Brothers: A Black Sitcom Worth Watching
While the rest of the country buzzes about whether newspapers are worth saving, my beloved situation comedy is slowly and quietly going the way of the dodo bird. Maybe we’re just experiencing the evolution of television, but if it isn’t an hour-long drama or reality show network television isn’t very interested lately. Not only that, but for years we’ve lamented the dearth of black family shows. As of this week we finally have Brothers on Fox. Is it any good? Yes. Will it work? Maybe.
Brothers has some great things on its side, starting with an interesting premise and intriguing cast. Brothers Michael (Michael Strahan) and Chill (Darryl “Chill” Mitchell) have never really gotten along. Chill is confined to a wheelchair after a car accident and struggles to keep his local sports bar afloat. Michael, an ex-football star, was fleeced by his manager and has spent the past few months living off of his fame in New York City. Thanks to the prodding of a loving mother, expertly played by CCH Pounder, they realize that working together (and living together at home in Houston with Mom and Dad) may be the only way to move forward. Carl Weathers as the batty family patriarch is a pleasant surprise, CCH Pounder is dazzling as always, and Chill is good for a the same laughs he delivered bumping the table in House Party – Mitchell pitched the show to Fox and more than deserves this venue for his talent. Even Michael Strahan, whose gap tooth has almost as much screen presence as the rest of his body, is pretty seamless as an actor and not at all painful to watch. Producer/writer Don Reo is an industry veteran with credits such as My Wife and Kids and Blossom under his belt, so classic plots such as “husband forgets anniversary,” “back at home in your thirties,” and “sibling rivalry gets out of control,” are handled with the right mix of seriousness and humor. The dialogue is even authentically black and funny without resorting to coonin’ and clowin’ (as an example, the mother and her son are looking at old photos and when it’s pointed out that she hasn’t aged she muses “Thank God I’m not a white woman.” I laughed out loud). In an environment where two out of the three black sitcoms are Tyler Perry productions and the third, Everybody Hates Chris, is in its final season, I should be all smiles about the talent and diversity Brothers delivers, right?
I can’t help but dwell on the problems with Brothers, few of which have to do with the show itself. Let’s be frank – the show’s common title is enough to let it get lost in the mix, the black humor may be less than accessible for mainstream audiences, and nothing sounds as un-funny as a guy in a wheelchair. There are also some obvious production and marketing misses behind Brothers. Family entertainment needs the support of the Generation Y set, so shouldn’t Omarion or someone be showing up as the next door neighbor? I don’t see teens interested in watching the 30+ crowd work out their problems. Further hindering its acceptance by younger viewers, Brothers is shot in the old school multiple camera format on a studio set with laugh track rather than in the slick, single camera setup more common today (30 Rock, The Office). I get the feeling that Americans of all ages have forgotten how fun this genre is and may not want to bother remembering. These concerns will disappear with proper support, but is Fox providing it? Brothers is in the dreaded Friday 8:00 PM time slot, an hour when most adults aren’t at home watching television and if they are they certainly won’t commit to a weekly viewing. As the show develops, if it has the chance, the humor will become sharper and the cast more cohesive, but right now the show lacks the spark that destination entertainment needs; it’s not yet clear what will make viewers tune in next week even if they watched and enjoyed it this week.
And by the way, did YOU watch the first episode? That’s the final problem. As much as we miss having a plethora of black images on network television, when it comes down to it we don’t always check out new offerings. Remembering that America is still not fully comfortable with black families, and perhaps even less comfortable with the disabled, Brothers stands a chance at breaking some new sitcom ground with lots of genuine laughs along the way, but that’s only if it doesn’t get killed off before it has a chance to take root. Do me a favor and make time for Brothers this week, because if and when it does end up on the chopping block, my measly little letter of support will not be enough to keep alive what could be a great show. Check out the preview!