The Soul Man cometh -- on the same path as TV Land's other laughers
06/20/12 09:31 AM
Premiering: Wednesday, June 20th at 9 p.m. (central) on TV Land
Starring: Cedric The Entertainer, Niecy Nash, John Beasley, Jazz Raycole, Wesley Jonathan
Produced by: Suzanne Martin, Cedric The Entertainer, Eric Rhone, Sean Hayes, Todd Milliner
By ED BARK
Still preaching that old time sitcom religion, TV Land offers up another one about the preacher son of a preacher man.
At least they're on a mission.
The Soul Man, originally titled Have Faith, follows broadly in the steps of TV Land's four other laughers -- the pace-setting Hot In Cleveland and Retired at 35, Happily Divorced and The Exes.
All are taped before a live studio audience in the "multi-cam" format. Laugh track sweeteners are used when deemed necessary and familiar stars are a must.
TV Land came to the rescue of this time-honored and still durable format after most broadcast and cable networks (save for CBS) increasingly went the route of "smart" single-cam comedies filmed without studio audiences and absent any built-in guffaws. They're basically the anti-Community brigade, coming at you with straight-on, easily absorbed punch lines. Snarky they're not. Amusing they occasionally are, although certainly not in league with all-time multi-cam greats such as The Cosby Show, Seinfeld, Frasier and Everybody Loves Raymond.
Spun from a character introduced during Hot In Cleveland's second season, Soul Man presents Cedric The Entertainer and Niecy Nash as devoted husband and wife. He's former R&B star Boyce "The Voice" Ballentine, whose "Sex Wichoo" single once topped the charts. She's Lolly Ballentine, who's just opened the Lolly B beauty salon in hopes of being something more than a preacher's spouse. They have a teenage daughter named Lyric (Jazz Raycole), who so far only mildly sasses her parents.
The family has relocated from Vegas to St. Louis, where Boyce's cantankerous father Barton (John Beasley) has bequeathed the First Church of St. Louis to his son. The old man's a meddler, of course, and very hard to please. But Beasley delivers his lines with an assured zing, particularly in an Episode 2 that's built around their oft-fractious relationship.
Boyce also has a stereotypically shiftless brother named Stamps (Wesley Jonathan), who drifts in and out of the first two half-hours and could easily be lost in transition.
The loving relationship between Boyce and Lolly has some sharp edges but not to the point where they're always bellowing at one another. Her low-cut dresses keep the minister on his toes, and she wants her father-in-law to get a little action, too.
"All your dad needs is a good woman and a little blue pill," she tells Boyce. "Lack of booty makes you moody."
Wouldn't you know it, though, Episode 2 finds the old man dropping in just as Boyce is about to race upstairs to Lolly with a can of whipped cream and spatula in hand. Barton is soon grousing about how "movies are the No. 1 place to catch head lice." Kind of ruins the mood.
Still, Soul Man is subtler than those very loud TBS black family sitcoms from the Tyler Perry assembly line. Boyce also finds time to don some colorful church robes, sing along with his congregation and do a little parishioner counseling in tandem with his "senior advisor" father.
Cedric the Entertainer, Nash and Beasley go with this flow -- and flow pretty well. They give their network a fifth sitcom cut from the same mold. What's old is sometimes new, though. And TV Land has found its way.