Last week’s double-shot premiere of UNCLE BUCK earned a 1.5 rating among adults age 18-49. That’s good, especially at the beginning of summer network season.
There are reasons. It’s a summer sitcom, fulfilling as a banana scoop. It’s sunny, bright, a little edgy and without stress. In many ways, Uncle Buck is the perfect antidote to the intent hyper-cultural watch-fest of a Game of Thrones or the recently released fourth season of Orange is the New Black.
Also, Uncle Buck has an all-black cast, still a rarity in television. Good talent like Mike Epps, James Lesure and Nia Long are getting regular jobs. The kids are genuinely funny, especially Aalyrah Caldwell, who seems to possess a knack for comedic timing. The cultural beats aren’t made solely for white audiences. All of this is appealing, so last week Uncle Buck scored a solid 1.5 rating in 18-49, and overall had nearly five million viewers for both episodes.
We need more shows like Uncle Buck. We need more summer entertainment that isn’t a reality competition and doesn’t necessitate every hot-take factory to record a podcast about it the next morning. And we need more roles for black actors and more shows that focus on black culture.
But do we need Uncle Buck?
“Ride Along” and “Brothers,” the third and fourth episodes of Uncle Buck’s eight-episode summer trial, are given the production codes 102 and 105, respectively. It’s possible, then, that “Ride Along,” which has Alexis still questioning Buck’s ability to watch the kids, was written to be the second episode. And it’s possible, also, that “Brothers,” which ends with the Russell family in a very comfortable place, was written to be the fifth episode.
But this doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. Because no matter how hard Uncle Buck tries – and oh, Uncle Buck tries really hard – we don’t need it.
Like last week’s “Pilot” and “L’il Scarface,” this week’s two-episode set features obvious plot progressions, cliched writing and unearned resolutions that slash character development into pieces.
The stories are like Mad Libs: (Russell parent) is worried that Buck is going to screw up. Buck screws up. And yet, despite how much Buck actually screws up, it’s somehow not his fault, but (Russell parent’s) fault for being too (largest character flaw). In the end (Russell parent) and Buck come to terms, though Buck still remains a pretty wacky guy.
In “Ride Along” (Uncle Buck executive producer Will Packer produced the movie Ride Along 2), it’s Alexis who’s worried that Buck is going to screw up taking care of the kids on a school morning. Though Buck screws up, it’s Alexis who’s too hard on herself. In the end she and Buck come to terms by drinking wine in Buck’s car, then getting a ride with Buck’s cop friend. Complete with Buck drinking the wine and holding a gun. Yeah, he still remains a pretty wacky guy.
In “Brothers,” it’s Will who’s worried that Buck is going to screw up a chance for him to make an impression with his co-workers. Though Buck screws up, it’s Will whose intelligence pushes Buck away. In the end he and Buck come to terms by teaming to break Buck up with Will’s co-worker, who Will is trying to impress. Then Buck has a PG-13 make-out session with the Alexis’ valley-girl college bully. So yup, you guessed it, Buck still remains a pretty wacky guy.
In between the beats are easily telegraphed. In “Ride Along,” Buck’s erratic driving when dropping off Maizy at school sends him to the office of school disciplinarian Sandy (Angela Kinsey). Though she seems to enjoy Buck’s flirting, she punishes Buck and Alexis for the driving by making them replace cupcakes for a hyperallergic student. That sends them to the most cliched organic foods store in existence, complete with skinny white kids in Rastafarian hats and an annoyed employee who wears Crocs. Because people at organic food stores wear Crocs.
In “Brothers,” after Buck gets all of Will’s co-workers drunk and crazy at Will’s gathering, the brothers wage war at a basketball game. Buck is crazy ol’ Buck (get this, he stands on a table) and somehow lands in bed with the very coworker Will is trying to impress most. Luckily she doesn’t want to ever have kids, opening a door for Buck (who is taking a shining to the Russell kids) to break up with her. Everything works out perfectly!
In this way Uncle Buck suffers from taking its sunny summer sitcom status to extremes. Everything is tied up too neatly. Characters are bent to keep the plot humming. Will – despite being a pretty smart guy, and despite raising three children – has no clue how to help a nauseous Miles. That leads to Miles taking advantage of Will in the dopey B-story of “Ride Along.”
And in the A-story, after forgetting Tia at the dentist and needing to rush back out, Alexis – despite being an extremely paranoid parent – decides to take Buck’s busted car. It’s hard to suspend disbelief with Uncle Buck, especially since it hasn’t earned it.
But again, Uncle Buck is a summer sitcom. It’s a banana split … or a “night dinner” of macaroni and cheese and French toast, if you wanted a reference from “Ride Along.” The idea of it is good, and maybe a couple bites (like the lip sync showdown in “Brothers”) are harmless and tasty.
But then the night dinner settles. And you’re watching a television show with bad writing and few clever moments. And it just stays there in your stomach. It stews in there overnight.
And the next morning you’re hurting. You remember you watched Uncle Buck. “It’s good to see good talent on television,” you told yourself.
Season 1, Episode 3-4 (S01E03-04)
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