The new CBS sitcom The Neighborhood could easily be an Odd Couple-esque sitcom where two different families live next door to each other and hilarity ensues. Although it involves a white family moving into a predominantly black neighborhood, there most certainly will be hilarity, but more importantly, the cultural differences will open a dialogue on the show that will hopefully inform viewers. EP Jim Reynolds joined the stage with EP-star Cedric the Entertainer, Max Greenfield, Beth Behrs, Tichina Arnold, Sheaun McKinney, and Marcel Spears to talk about the comedy and what they hope to achieve with it.
The show is loosely based on executive producer Reynolds’ life when he moved into a neighborhood where him and his family still live. He said he wanted to bring to TV “the power of humanity and the power of kindness and the basic principles of being a good neighbor” — things that we all have learned but sometimes forget. He adds that oftentimes, TV reminds us about the conflict between us instead of bringing commonalities that unite us.
Reynolds is fully aware that people will draw their own conclusions based on the show their own opinions — and he doesn’t mind that. Even so, the show will lead to a certain kind of viewer who are ardent believers of reverse racism is a real thing and that “Black people can be racists too!”
“You can’t really be afraid of that — the idea that people do have biases,” said Cedric the Entertainer, who not only stars but serves as an EP on the show. He also says that the sitcom shows a generational difference when it comes to the Black family versus the white family. He points out that his character comes from a different generation than Greenfield’s. “The black man has to be more callous towards race,” he said, while Greenfield’s character grew up in a world that’s totally different where race is seen in a different context.
Reynolds says that if people see Cedric’s character as racist, it will, in its own weird way, be OK because they are identifying with him and it’s opening a dialogue about race. “If people see themselves reflected in these characters regardless of race, that’s a good thing,” he said.
“So much of what’s perceived as racist is just about being afraid of change and valuing only what you know,” said Reynolds.
To tackle the culture clash story of gentrification, Reynolds says that they have a diverse writers room that is half Black and half White with more woman on their staff than a typical writers room as well as a wide range of ages. “This can’t be another middle-aged white guy’s point of view, ” he said. “This show needs to be a dialogue.”
The panel also addressed the recasting which had Greenfield and Behrs replace Josh Lawson and Dreama Walker who played the couple in the pilot. Behrs said that she did feel guilt on taking over the roles, but was “grateful and humble” for the opportunity.
Greenfield, who had been eyed by CBS for a while, says that the switch happened because there was an “imbalance” and that they needed to find a couple that could keep up with the “incredibly strong cast.” The Mindy Project alum said he was concerned at the daunting task to act opposite Cedric, Arnold, McKinney, and Spears who had a strong chemistry. Fortunately, it seemed like it worked out.
When it comes to what the show is trying to convey, Reynolds says, “We can get along, but it’s not always easy.”
Arnold adds that there are different conversations happening in Black households and white households and that the show will “bridge some gaps that are necessary to bridge.”
“We’re not solving problems, but opening dialogue in a very comedic way,” adds McKinney.
Greenfield chimes in saying that “organic and authentic” conversations are also happening on set. “I’m having discussions I never had before,” he said. “All of us will come out different people and we hope that the audiece does too.”
Written by Reynolds and directed by James Burrows, The Neighborhood hails from Kapital Entertainment and CBS TV Studios. It stars Cedric the Entertainer as Calvin Butler, an opinionated neighbor, when Dave Johnson (Greenfield), the friendliest guy in the Midwest, moves his family to a neighborhood in Los Angeles where not everyone looks like him or appreciates his extreme neighborliness. Behrs plays Dave’s wife Gemma.
The Neighborhood premieres Monday, October 1 on CBS.