The new CBS series The Neighborhood could easily be an Odd Couple-esque sitcom in which two very different families live next door to one another, and hilarity ensues. The comedy about a white family moving into a predominantly black neighborhood will certainly go for laughs, but producers said at TCA today that they hope the show opens a dialogue as well.
EP Jim Reynolds joined the TCA stage with star and exec producer 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 his current neighborhood. It stars Cedric the Entertainer as Calvin Butler, opinionated neighbor to Dave Johnson (Greenfield), the friendliest guy in the Midwest who moves his family to a a Los Angeles neighborhood where not everyone looks like him or appreciates his extreme neighborliness. Behrs plays Dave’s wife Gemma.
Reynolds 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 sometimes forget.
Reynolds is fully aware that people will draw their own conclusions based on their own opinions — which he welcomes. That includes viewers who believe 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. He said the sitcom shows generational differences too, with his character of a different age than the one played by Greenfield. “The black man has to be more callous towards race,” he said.
Reynolds says it’s okay if people see Cedric’s character as racist, because it opens a dialogue. “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 of gentrification, Reynolds said the show has a racially, generationally and gender diverse writers room. “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 the pilot’s Josh Lawson and Dreama Walker. Behrs said that she did feel guilty, 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” in the “incredibly strong cast.” The Mindy Project alum said he was initially concerned at the daunting task of acting opposite Cedric, Arnold, McKinney, and Spears.
When it comes to what the show is trying to convey, Reynolds said, “We can get along, but it’s not always easy.” Arnold added that there are different conversations happening in black and white households and that the show will “bridge some gaps that are necessary to bridge.”
Greenfield chimed in 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 audience does too.”
Written by Reynolds and directed by James Burrows, The Neighborhood hails from Kapital Entertainment and CBS TV Studios.
The Neighborhood premieres Monday, October 1 on CBS.