×

TV Review: ‘Uncle Buck’ Is a Reboot With All the Appeal of Leftovers

In this era of demand for built-in audiences and brand recognition, “Uncle Buck” is a stellar example of how a winning marketing formula isn’t enough to make a great television show. The new ABC sitcom is a reboot of the 1989 John Hughes film, which starred John Candy as the titular Buck, a layabout uncle who comes to the aid of his brother’s family when someone has to take care of the kids. The movie already spawned a wildly unpopular television attempt, back in 1990. Tonight, ABC premieres the 2016 “Uncle Buck” in the same vein, but with a significant twist: The family is black.

The choice is a smart one. A story about an immature or unsuccessful relative redeeming himself with his more established relatives gains complexity, with black characters, by exploring the myriad ways to inhabit and perform blackness, as defined by class, education, and neighborhood. That’s a lot of fertile ground for storytelling, and more specifically, an immediate introduction of contrasts for a comedy to play with. And, of course, as networks across the board have discovered, serving audiences that don’t always see themselves or their concerns reflected on television creates loyal, dedicated fans.

But, unfortunately, “Uncle Buck” fails to gel. It’s a fine enough sitcom, led by the ever-charming Mike Epps in the title role. But the material of the show struggles to connect to the audience. The show is neither funny enough to propel the stories forward nor relatable or human enough to encourage the viewer to invest. Nia Long, as Buck’s skeptical sister-in-law Cindy, is probably the most recognizable character—an overworked mom who moved her family for her job and struggles to get everything done. With Buck, her new caution-averse “manny,” Long and Epps make for the show’s most interesting character dynamic.

But transitioning from movie to TV show requires creating some kind of ongoing operating principle to drive the sitcom’s plot engine; where a grudging mutual respect might make for an interesting arc in a closed-ended narrative (like, oh yeah, a film), in “Uncle Buck” it’s barely interesting enough for the pilot. By the end of the first 22-minute episode, Cindy has already welcomed Buck into the fold, which resolves the most interesting dynamic of the premise; in the two episodes released to critics, there are few other character beats or plot stakes to latch onto.

Plus, in between lightweight kid-related humor about how Buck’s new charges are prone to set the house on fire are some unsettling attempts at darker comedy, particularly about the pressure teen Tia (Iman Benson) feels to both sext with and sex up her “studying partner.” In the pilot, Buck walks in on her taking a selfie with her blouse unbuttoned, and naturally, both parties scream. But the situational humor masks the horror of the situation; it may be common enough, but Tia isn’t even 15 yet. “Uncle Buck” wants to demonstrate Buck’s worthiness as a parental figure, but the show has to skate over a yawing chasm of implication to get there.

In a stronger show, gags like this one — or like a later one, where a “Sunny Scout” cookie sale turns into an operation that suspiciously resembles narcotics distribution — could bring the proverbial house down. But in “Uncle Buck,” which feels both too-thin and warmed-over, the heavier material sinks to the bottom.

On the same network that broadcasts “Black-ish,” one of the few other sitcoms about a black family, “Uncle Buck” mostly serves to demonstrate just how deft the older show is with juggling race-related comedy, family dynamics, and class confusion. What “Black-ish” makes look effortless, “Uncle Buck” struggles with right from the get-go. The new sitcom isn’t bad, it’s just bland; low-impact, lightweight, and nothing to write (or tweet) home about. It’s too bad for Epps, who does his best with a limited role. Maybe there’s a guest spot opening up on “Black-ish”?

TV Review: 'Uncle Buck' Is a Reboot With All the Appeal of Leftovers

More TV

  • WGA West Logo

    Writers Guild Sends Hollywood Agents Proposed Code of Conduct

    Leaders of the Writers Guild of America have sent Hollywood talent agencies a proposed “Code of Conduct” with tough new restrictions on how they operate as agents for writer clients. The WGA made the disclosure Thursday night in an email to its 12,000 members, a day after announcing that it will hold a March 25 [...]

  • Jussie Smollett court

    Jussie Smollett's Attorneys Say He Was Victim of Police 'Spectacle'

    Jussie Smollett’s legal team issued a defiant statement on Thursday night, saying the “Empire” actor feels betrayed by the justice system and hinting at a political motive for his prosecution. Smollett was arrested early Thursday on a felony charge of filing a false police report. He was released after a court hearing on $100,000 bond, [...]

  • Carra Patterson Sarah Levy Paola Lazaro

    Fox Casts Four Leads in 'Patty's Auto' Pilot

    Fox has announced the casting of four lead characters for its multi-cam comedy pilot “Patty’s Auto,” including the eponymous Patty. Inspired by Patrice Banks’ Girls Auto Clinic, an auto repair shop with all female mechanics, the project centers on Patty, the intimidating owner of Patty’s Auto who will be played by “Straight Outta Compton” alumna [...]

  • Adam Pally Abby Elliott

    Adam Pally, Abby Elliott Join Cast of NBC Comedy Pilot 'Uninsured'

    NBC pilot “Uninsured” has cast four of its series regulars, with Adam Pally (“The Mindy Project,” “The President Show”) and Abby Elliott (“Saturday Night Live,” “Odd Mom Out”) playing the young married couple at the center of the show. Pally will play Dave, who is described as a “natural hype man with a good heart.” Elliott [...]

  • Jussie Smollett Appeared in Documentary on

    Jussie Smollett Recently Hosted Doc on Lynching, Filmmaker Talks 'Coincidence'

    In May 2018, Jussie Smollett appeared as the narrator and correspondent in an episode of the Epix documentary series “America Divided” that explored the subject of hate crimes, specifically lynching, in the state of Tennessee. Now that the “Empire” actor has been charged with filing a false police report and Chicago police are convinced he [...]

  • TV News Roundup: CBS All Access

    TV News Roundup: 'Twilight Zone' Reboot Drops First Full Trailer (Watch)

    In today’s TV news roundup, CBS All Access has released the official trailer for the rebooted “Twilight Zone” and Sophia Bush will guest star on “Jane the Virgin.” CASTING More Reviews Sundance Film Review: 'Sea of Shadows' Film Review: 'My Extraordinary Summer With Tess' “One Tree Hill” actress and Time’s Up activist Sophia Bush has [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content