Series creator DJ Nash (“Growing Up Fisher”) describes his new NBC sitcom “Truth Be Told” as semi-autobiographical, which ought to be enough reason to think twice about accepting a dinner invitation at his house. Apparently designed to be provocative in that its two central pals — one white, one black — talk a lot about race, the program is so self-conscious about mining those conversations for comedy as to feel completely stilted. There’s a playfulness to the show and the banter among the four leads, but truth be told, it’s not particularly good.
Mitch (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) is a college professor, married to Tracy (Vanessa Lachey, in a role that was recast), who’s a lawyer. Successful standup comic Russell (Tone Bell, making a quick return to NBC after “Bad Judge”) lives next door with wife Angie (Bresha Webb), who in the premiere lands the quartet tickets to the Jay Z concert, although naturally, that merely triggers a parade of wacky complications.
For starters, the tickets come courtesy of an old boyfriend, making Russell jealous. Mitch and Tracy, meanwhile, can’t find a babysitter, and when they finally do, she’s extremely attractive, and Russell thinks he recognizes her from, er, adult films.
Directed by sitcom veteran Pamela Fryman, “Truth Be Told” is supposed to feel edgy because the guys talk about hot-button issues, from whether Mitch can say the “N” word if he’s just singing along with rap (the answer: No) to stealing a babysitter from the Orthodox Jews up the street, who presumably won’t need her on Friday night. Then there’s the subtle racism his friend faces, which irks Mitch more than it does Russell. Admittedly, the problems are decidedly upscale, like having somebody assume it’s not the black guy who’s driving a Porsche. “It’s a valet stand, not Selma,” Russell says.
The cast works pretty hard to sell the material, but it’s awfully thin, and tackles the topical aspects less aggressively than NBC’s summer sitcom “The Carmichael Show,” which earned a renewal. The main problem is that nothing here feels remotely organic. If Americans are cowards about discussing race, as former Attorney General Eric Holder suggested, these characters are brave to the point of stupid.
In the mixed-bag department, the network hasn’t set the bar all that high by slotting the show Friday — paired with “Undateable,” one of the few survivors of NBC’s comedy purge — a night where the sought-after young-adult audience is less available. “Truth Be Told” was initially christened “People Are Talking,” two titles that offer a sense of how generic the show feels. Whatever one chooses to call it, this is one of those sitcoms where the real surprise will be if people are watching.