This first draft of this UNCLE BUCK review was a comparison to the 1990 television version of Uncle Buck. That show tried to be a Miller-Boyett production, a perfect candy-coated mix of childish humor and big-boy heart. It failed. So did the comparison. The draft was scrapped.
The next draft was a defense of the show. Mike Epps hands in a charmingly absent performance, almost zen-like in its efficacy. Aalyrah Caldwell is a cute child star. Nia Long scrambles tenaciously through the script. Sometimes you just have to respect that. But no. That draft was scrapped too.
There was a draft pondering the existence of Buck himself. Maybe Epps is playing a figment of everyone’s imagination, the necessary catalyst to improve the lives of an upper-middle-class family in the Chicago suburbs? Maybe Buck is actually a lot like Ferris Bueller, and maybe there is so much more to this show-
That draft was also scrapped.
Uncle Buck is a half-hour sitcom on humid, sticky summer Tuesday nights. It’s formulaic, simple, relying on well-worn tropes and not very clever in finding new ways to reveal those tropes.
Moreover, it doesn’t need some arduous comparison to a forgettable 26-year-old sitcom. It doesn’t need defending. And it doesn’t need to be the subject of some twisted theory, even if there is considerable merit to Ferris Bueller being a figment of Cameron Frye’s imagination.
All Uncle Buck needs is a straightforward review of its most recent two episodes, “Going to Jail Party” and “I Got This.”
In “Going to Jail Party,” Buck watches the kids while Alexis and Will attend the kids’ parent-teacher conferences. Apparently all three kids have conferences on the same day, and maybe attend the same school.
Anyway, Buck throws a “Going to Jail Party” for Miles, as he’s preparing for a grounding because of his bad grades and school exploits. Since it’s a Buck party, they spur a creepy neighbor to phone in a noise violation. And, also since it’s a Buck party, Buck and the kids need to get revenge on the creepy neighbor for ruining their fun.
It leads to the funniest set piece in the series’ short run – creepy neighbor being lured outside before being chased by the Russells’ dog – who’s wearing a giant spider costume. Creepy neighbor runs straight into a man-made spider web. It’s pretty funny.
Things escalate further, however, and Miles gets in big trouble for messing with the neighbor’s car. But just like last week, and just like every episode of Uncle Buck, all of this isn’t actually Buck’s fault. No, Alexis realizes she often doesn’t think before acting, getting her in trouble.
She comes to this conclusion after trying to steal Miles’ file from his teacher, then getting trapped in a janitor’s closet.
In “I Got This,” Buck watches the kids while Alexis and Will go out for an anniversary they initially forgot. Who knows why ABC scheduled two consecutive episodes with the same cast dynamic, but maybe it just doesn’t matter.
Anyway, Buck deals with the kids’ problems. Tia can’t join her friends at an opera, so Buck tells her to “front” and act cooler than her friends over social media. And Miles has a crush, so Buck tells him to make her a study date. But things backfire – Tia’s friends see through her shade, and Miles’ crush is a bad goth influence with piercings. Meanwhile Maizy thinks Buck is a zombie, so there’s that.
All this is happening as Buck’s friend comes by to watch the Bulls game. How will Buck juggle all the kids’ problems while trying to watch basketball? Can he be in two places at once?
Of course he can’t. Tia’s a wreck, Miles’ friend tries to pierce his ear and drink beer with him, and Maizy will never again sleep because she’s scared of death. But again, all of this isn’t actually Buck’s fault, because he’s simply learning how to be a parent. Just as Will is learning to be husband to a workaholic.
In the odd Alexis and Will storyline, the couple’s anniversary date sours because Alexis’ work interferes. Literally. A girl from her non-profit shows up at dinner because she’s having relationship issues. Will comes to accept this as “our reality.”
But what is that reality? Alexis and Will have little chemistry. Even if Alexis works too much, these two have already pawned their kids off to Buck. Does Alexis really need to work 24 hours a day?
Well, no she doesn’t, because just a week ago she spent an inordinate amount of time choreographing a dance to beat an old sorority bully. And before that she took a full day off work to run errands with Buck.
Here’s the point: Uncle Buck hasn’t found a direction. There is, somewhere deep in here, a decent show. It can be about the struggles of being a good parent. It can be about race-based stereotypes. It can be about a complete madman testing middle-class America with each zany idea. But it’s never about these things. Instead, Uncle Buck is trapped in 1990, in Miller-Boyett land, sandwiched between Perfect Strangers and Full House.
And that really doesn’t work today, not in 2016, not when even the simplest sitcoms either wear their heart on their sleeves or beat you down with snappy jokes. Uncle Buck does neither. It doesn’t earn its few moments of heart, and it doesn’t earn laughs because the jokes aren’t funny. “Going to Jail Party” and “I Got This” are practically the same episode – maybe “I Got This” works a little better because Buck shows some real emotion here. Sort of.
Also “I Got This” has probably the best line of the series. As Alexis and Will bemoan forgetting their anniversary, Buck observes wryly:
“Forgetting about your significant other … that’s classic Buck. Good night.”
Good night, Buck. Thanks for making me waste three perfectly good drafts.
Season 1, Episodes 5-6 (S01E05-06)
Uncle Buck airs Tuesdays at 9PM on ABC
Timothy Malcolm, who grew up on “The Golden Girls” and “Seinfeld,” writes regularly about entertainment, arts and lifestyles for a number of publications. Talk TV with him on Twitter.
Timothy Malcolm | Contributor