The premise of the new CBS sitcom “The Neighborhood” (Monday, 7 p.m., Channel 2) is pretty simple. A new family, of a different race than the other families in the area, moves in; the next-door neighbor isn’t happy about it.
The twist is that the new family is white; the unhappy neighbor is black. And Calvin (Cedric the Entertainer) doesn't make any attempt to hide his unhappiness.
“This is a black neighborhood, something built for us by us,” Calvin says. “You let one family like that move in, and the next thing you know it's going to be a bunch of dudes jogging around in their little short shorts, walking their vegan labradoodles.”
In other words, he doesn’t want white people living next to him, and he freely expresses racial stereotypes. And it’s an absolute certainty that there will be viewers who watch “The Neighborhood” and come away saying, “See? Black people are racist, too.”
“We can’t really be afraid of that,” Cedric said.
The show’s creator/executive producer, Jim Reynolds, added, “Personally, I don’t mind if people draw some of those conclusions, because … if people see themselves reflected in these characters, regardless of race, that’s a good thing. And my hope is that we will win hearts and then we can change some minds.”
The fact is that this is not breaking any new television ground. CBS had sitcoms that tackled this issue back in the 1970s — and white bigot Archie Bunker helped make “All in the Family” the biggest thing on TV at the time.
Archie didn’t react well when a black family moved in next door. As it turned out, the patriarch of that black family, George Jefferson, wasn’t any happier about the Bunkers than Archie was about the Jeffersons.
George Jefferson was “an inspiration” for the character of Calvin, Cedric said.
“There was some pushback early on — was I playing him too mean? And I said, 'You know, in his mind, he’s not mean, he just believes he’s being honest [and] straightforward.’”
It’s not just a black-white thing. Calvin and his family — his wife, Tina (Tichina Arnold), and adult sons Marty (Marcel Spears) and Malcolm (Sheaun McKinney) — aren’t exactly the touchy/feely types. New neighbor Dave (Max Greenfield), on the other hand, is a super enthusiastic, overly friendly hugger.
But there will be controversy that will make its way onto social media — something that wasn’t around when Archie Bunker and George Jefferson were entertaining America. When Marty tells Dave and his wife, Gemma (Beth Behrs), they need to accept his mother’s invitation or they’ll “seem racist,” Gemma replies, “If anyone’s being racist, it sounds like it’s your dad.”
“Oooh, no, no, no, no, no,” Marty says, “See, uh, black people can’t be racist. We can be racial, not -cist.”
That's going to ignite Twitter.
Reynolds — who loosely based the show on his own experience moving his family into a primarily African-American neighborhood — said he doesn't see Calvin as racist.
“I happen to think that so much of what we view as being racist is really just about being afraid of change and something different than what we know,” he said, adding he thinks there's “value” to the show “where we can put people next to each other, get to know each other, see past that race thing and see that common ground.”
Which might be harder to do in 2018 than it was in the 1970s.
“I think that we do live in a time when you take the sound bite and you just make that the whole conversation,” Cedric said, referencing social media. “There’s some good laughs in there. And if you identify with something that, even for a moment, pushes you to pay attention, then, hopefully, we come at it with a sense of humor.”