June 21, 2012

TV: The Soul Man (TV Land, Wed 10)

TV Land has had mixed luck with its attempts to create new sitcoms that feel old-fashioned enough to sit alongside the repeats that are still the network's primary fare. Their most successful attempts, to my mind -- the very good Hot in Cleveland and the improving The Exes -- are those that feature the stars from those old shows, people who understand the rhythms of retro sitcoms well enough to make the material seem better than it is.

But put someone without that kind of experience, or without much acting experience at all, in the lead, and the weakness of the writing overwhelms the show. So it's probably not surprising that this Hot in Cleveland spinoff built around Cedric the Entertainer doesn't work very well; Cedric doesn't have the experience or the natural skill to elevate the pedestrian material he's given.

Cedric plays Boyce "The Voice" Ballentine, a former R&B star who's just moved from Cleveland to his home town of St. Louis to take over his father's church. His wife and daughter (Niecy Nash and Jazz Raycole) aren't happy about the move, and his father (John Beasley) is having trouble relinquishing control of the church.

Even if this type of sitcom were still in style, The Soul Man would be a weak example of the genre, because Cedric is such a nonentity at the center of the show. He's not much of an actor; he doesn't know how to get laughs; and when we finally hear him sing, it's inconceivable that he was ever a successful singer.

He's surrounded by some talent. Nash and Beasley get some laughs, as does Wesley Jonathan as Boyce's slacker brother, but this is written as a one-man show -- literally, in many scenes where Boyce chats with God -- and Cedric isn't up to carrying the load.

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