Review: Are We There Yet? No, But We Could Get There.
I love black sitcoms. You all know this. So even when a new black sitcom is sandwiched between that which I can barely tolerate (House of Payne) and that which I despise (Meet The Browns), I will try it. Around 8:58 PM I hoped that the worst of this endeavor would be catching the last few minutes of House of Payne, during which Big Mama Payne explains how much she loves Big Papa Payne even though he made her miss the gospel revival. Although Are We There Yet? is leaps and bounds better than the other two black sitcoms on TBS, the rather stale two-episode premiere delivered few laughs and left me hoping for something a bit better.
Essence Atkins (who I swear must have a guardian angel in Hollywood because she’s always working) and Terry crews are Suzanne and Nick, a couple only six months into their marriage still trying to get Suzanne’s kids from a previous relationship used to the idea of a new stepfather – attractive black folks trying to gel as a blended family and get “there,” just like the 2005 movie Are We There Yet?. Topics include very 2010 newlywed issues like Suzanne wearing a do-rag to bed, debt showing up on credit reports, and a milder but more high-tech version of the torment that the kids in the movie dished out to the same bewildered dad character. But this story really starts with Ice Cube. Big, cute, softened up Ice Cube.
And what? I’ll admit bias here, because I have a soft spot for Cube whether he’s babysittin’ or set trippin’. So I can’t be too furious that he parlayed a popular family film into a television show smartly positioned between two of the only black sitcoms on television while also pretty much owning, producing, and having a small (and totally ridiculous) role in the show. Bravo, Cube. I mean, I’m golf clapping over here. Are We There Yet? is smart in that sense at least, even if watching it made me kind of sleepy.
The problems and the strong points of Are We There Yet? are one and the same. Strong point: Essence Atkins and Telma Hopkins both look fantastic. These reliably enjoyable veterans hold the show together with the help of the snobbishly entertaining Keesha Sharp and a bit part from Christian Finnegan. Problem: Not only did Atkins and Hopkins already do a show together (Half & Half), these new characters don’t seem very different from the old ones, a laziness in casting that is particularly clear in Sharp’s role as a bougie player chick who may as well be a walk-on by her Monica character in Girlfriends. Strong Point: Terry Crews is a funny dude, and watching him balk at the mischief of his adorable stepchildren made me chuckle. Problem: If I see Crews rely on his jumping pecs for laughs one more time I just don’t know what I’ll do. Strong Point: Are We There Yet? has TBS and a captive Tyler Perry sitcom-watching audience on it’s side, so it has a better chance of surviving than most black sitcoms would. Problem: While Are We There Yet? has way broader appeal, it relies on the Perry sitcom formula of cheap and rapid episode production with a laugh track that sounds like a maniacal toddler is controlling the canned laughter, and inappropriately so. It’s not as cartoonish as Paynes or Browns, but being the meat in a wackness sandwich can’t possibly bode well for a new show whose audience will most likely influence it’s direction. It all adds up to a lot that we’ve seen before, but don’t count Are We There Yet? out just yet. No, we’re not “there yet” as far as anything new or lasting, but as far as standard family fare and reliability goes it’s worth checking out.
Are We There Yet? is on TBS Wednesdays at 9 PM. You know what really drew me in? The theme song is just plain catchy. Watch the trailer here.