Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of Tyler Perry. I don’t trust people who slap their name on everything, like Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls and Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion (the Ruth’s Chris Steak House of movies). I find Perry’s harmless, well-intentioned Christian-tinged morality plays perfectly suitable for Sunday morning sermonizing, but far too ham-handed for mainstream viewing. I’ve learned from past experience that criticizing the guy leads to all sorts of angry letters from rabid Perry disciples levying accusations of racism and anti-Christian sentiment. But honestly, it all boils down to one thing: I just don’t think the guy is funny.
So, it should come as no surprise that the new TBS sitcom “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne” isn’t all that high on my “must see” list. But it’s summertime, and I either talk about that or the new season of “So You Think You Can Dance.” Tough call.
“Tyler Perry’s House of Payne” is a standard-issue family comedy about a family with a whole bunch of family members who do family things like ... stand around their living room and come up with one-liner insults to sling at one another. Oh, and there’s a lesson at the end of every episode. It’s like a very special episode of “Family Matters,” only without the magical comic stylings of Urkel.
LaVan Davis (a gospel singer and stage actor) headlines as Curtis “Pops” Payne, the irascible head of a middle-class household overrun with freeloading family members. (“House of Payne”—get it?) Occasionally, our protagonist goes to his job as a neighborhood fire chief, but nearly all the jokes in the show involve Payne trying to throw people out of his living room.
The situations Perry dreams up are strictly by-the-book. In the first ep, for example, the young son of Payne’s nephew is being bullied in school. Payne takes it upon himself to set things right. A quick trip to the school reveals ... drum roll, please ... the bully is a girl! If you’ve watched any sitcom since “Leave It to Beaver,” you saw that one coming.
Rabid fans of Perry (and I’ll grant there are plenty) will be ecstatic to note that Perry himself shows up doing his “Madea” character in the first episode. Non-fans will be unhappy to note the exact same thing. Perry is hands-down the worst drag performer in the history of the world—unconvincing, unfunny and often way out of touch with what other performers are doing around him. Perry is clearly improvising his cameo, and keeps tripping himself up. I’d take Martin Lawrence doing his similar Edna “Mama” Payne bit over this stuff any day. God help me, I’d take Jaleel White dressed up as Myrtle Mae Urkel. ... Well, maybe not.
The largely unknown cast stumbles along under Tyler’s slack direction as if this were their first dress rehearsal. The laugh track gooses them along on occasion, but it’s clear the laughs just aren’t there. Bottom line: If you’re a fan, try it out, but set your expectations low. If you’re not a fan ... Well, there’s always “So You Think You Can Dance.”