Based on early sampling of Fox’s comedy development, next year’s scheduling forecast calls for a whole lot of “American Idol.” The network’s latest laugh-deprived exercise, “Method & Red,” might as well be dubbed “The Beverly Homeboys,” with two suddenly wealthy rappers invading a ritzy New Jersey neighborhood. And while those who groused about “Soul Plane” might raise the issue of unflattering stereotypes (both black and white), the major deficiency is an all-style, no-substance approach sorely lacking in humor. Seriously, if we can’t all just get along, can’t we at least be funnier about it?
Hip-hop artist Method Man also had a part in “Soul Plane,” and he teams here as producer and star with Redman, playing “fictionalized versions of themselves,” per Fox’s publicity notes. Flush with record and tour money, the two move on up to a gated community and take the former’s grounded mother (Anna Maria Horsford) with them.
It’s a wonderful life, one that threatens to strain the existing supply of buxom female extras. The problem is those wacky white people, beginning with their Realtor neighbor Nancy (“The Daily Show’s” Beth Littleford), who doesn’t care for the loud parties and desperately wants the duo evicted.
There’s something rather retro about all of this, down to a throwback laugh track and the pair’s goofy friends. Most of the jokes, however, hinge on terrified neighbors instantly willing to hand over property (including, conspicuously, a well-dressed African-American) at the sight of Method and Red, who appear as oblivious to it all as Jethro and Jed were.
“How we gonna get a bunch of middle-aged white people to like us?” one of their friends asks, before they decide to win the neighbors over by passing out fruitcakes. So they chase the neighbors around with baked treats as “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” plays in the background, with predictable results.
Things do improve somewhat in the second episode, which finds Method and Red trying to honor a promise to attend the birthday party of Nancy’s nerdy son Skyler (David Henrie) as they entertain a skeptical magazine writer. Eager to protect their image, mom even agrees to pretend she’s the maid, while insisting on carving out her own “skank-free” zone in the house.
Obviously, there’s plenty of broad racial comedy at the local multiplex, yet most of those projects play to a niche audience — a luxury that isn’t always available in primetime. The real barrier to crossover appeal in this case, though, is more about stale execution than the show’s hip-hop sensibility.
Once again, Fox seems convinced visual flair and an energetic soundtrack will trump poor scripts and limited characters. Pilots sometimes can skate by on those qualities, but they’re seldom sturdy enough to sustain a series.
The premiere’s one glint of warmth involves Skyler, who, fearing a butt-whipping at school, wants Method and Red to cruise around town with him. “Pump your brakes, little man,” Red tells him. Fox is racing ahead with its so-called year-round programming strategy, but with the creative tank thus far registering more than half-empty, that sounds like pretty sage advice.