I try not to be cynical about tv shows, particularly sitcoms. I know how hard it is to try to write a funny, relevant and interesting television show. I also know that it takes a perfect storm of talent, writing and zeitgeist to capture these elements for an audience. Sadly, Tyler Perry's House of Payne fails to do so.
Tyler Perry has achieved fame primarily through his one man show and subsequent films based on his character of Madea, an older woman who is more than a little off-balanced. Perry has in fact become something of a sensation in black entertainment. Now TBS attempts to bring Perry's brand of humor to the masses. Curiously the show credited to Perry has little of what you'd expect -- Perry's humor.
The show centers on the Payne family, and in particular the patriarch Uncle Curtis (played by LeVan Davis) who has the sweet nature of Archie Bunker crossed with the Ralph Cramden. He just wants all of the extended family to leave his house and stop eating his food. Unfortunately for him, that seems impossible as his nephew C.J. (Allen Payne) and his wife Janine and their two children are forced by circumstances to move into Curtis's house (after the pilot episode). Further complicating matters, C.J. works for Curtis at the firehouse and Curtis's son Calvin, a general layabout fond of get rich quick schemes are always around, leaving little time for Curtis to spend with his amiable and very tolerant wife Ella.
The pilot episode centers on Malik, C.J.'s son, who reveals he has been bullied at school. Curtis agrees to go to a parent conference at the school to confront the bully's parents, only to find the bully is a girl who is in the care of Madea (Tyler Perry). At this point the show turns from generally unfunny sitcom with only a pittance of laughs to a surreal showdown between Curtis and Madea. It is as if Perry in an attempt to bolster the show with his famous character instead twists it around himself, leaving all of the other characters to pale in comparison. When Perry is off screen the show just can't engage the audience. Once Perry enters a scene, it becomes like a sublime train wreck as even the studio audience isn't even sure how to react to the jarring change in pace and rhythms of the humor.
Later episodes don't fare much better. While I commend Perry for attempting to tackle tough topics like drug abuse, there's something lacking in the execution. I can only harken back to 'The Cosby Show' for an example of how a sitcom could be used to entertain and inform.
TBS has given Perry an order for 100 episodes of this show. Hopefully it will find it's legs sooner rather than later, or it may not make it past ten episodes.
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