“Under One Roof”– which producers say is the first network dramatic series to star an African-American cast since NBC’s 1979 “Harris and Company”– gets off to a charming start, with all the right ingredients in place. One definitely wants to hang out under this roof.
Nevertheless, without skirting their perceived responsibilities, the creators should resist keeping things as neat and tidy as they understandably have in this very accessible and predictable debut episode. It’s a question of survival. With substantive characters and acting, plus an executive producer-director, Thomas Carter (“Equal Justice,””St. Elsewhere”), who’s proficient in the format, this shouldn’t be a problem. It all depends on future storylines.
And the 8 p.m. slot (opposite sitcoms) does dictate a certain gentleness. Carter impressively jumps right in and introduces the extremely likable and attractive family. He packs a lot in, but not frenetically. Background information is expertly woven.
The title’s roof protects the Seattle home of Neb Langston (James Earl Jones) — grandfather, cop and widower — who lives with grown daughter Ayisha (Monique Ridge) and 16-year-old foster son Marcus (Merlin Santana). Son Ron (Joe Morton), who’s recently back from a four-year stint with the Marines in Germany, his wife , Maggie (Vanessa Bell Calloway), and their two kids live upstairs.
The middle-class Langstons are on the verge of new beginnings, one year after Neb’s wife died. Ron is opening a hardware store with a Marine buddy, and Maggie is trying to finish her undergraduate degree. Neb helps foster son Marcus come to grips with his mom’s overdose three years earlier.
Script is occasionally heavy-handed, with some speechifying and hyperbole punctuating mild family situations. It’s doubtful that stealing mom’s credit card to buy a dress for a sweet 16 party justifies statements like, “It’s things like this that can tear a family apart.”
But for now these are quibbles. It’s a textbook story. Marcus is the dramatic center of the seg, and his situation is genuinely moving. Cutting between his return to the scene of his mother’s death and the family at a father-son game is effective.
Perfs are unassailable. Santana stands out as Marcus, yet casting is so good we’re likely to be taken by every actor once they’re highlighted. Jones is, as always, a force to be reckoned with.
Tech credits are up to snuff, with the exception of the dated, derivative music.
There’s nothing wrong with providing realistic role models. But the creators shouldn’t be afraid of a little newfangled quirkiness. As accomplished as this show is, given the current TV environment, “Under One Roof” may need more conflict to thrive in Nielsen households.