The Bottom Line
- Stars Cedric the Entertainer, Niecy Nash, Jazz Raycole, John Beasley, Wesley Jonathan
- Created by Suzanne Martin and Cedric the Entertainer
- Airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. EST starting June 20, 2012, on TV Land
As is the case with all of TV Land’s sitcoms, everything in The Soul Man is a throwback to an earlier style of TV, with fairly obvious and tired jokes, a persistent laugh track and a bland, family-friendly tone. With consistently mediocre writing, these shows tend to stand or fall on the strengths of their casts, and both Cedric and Niecy Nash (who plays Boyce’s wife Lolli) are appealing and relatable. They don’t overdo the broad humor or play to the back row like some TV Land sitcom stars tend to, and they have a relaxed, easy chemistry as a husband and wife who are comfortable and honest with each other.
The sitcom around them is completely uninspired, however, so even though their chemistry is solid, they’re stuck delivering weak jokes and going through the motions of stock sitcom storylines. Their teenage daughter Lyric (Jazz Raycole) wants to learn to drive or appear on My Super Sweet 16; Boyce needs to find something for his retired father (John Beasley) to do so he stops bugging Boyce and Lolli all the time; Boyce makes the wrong move in trying to help Lolli attract customers to her new salon. These stories all proceed in predictable fashions, with simple lessons and family togetherness at the end.
The supporting characters, including Lyric, Boyce’s father and Boyce’s slacker brother, are fairly one-dimensional, and Beasley sometimes overplays his crotchety-old-man shtick. Boyce may be a preacher, but The Soul Man is devoid of any real religious content, so that all he offers are mild platitudes about being a better person. He could just as easily be a teacher or a psychologist. Still, it’s refreshing for a show to engage with religion in even a superficial way, and The Soul Man also offers up one of the only current sitcoms to feature an entirely African-American main cast, which has become increasingly rare, especially on mainstream networks. And it’s still completely accessible to all audiences, something that has become TV Land’s strong suit.
Given the way the show respectfully portrays under-represented demographics, it’s even more disappointing that The Soul Man isn’t a better sitcom. It has a solid foundation in its concept and lead actors, and it airs on a network willing to support and encourage the traditional sitcom format. But the execution just rehashes the same contrivances and punchlines of any number of other TV Land shows, whether originals or repeats from the past.