Every now and then a show comes along starring one of your favorite legends, and you want it to succeed. You want it to live up to your mind’s hype. You want to will it into being awesome.
And you just can’t.
Joseph Simmons, aka Rev. Run of Run-DMC, is a hip-hop legend and reality TV star. But his latest project is unworthy of his hard-earned reputation. All About the Washingtons, now streaming on Netflix, pulls him and his wife out of reality TV and into a three camera scripted drama. And it just. Doesn’t. Work.
All In The Family
LIke in his hit MTV reality show, he’s joined by his wife Justine (their six real children are replaced here by four kids out of central casting). But unlike in the MTV show, there is no chemistry between the two. The Washingtons is a fictionalized version of their actual life. He plays MC Joey, a road weary rapper ready to retire. So he does a trading places with his wife, also Justine, who wants to get out of the house and pursue her entrepreneurial spirit. But they don’t come across fictionalized, they come across cartoonish.
They are clearly reading and/or reciting their lines, and in a Cocktail Convo, they admitted this was the hardest part in making the jump from reality to scripted. “Just the whole studying lines,” Justine told us, “and how they changed the lines. But we love it. We do love it.”
Hubby Rev. Run echoed those sentiments, and is clearly more comfortable with the first-take only-take of reality. “Rewrites all day long. Taking things that were good and like this isn’t as good as the first thing you wrote and this is the fifth thing.”
Chemistry: It’s Not Just for Science Class
Every time Joe and Justine interact on camera, it feels like they met for the first time at the table read, not like the cute, compatible couple that they are. And their interactions with their kids aren’t any better. The younger stars range in age from precocious elementary to adult professional, though all living at home. This gives lots of opportunity for inter-generational fun. That is semi-exploited in the pilot episode, when his aspiring rapper son wants Dad to give his demo to the record label. Joe tactfully ducks out of the situation and it’s basically ignored until the end of the show.
It’s ironic (sad?) that maybe the most believable moments are between the kids themselves. They are professional actors so it makes sense. One, Wes Anderson, is the son of Anthony Anderson of Black-ish, so it’s in the DNA. It’s not unusual for parents to be the odd ones out in a family sitcom, but it’s true here for all the wrong reasons.
Write and Wrong
But the issues that make this unwatchable television don’t fall squarely on the shoulders of our earnest actors. While the good Reverend and the lovely Justine are learning the skills of being sitcom stars, they should have been surrounded by writers and producers adept in helping them develop their skills and catering to their strengths.
They were not.
As we mentioned, the wannabe wrapper offspring story is used to exploit a generation gap. But other than that, it’s a fairly conflict free environment. Of the episodes made available to The Cocktail ahead of time, we see the kids, despite their age differences, get along. Even though the kids will be getting used to a different power dynamic at home, still get along pretty well with Mom and Dad. The parents adjust to their own life changes with surprising ease.
Sitcoms still need conflict. It doesn’t have to be dramatic, How To Get Away With Murder conflict, but conflict is necessary nonetheless.
The Simmons’s had loving conflict in their reality show, but here it’s just a go along and get along ride. It’s as if the writers thought the reality love would just naturally migrate over to their three cameras and over lit set.
There is literally nothing from what we’ve seen to make us want to go back and binge the rest of the episodes, and not even the laugh track can cajole us to think this has real comedic possibility. Yes, there’s a laugh track.
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
A Hip-Hops Martini. This ode to old skool hip-hop is a dry and floral, deep yet light, this drink is a contradiction and an enigma, to taste it to is realize the complexity of Hennessy and to shed new light on what it can be paired with.