Tichina Arnold says CBS’s ‘The Neighborhood’ with Cedric the Entertainer mines laughs from issues of race

She calls it the “reverse Archie Bunker”

Originally posted Monday, October 1, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Tichina Arnold has been a reliable comedic presence on TV for a quarter century going back to "Martin." She even recently received a mock "Reparations Emmy" from Michael Che at the Emmy's for her collective work on "Martin," "Everybody Hates Chris" and "Survivor's Remorse."

She is now part of a CBS sitcom called “The Neighborhood” playing Cedric the Entertainment’s supportive wife. It debuts at 8 p.m. Monday, October 1. The premise is simple: a white, Midwest family moves into a black neighborhood, upsetting Cedric’s character Calvin Butler who has lived there all his life and now sees signs of dreaded “gentrification.”

The creator of the show Jim Reynolds moved into a black neighborhood and based the show on his own experience.

Arnold - who has spent quality time in Atlanta shooting two of her most recent shows “Survivor’s Remorse” on Starz and “Daytime Divas” on VH1 - came into town last Thursday to promote her new show.

“It’s like the reverse Archie Bunker,” she said. “Not everyone is ready for that change.”

The show, while addressing racial issues in the first episode, does so without animus. (This is not a Spike Lee movie.)

“We show the little nuances, culturally, how different things can be when a white family moves into a black neighborhood,” Arnold explained. “It’s not all bad. You find out wonderful things about each other’s culture. And it’s done through laughter.”

Calvin is annoyed by the presence of the very white Johnsons (recast after the pilot with "New Girl" star Max Greenfield and "2 Broke Girls" star Beth Behrs). But his two grown sons and Arnold's Tina are more bemused than concerned.

"You're a perm away from being Al Sharpton," Tina tells Calvin after he rants about how the Johnsons are like "pilgrims" needed the "natives" to legitimize their presence.

As a conflict resolution specialist, Dave Johnson (Greenfield’s eager-to-please character) thinks he can find ways to blend in but naturally, that isn’t easy.

“Every time I try to be his friend, he throws it back in my face,” Dave mopes to his wife during episode four. “We’re next door neighbors. We’re supposed to get along!”

While Calvin is supposed to come off as a black Archie Bunker type, Cedric is too naturally likable to generate any real vinegar. But he can make a passable punchline funnier by just being Cedric.

For instance, he is resistant to go to a housewarming party hosted by the Johnsons. When Tina offers to do the two-step with him, he responds, “To what? Taylor Swift?”

Later, he tells Dave, "I'm not doing an escape room with you!"

During the start of the second episode, when the Johnsons’ have a plumbing issue, Arnold’s Tina character lets Behrs’ Gemma take a shower in her home. She offers a large towel and a wash cloth, the latter of which confuses Gemma.

“I just take the soap and rub it on my body,” she says.

“That’s nasty!” Tina says. “I mean, you’re getting the soap all dirty.”

“Soap can’t get dirty,” Gemma says. “It’s soap.”

Tina: “Wait a minute. Do white people not use wash cloths?”

Gemma: "I don't know any who do. Do black people use wash cloths?"
Tina: "I don't know any who don't!"

Gemma wears that revelatory look sitcom characters give and utters “Really!”

Later, there is a reference to Black Lives Matter but again, it doesn’t feels weighty. And the end of episode two features a lovely “Shaft” homage.

Episode three brings us the "trust fall," a classic sitcom trope and in play because of Dave's job.

And there are a couple jokes in episode four about “C.P. time,” which Gemma thinks is “Cool People time.” It doesn’t.

“Racism isn’t going away,” Arnold noted. “It will always be around. How do we deal with it?”

One of the main reasons Arnold joined the show was Cedric the Entertainer, someone she has known for more than 20 years. And the rest of the cast is great, too, she said.“Max Greenfield is hilarious. I told Beth she is like a walking country music video. She is so sweet. Everybody wants this show to happen and be successful. CBS has been great to us.”

CBS has not built a reputation for diversity so it's notable that three of the six new series this fall feature black leads. "Happy Together," which airs after "The Neighborhood" stars Damon Wayans Jr. And a new drama "God Friended Me" debuting Sunday is led by Brandon Micheal Hall, fresh off his time as "The Mayor" on ABC.

“It’s time!” Arnold said. “Sometimes you have to stop talking about it and be about it. It’s great for CBS to step up with diversity and inclusion... CBS has opened that door. It’s diverse behind the scenes as well.”

TV PREVIEW

“The Neighborhood,” 8 p.m. Mondays, CBS, starting October 1, 2018