If there have been any defining TV trends of the last several years, it’s the resurgence of miniseries (now branded as a limited or anthology series), and an overabundance of remakes — Rush Hour, MacGyver, Lethal Weapon, The X-Files, and Fuller House to name but a few. To be sure, TV has always featured ill-advised series based on movies and older TV, but reboots and remakes have truly defined the premiere seasons of the last few years, and will likely do so for the next few to come. ABC’s comedy Uncle Buck is a part of this new and old tradition, having been disastrously made into a TV series in 1990 (based of course on the 1989 John Hughes movie of the same name starring John Candy). And in 2016, somebody thought, why not try again? Maybe things will be different!
Networks and studios don’t like to take risks. They like sure bets. That’s why the idea of developing an already-known property is more appealing than something new. And yet, it’s also not a guarantee. Uncle Buck might do well, and it might get better. But as it stands, it’s a tone-deaf and forgettable entry into a robust summer season that’s no longer a dumping ground for mediocrity.
Like the 1989 film, ABC’s Uncle Buck focuses on a deadbeat uncle who gets roped into taking care of his brother and sister-in-law’s kids. The plot of the movie is boiled down to 18 minutes in the TV show’s pilot, which is an issue on a number of levels, the most egregious being that the climactic scene that should set up the series not only falls flat, but doesn’t even make sense. A shoehorning in of the car backfiring — a callback to the movie — is also cringe-worthy. At least this TV version of the movie didn’t kill off the parents …
Aside from that, the setup is essentially the same, although the Russells in this story are from Atlanta instead of Indianapolis (though both end up in Chicago), and instead of being a middle class white family, they’re a very wealthy black family. Buck (Mike Epps) is jobless and homeless, once his girlfriend breaks up with him, and ends up as a “manny” to Will (James Lesure) and Alexis’ (Nia Long) three kids — bookish Tia (Iman Benson), oddball Miles (Sayeed Shahidi), and shy yet snappy Maizy (Aalyrah Caldwell).
The pilot is grim, as many comedy pilots are, but that doesn’t give it a pass. Specifically, the show seems aimed at people who think it’s funny that a 6 year old calls a put-together woman a bitch for breaking up with Buck (who is a mess of a human). Buck also calls his teenage niece a bitch, which also sets the basest of baselines for the series. A stinger over the final credits features Buck sneaking in to a bathroom to take a picture of naked teenage boy in order to potentially blackmail him. Though the impetus behind the act comes from a good place, let’s not forget the punchline of this joke is actually an act of child pornography.
Things really couldn’t get any worse from there, and they don’t. But while the second episode available for review creates a pretty fun premise where Buck sets up Maizy’s cookie-selling like a drug operation, it’s a shallow gag, ultimately falling back on corny sitcom tropes that push a need to learn lessons, and for the family to come together after realizing their mistakes. Add wisecracking kids, an uptight mom and a bumbling dad, and you get Sitcom 101: all of the formula, and none of the charm. (Except maybe Mike Epps, but he’s given some pretty terrible material to work with).
Even if the second episode gives a few glimpses at what could be a better show, it’s not enough to wash away the bitter taste from the pilot, or convincingly suggest there really is a better show hiding in this one. Instead, Uncle Buck is a cheap knockoff in every sense, both of the movie and of better sitcoms, and is the latest 80s remake nobody wanted to begin with. When it came to slapping this series together, ABC was as lazy as Buck.
Rating: ★ Poor — A waste of time; clear your DV-R space
Uncle Buck premieres Tuesday, June 14th on ABC.