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Remake Or Not, 'Uncle Buck' Is Your Usual Goofy TV Relative

Mike Epps and Aalyrah Caldwell in ABC's new <em>Uncle Buck</em>.
Mike Epps and Aalyrah Caldwell in ABC's new <em>Uncle Buck</em>.

In August of 2015, I wrote a list of five fictional TV shows representing some of the ideas networks seem to return to over and over (and over) again. One of the entries read like this:

What Will We Do About Weird Grandpa? The family whose calm suburban bliss is interrupted by the arrival of an unpredictable family member who dispenses wisdom and unexpectedly passes gas. Something like this: Jane and Dave McCuldesac are living happily with their kids: Marisa, 15, is a cheerleader with a learning disability that will be discovered in Season 2 and never mentioned again. Sophie, 12, is a precocious tomboy who will get her period in the sixth episode of the show. Gabriel, who they call "Goose," is an 8-year-old who likes to make fighting robots. Dave's dad loses his apartment when it goes condo, and they move him into the finished basement Jane was hoping to use as a yoga studio. Oh well! Anything for family.

I wasn't paying much attention then to news that ABC would reimagine Uncle Buck, the 1989 comedy starring John Candy and written and directed by John Hughes, as a family sitcom starring Mike Epps as the uncle who's a bad influence and James Lesure and Nia Long as the more straitlaced parents who nervously let him move in. But if you combine the durability of the disruptive-relative trope with the success of ABC's single-camera family sitcoms, particularly Black-ish, it makes some sense that a family comedy would show up with a black cast built around a house-storming uncle who's lovable but troublemaking. Making it specifically an Uncle Buck remake is just branding. This, essentially, is What About Weird Grandpa? coming directly to you for the summer.

Here, Epps plays Buck, the older brother of Lesure's Will. Will is a sitcom dad like many others: loving and sometimes nervous and ultimately likely to defer to his tightly wound wife, played here by Long as a good mom who's highly suspicious about the influence Uncle Buck might bring to bear on her teenage daughter, middle son and little girl.

The resulting show feels, in its style, its use of music, and its rhythms, very much of a piece with Black-ish and Fresh Off The Boat, both good and successful comedies about families of color that ABC would undoubtedly love to duplicate. Uncle Buck mostly lacks those shows' sharpness in its first two episodes, despite giving its kids the superliterate dialogue style given to the kids on not only those shows, but also sometimes the kids on Modern Family. It also mostly lacks their specific interest in race and identity as comedic ideas, so while the style feels like it has been pretty successfully duplicated, the content does not.

Nevertheless, the cast — Epps and Long and Lesure, plus the kids played by Iman Benson, Sayeed Shahidi and Aalyrah Caldwell — has solid chemistry and gets some decent jokes, particularly in the second episode, which airs Tuesday night right after the pilot.

This kind of comedy is all about the execution, and as it gains traction, it may get more ambitious about talking about race — or it may not. Inclusion is relevant to everything, including classic, nothing-special sitcom setups like goofy relatives who can't cook and kids who have to figure out how to hide an accidental hole in the wall. (That one, which pops up in Uncle Buck's second outing, is right out of Full House.) There's nothing particularly strong or particularly weak about the first two episodes compared to the world of TV comedy. How you like Uncle Buck will depend on how you respond to weird grandpas — on TV, not in real life.

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