In “Marlon,” comedian Marlon Wayans plays Marlon Wayne, a social-media savvy celebrity just famous enough to get recognized occasionally. Each episode of the multi-camera sitcom starts with Marlon directly addressing his followers in a jokey video that introduces them to his family and friends. That flourish of digital media has a way of making the sitcom feel even more dated, but although in most ways “Marlon” is a run-of-the-mill family sitcom, what makes it interesting is that Marlon is trying to co-parent his children while navigating an amicable divorce with his ex-wife Ashley (Essence Atkins). That reinterpretation of the foundation of the family sitcom — a long-suffering marriage — makes “Marlon” a refreshing take on family dynamics.
Everything else about it feels pretty standard: Wayans is a scene-stealing presence, apt to get loud and gesture wildly in his eagerness to poke fun at himself. His performance is kind of a parody of the righteously disgruntled patriarch, because his family mostly ignores him; Ashley is self-sufficient (and in the first episode, going on a date with the very handsome Boris Kedjoe), his bookish daughter Marley (Notlim Taylor) is already a teenager, and little Zachery (Amir O’Neil) has his father’s resilient attitude in spades. But as the first few episodes indicate, Marlon needs them for his own sense of home, and even though his marriage with Ashley is over, he still wants to feel like he is a part of their lives. Most of the show is spent watching Wayans have a feeling, while the family members around him patiently wait for him to get through it. Then they find their way to an ending where everyone’s briefly on the same page, with sitcom-ready hugs in front of the couch.
It’s notable that NBC is launching another black family comedy just a couple months after “The Carmichael Show” was canceled. Both are multi-cams about black families centered on the male comedian at the center; NBC launched “The Carmichael Show” in a similar three-week August run in 2015. Otherwise, “Marlon” is a very different show, without any of the hot-button conversations of the previous show. Indeed “Marlon” swings in the other direction: It might be too inoffensive. Wayans’ performance is so outsized that it’s impossible to take him seriously; it’s like his character absorbs conflict, taking discord out of commission the way a bodyguard takes a stray bullet. “Marlon” is a steadfastly more comforting show — but it is less interesting, too.