Tuesday, August 7, 2018

TV REVIEW: Netflix's 'All About the Washingtons'

Netflix will debut the entire first season of the new original comedy series All About the Washingtons on Friday, August 10. The comedy stars Joseph "Rev Run" Simmons, Justine Simmons, Kiana Ledé, Nathan Anderson, Leah Rose Randall and Maceo Smedley.

Read on for my thoughts on the new comedy after screening three episodes.

Netflix's new comedy All About the Washingtons is a run-of-the-mill, bland sitcom. It's completely dull with no real originality to it whatsoever. That was the sneaking suspicion the moment Netflix sent out advance screeners for early reviews to critics. Lately, the streaming service has allowed critics to sample either the majority of a season or the entire season in order for us to write our reviews. The service understands that it's an overwhelming time for television. There is so much content out there - with so much of it also happening to be on Netflix. This platform is definitely in the volume game. It wants to be debuting multiple new seasons every single week. This comedy isn't even the only new show debuting on Friday, August 10 - with a full review of fellow new series Insatiable coming soon. But critics can also see a difference in the way that Netflix is perhaps wanting us to cover these shows. The review embargo for All About the Washingtons broke way earlier than Insatiable. And yet, only three episodes were made available for All About the Washingtons when the entire 12-episode first season of Insatiable was sent out for advance coverage. Even more damaging is the fact that the three episodes of the sitcom weren't even in chronological order. Netflix sent out the premiere as well as the fifth and seventh episodes. That seems incredibly random. But it's also probably to beef up the reviews. The premiere is sent out to establish the premise of the show. And then, the other two were chosen because the people at Netflix see them as the best of the remaining bunch. However, if this is the best that All About the Washingtons can offer, then the audience would simply be better served finding something else on Netflix.

These episodes aren't even inherently bad. They are just dated in such a bad way that makes them devoid of any meaning or value. The only real hook to the show is that it stars legendary rapper Joseph "Rev Run" Simmons and his wife, Justine. Now, those two have successfully been able to build multiple careers out of their lives. They've gone from music stardom to hit reality shows to a scripted sitcom. The premise of the show is based loosely on their lives together. They are both essentially playing fictionalized versions of themselves. And yet, the main premise is something audiences have seen a million times around. It's a family comedy where the man of the house, Joey, decides to retire after a long-running and successful music career and his wife, Justine, decides to take that as her opportunity to explore her own business ideas and ventures. As such, it flips the script on parenting with Joey now being the one home all of the time looking after the kids while Justine is out chasing her dreams. First of all, there is absolutely no reason why it should be funny for a father to be seen actually parenting his kids or being completely terrible at it. This has been such a popular and well-worn trope. Men are allowed to come home and act as buffoons who have no idea what's going on in their family's lives. It's somehow funny that these guys are neglectful and disinterested. That's not a great message at all. Plus, the shows never really follow through on the premise either because the wives still have to be around the corner to scorn them or question their parenting decisions. As such, it makes it so difficult to see the marriages as anything but antagonistic. The marriage depicted here is helped greatly because the couple is married in real-life. But that doesn't keep the show from feeling like it ditches its premise immediately after establishing it.

The premiere shows that Joey is tired of being on tour all of the time. He wants to retire and just prove to the world that he is successful through being photographed on a yacht instead of having to reinvent the rap game once again. He no longer feels like he needs to do that. He has conquered this industry and doesn't want to do it anymore. Of course, the show still finds multiple opportunities throughout these episodes to get Rev Run to rap and perform onstage. It happens with such frequency that it's clear they felt the need to prove that he still has the skills that made him legendary in the first place. It does help add to the authenticity of the piece. It would be lame if the audience just had to accept this guy as a musician without ever seeing him actually perform. But the show is also strangely comfortable with it mostly being a show about family dynamics and parenting. It is never actually about Justine trying to build her business. Sure, that could be the source of story in the other episodes of the season that weren't made available for review. But in the episodes that were, Joey and Justine are just always at the house. The problems they deal with are familiar sitcom fodder as well. They worry about how their gifted daughter will perform in regular school. They struggle with getting the youngest son to pick his clothes off the floor. They don't want to just hand everything to their kids so that they grow up entitled. They also want to keep the children close for as long as possible. None of this is new story though. Nor is it a comforting or charming variation of a plot that's been done so many times. I never laughed throughout these episodes. Nor did I smile or find the antics of the characters amusing. It was fine but mostly lackluster.

But of course, there's no telling what is going to be a hit for Netflix. The streaming service still doesn't release viewer numbers. Meanwhile, last week during its presentation at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour, the executives said it's more important to analyze how a show does in specific taste communities and how quickly the audience completes the season. Those seem to be the more important statistics that the executives making the decisions look at. For fans of innovative television, All About the Washingtons should just be ignored. And yet, that doesn't mean the show won't find an audience. Rev Run and Justine have popularity for a reason. They may be stiff on a number of occasions acting on this show. But the chemistry is still present between the two of them. They both have the desire to be sitcom stars. The child actors are all fine. None of them stand out in a good or bad way. In fact, the eldest daughter is a type of character who isn't really seen on television. She is a woman of color who teaches computer coding. That's original and should be the story explored with her. Instead, she is mostly just a typical 20-something girl who is caught having to choose between the guy she's been dating and the hot dad of one of her students. That's lame and squanders a lot of good potential for telling a different story. But again, I could still see an audience for this show. It would just be the audience who also likes Fuller House or Alexa & Katie instead of the viewers who are obsessed with One Day at a Time. All of these shows are multi-camera sitcoms. And yet, the variation between them is important even though it also makes this one a little too bland and forgettable.