"Under One Roof" has flipped the house on "Under One Roof."
The title belongs to a pair of television shows on different networks from vastly different eras -- both set in African American households. The first "One" was a 1995 CBS drama that focused on a proud multi-generational family. The new "One," a comedy that premieres tonight on MyNetworkTV, centers on Public Enemy's clock-wearing rapper Flavor Flav. Any further similarities between the two shows is skin deep.
FOR THE RECORD:
MyNetworkTV: An article in Wednesday's Calendar section about MyNetworkTV's "Under One Roof" series said that the network is a little more than two years old. The network launched in September 2006. —
Judging by a rough cut of the latest incarnation's second episode, cultural advocacy groups and other critics, who've long bristled at TV's penchant for one-dimensional depictions of minorities, may say it's several steps removed from its well-regarded predecessor. The new comedy's characters include a sex-crazed black man, a drunken Latino gardener and a grumpy Asian housekeeper who speaks in heavily accented broken English. "It is difficult to do much except watch, wide-eyed with disbelief," writes Times television critic Mary McNamara, who was able to see an episode despite the network's withholding of screeners, "as terrible jokes are made at the expense of just about every racial and socioeconomic group in America."
FOR THE RECORD: This article incorrectly states the length of time that MyNetwork TV has been in operation. The network launched in September 2006.
But the show's creative forces counter that such criticism is unfair and lacks a sense of humor.
"We don't think we should have to shoulder the full responsibility for every minority portrayal," said the series' executive producer, Darryl J. Quarles, whose other credits include "Big Momma's House," "Big Momma's House 2" and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." "There are positive nuances throughout this whole thing. "It's all about the comedy. If you like big jokes, you'll like the show."
The '90s version of "Under One Roof" was developed as a counterweight to black-themed network comedies that featured characters that observers felt were cartoonish, offensive or stereotypical. That program, which starred Joe Morton, James Earl Jones and Vanessa Bell Calloway, marked the first time in 16 years that a one-hour weekly drama focused exclusively on an African American family. "This show is history, very much so," executive producer Thomas Carter said at the time.
Despite generally favorable reviews, the show did not click with viewers and was canceled after its six-episode run. Subsequent network dramas with predominantly African American casts, such as CBS' "City of Angels" and Fox's "413 Hope St.," also failed to attract significant audiences.
The new series, which is taped in Vancouver, Canada, is the first scripted comedy from Fox-based MyNetworkTV, a programming service that launched a little more than two years ago with serialized, telenovela-style dramas. Recently the network, seen locally on KCOP Channel 13, has been specializing in shows such as "Paradise Hotel 2," "Jail" and "Meet My Folks."
The goal of the new "Under One Roof" is simply to generate laughs -- not to advance any specific social agenda. But in pursuing that aim, it appears to have the kind of images that its predecessor was combating.
The comedy stars Flavor Flav as Calvester Hill, an ex-convict who moves in with his conservative and wealthy brother, Winston (Kelly Perine). Also living in the house is Winston's white materialistic wife, Ashley (Carrie Genzel), his provocatively dressed 17-year-old daughter, Heather (Marie Michael), and their housekeeper, Su Ho (Emily Kuroda).
The show's premise has the street-smart and savvy Calvester in constant conflict with his successful entrepreneur brother, who, according to producers, has "lost touch with his blackness."
"It isn't long before Calvester starts parading his old prison cronies through the house, driving the Hill family crazy," says the show's press release. "Calvester even teaches Winston's 16-year-old son, Winston Jr. (Jesse Reid), to be a gangster rapper."
The producers of "Under One Roof" call it a "whale out of water" premise that mixes the sensibilities of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" with "Married . . . With Children." The series is written by Danielle Quarles, the daughter of producer Quarles, and Gelila Asres. Neither writer is a member of the Writers Guild of America.
"It's all about the big laughs," said executive producer Claude Brooks. "And we're equal opportunity offenders."
Brooks and Quarles said they did not expect the new comedy to be controversial, despite the presence of Flavor Flav, who has come under fire for his outrageous Lothario antics on VH1's popular reality show "Flavor of Love." Critics and others have blasted Flav and his series for perpetuating what they called negative cultural images. Flav continues to play on his "Flavor of Love" persona in the sitcom, pursuing hookers and other women even though his character has nine children.
Said Brooks: "There's a reason why Flav is the top reality star of all time. His heart speaks volumes. This role fits him perfectly, and he's a completely natural actor."
But more than the show's treatment of blacks may trigger criticism. In the show's second scheduled episode, Calvester -- who has been accused of stealing -- spots a goat wandering through the mansion and follows it to a remote room, where the huge family of Mario, the fired gardener, has been surreptitiously living.
It's the Latino family that has been doing the stealing, not Calvester. The show completes the Latino family portrait by showing a woman holding a baby, a chicken running around the room and ranchera music playing in the background. In another scene, Pablo, the intoxicated (and less expensive) Latino gardener who replaced Mario, stumbles around the house, drinking from a bottle.
"There's a small fraction who may take offense at some of the humor," said Brooks. "But that's the spirit of the show. We poke fun at things that are and aren't real."