Monday, October 1, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Neighborhood' - Calvin Is Completely Suspicious of His New Friendly Neighbor in 'Pilot'

CBS' The Neighborhood - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

Dave Johnson, a friendly guy from the Midwest, moves his family to a Los Angeles neighborhood next door to Calvin Butler, who's concerned the Johnsons will disrupt the culture on the block and doesn't appreciate Dave's extreme neighborliness.

In 2018, it has become very difficult to keep up with every television show out there. It's even more difficult to provide adequate coverage on this site about the episodes that air every week. Not every show can get full coverage because of my busy and hectic viewing schedule. As such, some reviews will now be condensed to give only some summary thoughts. But it also affords a space for me to jot down my thoughts on the various episodes. And so, here are my thoughts on this week's episode of CBS' The Neighborhood.

"Pilot" was written by Jim Reynolds and directed by James Burrows

This show has assembled a cast of such strong, comedic talent. Cedric the Entertainer, Tichina Arnold, Max Greenfield and Beth Behrs have all starred in very successful comedies. Each of them could easily headline their own shows. So, a new show that features all of them is absolutely stacked with riches. Plus, Sheaun McKinney and Marcel Spears have stood out in minor supporting roles as well. This could be a huge breakout for them. Their casting is what makes it so disappointing when this is nothing but a one-joke pilot that has absolutely no idea what it is trying to say. There is absolutely an interesting premise buried deep within the structure of the show. It's fascinating to talk about how a white family moving into a historically black neighborhood represents as gentrification that should cause everyone to worry that the stability of the world they have always known will be going away. At its heart, this is a show about a specific neighborhood and the many ways it is changing. The Johnsons see it as a positive thing for them. They will be immersing themselves in a new cultural experience. But it could also read as appropriation because they simply have no idea what kind of tricky and complex situations they are getting into just by being in this neighborhood and trying to be friendly. The Butlers are proud and successful. They worked hard to build this life for themselves and expect the same excellence from their sons. They are proud to continue to promote successful black people. And yet, the show remains a little scattered when it comes to the specific demographic in this neighborhood. It keeps going back and forth on whether this is a wealthy neighborhood where the citizens have the money to prosper or if it's the type of place where every other house is home to a struggling family. The Butlers and Johnsons are both wealthy individuals with successful jobs. The Johnsons only make this move because Gemma has proven herself as a capable school principal. But even that idea is tricky. The show is saying she is taking over for a progressive school. And yet, no one in this neighborhood is even aware that such a school exists even though it would likely be one of the options for them to send their children to. All of this basically boils down to Calvin saying that Dave is racist because he is too friendly to people of color. He is in this new neighborhood trying to overcorrect so as to appear not racist. Dave and Gemma pride themselves on being progressives. But they absolutely have no awareness for how they are coming across. That is a good place to find comedy. This is a learning situation for all involved. But again, it just feels like the wrong perspective is being shared with the creative team having absolutely no idea how to explore a specific cultural experience. Calvin is nothing but a broad and load character while Dave is constantly saying the wrong thing and inserting himself unnaturally into situations that only get more awkward through his presence. If the show relaxes a little bit, there is potential. The acting can definitely carry things for a little while. But right now, the show has the ambition of starting a meaningful dialogue but there is nothing really to grasp onto with the show's message on racial politics.