Anchored by Terry Crews (the droll, muscle-bound father from Everybody Hates Chris) and Essence Atkins (the star of the forgotten but great ‘90s relic Smart Guy), TBS’s Are We There Yet?, based on the 2005 feature film of the same name, boasts more than enough comedic brain trust to transcend its banal premise. Crisply shot, and boasting an indolent musical score, the show is so tidily boring and suffocating in its predictability that you may develop a new appreciation for Step By Step, another enervated, G-rated sitcom about newlyweds with children.
Crews stars as Nick Persons, a bemused and ill-treated husband and stepfather who works out of the house and receives nothing but flak from his wife of six months, Suzanne (Atkins, tragically lacking any charisma). Her two kids want nothing to do with him, but he still persists in asking them to call him “Dad.” Other obstacles come in the form of a pseudo-gangsta brother-in-law named Terrance (Ice Cube, who brings unfathomable earnestness to the role); Nick’s conceited mother, Marilyn (Telma Hopkins); and a sinisterly bug-eyed white friend, Marty, played by oh-so-riotous comedian and Best Week Ever alum Christian Finnegan.
A few critics have likened the show to My Wife and Kids and According to Jim, and those are apt comparisons, but Are We There Yet? shares far more in common with TBS’s House of Payne, an excruciating Tyler Perry vehicle where everyone takes turns preaching Baptist values and the evils of crack, all while grossly overacting. The cable network obviously longs to transform itself into a flag bearer for the kind of family-oriented African-American humor that made The Bernie Mac Show and Everybody Hates Chris so beloved, but instead of offering up potent situational comedy, Are We There Yet? is so unimaginative, so riddled with obvious pop-culture references (Tiger Woods and Hallie Berry are both riffed on), it practically demands to be ignored.
The acting doesn’t help. On Everybody Hates Chris, Crews was perhaps the most colorful sitcom dad since Dan Conner. Here, he does little except scrounge his forehead and spout step-fatherly truisms (“I’m here to help,” “I love you kids”). He’s well intentioned but one-dimensional. His relationship with the cold, snide Suzanne lacks any of the passion and humor that viewers came to expect from Dan and Roseanne, Lucy and Dezi, Archie and Edith, Stanley and Helen, George and Weezy, or Florida and James. Nick prepares waffles; Suzanne greets him with aloofness and resistance. That’s it. For a piece of old-school sitcom traditionalism, Are We There Yet? gets the concepts of family and marriage all wrong.