This may be the end for UNCLE BUCK.
For four weeks, we’ve slogged through eight relatively lifeless and formulaic episodes of the ABC reboot. The cast has been solid, from Mike Epps’ eager charm to Nia Long’s steady commitment to Aalyrah Caldwell’s lively line readings. The color palette has been fittingly bright and summery, not at all like the Chicago area the show has depicted (including in the season finale “Block Party”). All of the trappings of a decent summer sitcom have been there.
But what’s a sitcom without the com?
Plainly put – although by now you get the gist – Uncle Buck wasn’t funny. Writing was never clever. Situations were stolen straight from the Sitcom Writing 101 textbook.
And in the case of this week’s episodes, we have poorly sketched stereotypes.
It’s not that the stereotypes are offensive; please, Uncle Buck isn’t out to offend. But a Mexican gardener (Oscar Nunez, really rolling his Rs) who imagines himself in a steamy telenovela? Dueling black grandmother types who beat each other with canes over a cookie recipe?
It’s just lazy.
“The Interrogation,” the week’s first offering, runs with the familiar sitcom trope of solving a mysterious domestic issue in 22 minutes. Alexis (not overworked in this episode) and Will become the cops, even flirting with the good cop/bad cop trope, and interrogate Tia, Buck, Miles and Maizy about a broken window.
The Sitcom Writing 101 textbook tells you to raise the stakes, but early on Alexis tells Will not to worry about the window itself. Goodbye, stakes.
What proceeds is an entire episode of unnecessary questioning. Turns out nobody knows who broke the window (despite everyone’s colorful exaggerations, which include rapper Big Sean playing a version of Miles in an average but endearing performance, plus Maizy delightfully hopped up on sugar). We find out later the Russells’ dog (barely a character until now) spurred a chain of events leading to the incident.
And, in true Uncle Buck fashion, Alexis and Will learn a lesson: Buck has brought the kids together. Forget that we barely noticed the kids fighting in the first five minutes of the pilot. Alexis is telling us how it was, so we should believe it.
Alexis and Will learn a new lesson in “Block Party,” the season finale episode that takes the Russell family to Will and Buck’s old neighborhood in the south side of Chicago. They hang at a block party to show Tia – shooting a documentary for school – that there’s little wrong with the place. Crime is still an issue (well-timed gunshots in the distance tell us so), but family reigns as the Russells attempt to acclimate to unfamiliar (not upper-middle-class) settings.
And the lesson learned? There’s a lot of good in the old hood, and you’ll see it if you’re true to yourself. It’s a nice message, and certainly shots of people enjoying the block party (along with some lighthearted if not somewhat cardboard characters thrown in) help boost the rather innocuous episode.
But how lame are Alexis and Will? She tries too hard to talk like a stereotypical black person and finds herself getting a wacky hairdo. He can’t summon the strength to tell an old bully that he wants his bike back. Talk about raising stakes!
It follows, once again, the nifty Uncle Buck trend where, in nearly every episode, the parents learn some hard truths about themselves, often calling into question their ability to be effective parents. It’s puzzling. But then it’s not.
See, Uncle Buck is here to serve Buck. For eight episodes Epps’ title character has put the Russell children in light danger, exposed them to criminal activity and generally smiled his way through babysitting. And yet he’s the one teaching lessons.
This wouldn’t be bad if it was every couple episodes, but Uncle Buck has stuck to a gratingly obvious formula. In the process we’ve fallen in love with no characters (okay, maybe Buck is fun sometimes; “Pop, pop, shazam”) and haven’t felt engrossed with any situations.
Instead we’ve witnessed eight very basic sitcom episodes without the com. We’ve wasted good actors (at least they’re getting paid) and a concept that could actually work if treated with a little complexity.
But this may be it for Uncle Buck, the 2016 series and the concept. It seems we peaked with John Candy and John Hughes.
In fact, in a telling opening this week, Alexis and Will question why a recent movie had to be remade. Finally, the writers got it right, but far too late.
It’s time to – as ABC would tell us – get the Buck outta here.
Season 1, Episode 7-8 (S01E07-08)
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