Mike Epps gets first starring role in ‘Uncle Buck’ (ABC, June 14)

UNCLE BUCK - Pilot Gallery (ABC/Mitchell Haaseth) JAMES LESURE, SAYID SHAHIDI, AALYRAH CALDWELL, NIA LONG, IMAN BENSON, MIKE EPPS

UNCLE BUCK – Pilot Gallery (ABC/Mitchell Haaseth)
JAMES LESURE, SAYID SHAHIDI, AALYRAH CALDWELL, NIA LONG, IMAN BENSON, MIKE EPPS

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Tuesday, June 14, 2016

I struck out trying to get an interview with Mike Epps, star of ABC’s “Uncle Buck,” debuting at 9 p.m. Tuesday night after the revamped “To Tell the Truth.”

But I got to screen the first episode in advance. Here are some facts and observations:

Uncle Buck john Candy

1- John Candy anyone? This is yet another TV show based on a movie. That’s hardly a recipe for success. (See CBS’s recent effort “Rush Hour”). The original 1989 comedy was created by the late great John Hughes and starred the late John Candy. It also included a pre-“Home Alone’ Macauley Culkin. Candy plays a slacker asked to take care of his brother’s three kids and the movie chronicles those travails. The film got okay reviews and did fairly well at the box office but 27 years later is hardly considered a classic.

2- But not at all like “Rush Hour.” “Rush Hour”starring Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan has remained a popular mainstay 18 years after its release and led to two sequels. That’s a shadow the CBS version was unable to overcome. ‘Uncle Buck” has no such issue and only occasionally shown on TV. (It’s also not available on Netflix..) This means most viewers will likely see this new version without memories of the old one.

Mike Epps with Erica Ash on "Survivor's Remorse"on Starz. CREDIT: Starz

Mike Epps with Erica Ash on “Survivor’s Remorse”on Starz. CREDIT: Starz

3-Mike Epps spreading his wings. The veteran comic is well known among black audiences and shined as wacky Uncle Julius in Starz’ comedy “Survivor’s Remorse,” shot and set in Atlanta. But that is an ensemble cast and Epps was a secondary (albeit hilarious) character. This show gives Epps the opportunity to be the lead for the first time on a much bigger network. Epps told television critics in January that he thirsted for a bigger stage – and more money. When I spoke with “Survivor’s Remorse” creator Mike O’Malley (“Yes, Dear,” “Glee”) this spring, he said he agreed to let Epps go because it was best for Epps – even if it wasn’t necessarily best for “Survivor’s Remorse.” “Mike Epps is a star. Mike should in the center of his own show and he wanted to be the center of his own show,” said O’Malley to me on set in Buckhead. “He came to me and said, ‘I have this tremendous opportunity. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. Can you let me out of my contract?’ He’s very very popular but I’m an actor, too, and I know what opportunities mean to actors. Mike’s been around a long time. Starz graciously let him of his contract.” So Uncle Julius is gone. But Uncle Buck lives.

4- Uncle Buck is a well-meaning doofus. Epps plays Uncle Buck as purely likable, a man who can’t fathom nine-to-five work and shies away from responsibility with a wink and a smile. His girlfriend pressures him to meet with her dad so he can get a regular job selling “men’s shapewear.” When his brother (James Lesure of “Las Vegas” fame) calls and asks him to babysit their three kids at the last second, he jumps at the opportunity as less burdensome. Mom (Nia Long) disapproves but has no choice. The kids had already scared off previous babysitters but Buck is too nice a guy to care. When he has a “business” opportunity, he decides to bring the three under-age kids to a bar, where the littlest one learns to twerk and the oldest girl runs off to a party to hang with the cocky high school stud. It’s all in good fun. In classic ABC sitcom fashion, everything works out in the end. And unlike the film, Uncle Buck moves in as the full-time babysitter.

5- Being a summer series a good sign or not? Not too long ago, broadcast networks only dumped less-than-quality fare in the summer, especially their scripted efforts. But ABC had success with “Rookie Blue” and CBS garnered a huge hit in 2013 with “Under the Dome.” I can’t recall the last time a broadcast network had a sitcom hit big in the summer. The advantage of being on in the summer is (marginally) less competition but then again, the cable networks swoop in with plenty of quality fare at this time of year. ABC is clearly hoping fans of Epps will give the family-friendly show a shot and bring in enough viewers to survive, perhaps even encouraging the network to place it into the regular season line up. It seems like it would pair nicely with other ABC family comedies such as ‘Fresh Off the Boat,” “The Goldbergs,” “Black-ish” and “The Middle.”

6- Strong Atlanta connection. The very busy Will Packer, the Atlanta executive behind “Stomp the Yard,” “Ride Along” and “Think Like a Man,” is also an executive for this sitcom.

7- Can “Uncle Buck” buck some bad reviews? A.V. Club said it has “neither a unique style nor an interesting perspective” and “none of the movie’s charm made it to the series.”  Collider’s headline says it all: “Lazy as Buck.” NPR is kinder, saying the cast “has solid chemistry and gets some decent jokes.” Metacritic, which combines TV reviewers scores, gave it a not-so-hot 37 out of 100.

TV PREVIEW

“Uncle Buck,” 9 p.m. Tuesdays, ABC, starting June 14, 2016


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