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The NeighborHood - Pilot - Review - "Look, There's a Palm Tree" + POLL

2 Oct 2018

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The second episode is better. Most likely if you're reading this you haven't seen the second episode yet, so you'll have to take my word for it. The premiere functions and presents as part of an awkwardly short SAT essay. It knows where to put a comma and what to do with linking verbs. However, it doesn't form a complete thought, so reading it only gives you a general impression of what direction it wants to go. But sometimes things have to be at the bottom so they have something to reach for.

We are introduced right away to two families. First there's Dave and Gemma Johnson (played by Max Greenfield and Beth Behrs) and their son Grover. They are brand new to the area, having moved so Beth could work at a school in the area. Dave's own job is about conflict negotiation, so they both have careers that could sprout interesting stories later. (I'm already curious about Beth's school. Is it a private institution? What's the racial makeup like there?)
Their intro is milked for cringes. They talk about how "diverse" their new area is and how their new black neighbors are "just like us", as if they are platitude-spouting backwards Sesame Street residents. (Of course they watched that show religiously growing up. There's no way Grover is named for the US President.)

They are moving in to a neighborhood that is completely populated with black residents, a point of pride for their new neighbor Calvin Butler. In fact he's preparing for an annual event known as Yardeque when they arrive. His meat smoker is the pride and joy of that event. A white family moving in next door is not on his wishlist. More excellent casting for the Butler family, with Cedric the Entertainer and Tichina Arnold as the Calvin and his wife Tina. And a particularly good set of performances from Sheaun McKinney and Marcel Spears as their sons Malcolm and Marty.

The cast isn't the problem with this episode. An almost complete lack of comic timing is. Even setting aside it's mostly generic commentary on racial bias and racism (Marty helpfully defines the difference between those), the pacing of the episode drags. The dialogue is stilted. It's almost like they completely reshot most of the pilot after half the cast was replaced, but they didn't make any alterations to the first draft of the material. Thus you're left with a rough, not particularly interesting episode that doesn't showcase the amazing talent assembled therein. There are some smart bits mixed in, such as when Calvin comments to Marcel that there are two kinds of racism: the hate kind and the love kind. The latter can be just as demeaning. (See: Magical Negro Trope)

Most comedies need time to find their sweet spot, and this one is no exception. It does majorly improve in the second episode, and maybe the same will be true of the third. Until then, I'm going to leave you with this piece of taffy.
"We're the Butlers."
"Oh, great, because I just rang for a cup of tea!"