In the fall of 1990, CBS was about to debut a TV adaptation of John Hughes’ Uncle Buck, and TV critics at TCA had their knickers in a knot because the pilot featured a 6-year-old girl bellowing “You suck!” and using the word “ovulating.”
That was then. In 2016, ABC is about to debut its take on the old John Candy comedy, and critics at TCA were more concerned with the depiction of the newly African American characters, Buck in particular.
Like the movie, the new series, written by Steven Cragg and Brian Bradley, follows Buck Russell (Mike Epps), a man who learns to be an adult by minding the kids of his younger, more successful brother Will (James Lesure) and sister-in-law (Nia Long).
Exec producer Will Packer said the idea was his. “I said, Uncle Buck – what’s happening with that title? That’s an amazing title. I wanted to do a family show and I thought this would be an amazing entry point that would feel authentic. I said to [Cragg and Bradley] ‘What would you do with Uncle Buck?’ “
“We knew we were going to have Mike Epps in the show,” Bradley said, “and it informed the character. The great thing John Hughes did with John Candy – people say parts of that film were not strong, but nobody complained about Uncle Buck.” In the movie, Buck was “sloppy and lazy,” he said, “but the kind of guy we wanted was more of a hustler, and a smooth talker.”
Asked by NPR critic Eric Deggans about possible concerns over stereotypes, Lesure said the portrayals are both comedic and “real.” Said Epps, “There is an Uncle Buck in every race,” adding his Uncle Buck is “speaking for all the Uncles Bucks.”
Deggans also pointed out that the series does not specifically address race or color. “Of course we had those conversations,” Bradley responded. “In 2016 you can’t not have that conversation. We always thought it was a family show. Yes, it involves a black family…We could replace it with a family of any ethnicity. We’re really focused on stories about (Buck’s) relationship with the kids and the parents.”
Packer added that the series will address race and culture when the subjects come up authentically. “Absolutely we’re not staying away at all, but it’s most important we get the family right… That’s what audiences are craving, and this network has done an excellent job with its shows on the air, and this on the way.”
On another subject, Epps was asked whether Uncle Buck’s arrival means that Uncle Julius (his character on Startz’ Survivor’s Remorse) has died. Epps joke, “What happened is I asked for some more money and they killed me. That’s usually what happens on TV shows. If you can remember Good Times, that’s what happened.”