just how ridiculously sensitive and politically correct our society has become. We have three kids, 14, 12, and 10, we are a strong Christian family, and this show has actually given us a tool for talking bout racial issues. It also has some great messages, the overarching message being that we can not only co-exist but that we each bring important things to the table that allow us to be better people. Sadly, after so many years of progress, America has begun to take steps backwards. Everyone has become so prone to being offended at every little thing that we’re actually making it harder and harder to accept each other. I love the show and hope it continues.

  • February 28, 2021 at 12:58 am
    Permalink

    “The reviews so far of this show are reflective of just how ridiculously sensitive and politically correct our society has become.”

    Any time someone bemoans how “politically correct/P.C.” or “SJW” something is, they’ve automatically shown their a*s and it’s all downhill from there. Super-Latin name or not (and possibly White Hispanic) you sound awwwwwfully like another “As a Black Man” case of a white person pretending to be an offended minority.

    “We have three kids, 14, 12, and 10, we are a strong Christian family, and this show has actually given us a tool for talking bout racial issues. It also has some great messages, the overarching message being that we can not only co-exist but that we each bring important things to the table that allow us to be better people.”

    Cool, but there’s MUCH better and less hackneyed shows that have done this and so much better at that, too.

    “Sadly, after so many years of progress,”

    FROM calling out bigotry in our society, especially entertainment, and refusing to tolerate it and supporting the IPs that reflect such progress like “Black Panther” or “Crazy Rich Asians”.

    “America has begun to take steps backwards.”

    The Trump Era simply REVEALED the toxicity beneath the surface with every white tear of minorities not taking it quietly and filming their asses.

    “Everyone has become so prone to being offended at every little thing that we’re actually making it harder and harder to accept each other.”

    “Every little thing” is again, being *TIRED* of lazy tropes/stereotypes like whitewashing, Bury Your Gays, White Saviors, etc. Sorry-but-not-sorry but the marginalized refuse to be quiet about s**t like that and that’s still NOTHING compared to the ACTUAL abuse said marginalized have actually faced in entertainment, alone like Laura Bailey, a woman, getting for simply VOICING a hated character and said hated character being called a “tranny” simply for being a muscular woman.

    “I love the show and hope it continues.”

    Whoop-de-doo. So far, it’s gotten “meh” reviews from critics and audiences, alike, but maybe it’s the kind of forgettable, “safe” mediocre that coasts along because it’s not bad enough to bomb/hate, but also not good enough to have a notable fanbase. Just something to play in the background and kill time while doing/watching something else.

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