[This is a review of the Uncle Buck series premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]
Now widely considered to be a classic comedy of the 1980s, John Hughes' Uncle Buck, starring the late John Candy, is certainly beloved by a large number of Candy and Hughes fans, fans who might have considered the property untouchable when it came to a remake or a reboot. Well, as we all know, these days being "untouchable" doesn't really exist (just look at some of the movies that have been rebooted for TV within the past year). But even with that in mind, ABC's choice to adapt Uncle Buck as a sitcom seemed a little odd, given that CBS was unsuccessful with its own Uncle Buck series starring comedian Kevin Meaney in 1990, a series that lasted just one season. So, the most obvious question coming into the Uncle Buck hour-long series premiere was simply: Why?
For ABC execs, the answer was likely that Uncle Buck's source material seems like perfect fodder for your traditional sitcom. And in a lot of ways, it is -- at least on paper. Simply combine a classic fish-out-of-water premise -- involving a slacker who can't even take care of himself forced into a position to look after his brother's kids -- with an Odd Couple-like pairing of suburban children and an unkempt, unemployed man; and you have comedy gold, right?
Unfortunately, the property's latest iteration doesn't provide a satisfactory or substantive answer on why Uncle Buck needed to come back to television. While it boasts a likeable cast -- with popular comedian Mike Epps (The Hangover, Survivor's Remorse) in the titular role -- most of the comedy in the pilot and the episode that follows, titled 'Li'l Scarface,' is uninspired, obvious, or forced. Even some of the original jokes specific to this version -- like Buck teaching his youngest niece Maizy (Aalyrah Caldwell) to operate a girl scout cookie salesforce like a street gang or drug cartel, or when Buck mistakes the powdered sugar from a doughnut to be cocaine -- seem off-base for the general family-friendly audience the series appears to be shooting for.
Perhaps even worse is the pilot's insistence on recycling nearly all of the most famous and popular bits from the original film, making only minor updates, like having Buck use a chainsaw instead of a drill to rescue Tia (Iman Benson) from her boyfriend's party. Sure, there will be many viewers coming to the show unfamiliar of the film version, but if we knew ABC's Uncle Buck would tread the same comedic ground, many of us would have likely recommended the original film instead (hey, it's not that outdated).
On the positive side, the premiere isn't completely devoid of laughs or even charm. Buck's refusal to his sister-in-law's offer to give him money, "I have some scratch-offs in the car. I'm pretty confident about them," and Buck's girlfriend's constant reminder that her dad sells men's shape wear and not Spanx are a couple of the premiere's standout lines.
Meanwhile, Epps is serviceable in the role, and the children have enough chemistry between them to sell their sibling-rivalry-based relationships. And when they're onscreen, the Russell parents, Alexis (Nia Long) and Will (James Lesure), lend two of the better overall performances to the show.
Still, the few laughs the show does have are fleeting and mostly forgotten, only to be replaced by the types of life-lessons seen on most sticoms. In the second episode, the parents predictably get too involved in selling the girl scout cookies for Maizy, only to later, and even more predictably, discover that they made the whole thing too much about themselves, and that they should have let Maizy do what she wanted. Needless to say, hopes are not high for anything more profound or original in the weeks to come.
Uncle Buck season 1 continues next Tuesday with 'Ride Along' @9pm on ABC.