Tyler Perry has redefined the artist as salesman and succeeded at a level that’s almost preposterous. While his stage shows and movies are evidence of a distinguished and perceptive imagination, his first series for TBS is the result of pure salesmanship. How he got the cabler to pony up for 100 episodes of such an uncharacteristically unfunny sitcom as “House of Payne” is worthy of a sitcom on its own.
It opens with the plotline that’s a timeless guarantee of laughs: The old “I think my wife’s on crack” story. How else to explain her hyperactivity, early rising/late arriving and endless money-borrowing, not to mention an explanation for how their house burned down?
Storyline is strictly there to explain how CJ (Allen Payne) and his two kids were forced to move in with mom and pop, disturbing the peace and quiet of their empty nest. CJ is a lieutenant in the local fire department; Curtis (La Van Davis) is the chief.
In the first episode, “House of Payne” rolls through a collection of stereotypes and characters familiar to TV auds. There are some Carol Burnett touches, a bit of the black family comedies of the late ’80s and little sense that “Payne” is coming from an important comedic voice of the 21st century.
It’s old-fashioned in structure, sets and characters. Despite having his name in the title, Payne is straitjacketed into a straight-man role; the saving grace is the grumpy father figure Chester as Davis huffs and puffs his way through the unnatural dialogue. As the mother Ella, Cassi Davis is all exaggeration — from the bug eyes to the girth — and she isn’t given the material to make her character either outrageously humorous or poignantly comforting. She doesn’t seem particularly real.
And that’s the problem with the rest of the cast. Even the nutty neighbor — in this case, a gospel-spewing gossip — is lacking in charm.