This article previously appeared on Crossfader.
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
If you couldn’t guess it, the creatively titled MARLON stars Marlon Wayans, of Scary Movie fame. As the zeitgeist demands, MARLON is semi-autobiographical, but stripped away of any semblance of prestige television. As such, we’re given the tried-and-true boilerplate of yesteryear and treated to a good ol’ fashioned NBC sitcom. Marlon’s kids, Marley (Notlim Taylor) and Zack (Amir O’Neil) are cute! Marlon’s ex-wife, Ashley (Essence Atkins), hates him, but really still loves him and finds him charming! Antics ensue as Marlon navigates being a part of the family despite not living in the same house as Ashley! It’s a goldmine!
IT’S *CLAP EMOJI* A *CLAP EMOJI* GOLDMINE!
Wayans is a comedian with a surprisingly deep filmography, so while hearing that he got his own sitcom in 2017 briefly raised my eyebrows, I can’t claim it’s unprecedented. That being said, this can’t help but feel like a project better suited to a decade or so ago. What’s his star power riding off of these days? The Haunted House films? Nevertheless, Wayans steers the ship as amiably as he can. Steering the ship may consist of turning in the performance of an overacted man-child, but I think that’s more-or-less what we seek out Wayans projects for. In fact, sometime his overblown hysteria does inspire a genuine smile, such as the scene in the restaurant where he discovers Ashley on a date. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it delivers what I expected, and that’s more than can be said for most things. Besides, Wayans demonstrates an unexpected emotional vulnerability that rears its head on occasion when he makes it clear he truly does fear being shut out of his family.
But there’s just not enough substance to sink your teeth into either way. To its credit, the pilot does adequately set up what are sure to be future avenues of tension as Marlon navigates Ashley moving on from him, but it feels like every bit of potential humor has already been introduced and put to bed. There’s only so much high-pitched caterwauling I can take before things become obnoxious, and Ashley so clearly still has feelings for Marlon that it’s nowhere near tense enough to keep me tuning in week after week to see what mild twists and turns their relationship embarks upon. In addition, the show sneaks in snippets of social commentary that feel incongruous with the rest of the project from a tonal perspective. I can’t possibly sit here and claim that Marlon Wayans isn’t qualified or warranted in terms of discussing race relations, but the nuggets of wisdom dropped are so out of left-field and unexpected that it leaves the head reeling. While Wayans teaching Marley how to deal with white girls is a mildly humorous bit with payoff, it ends up dealing in its own hand of stereotypes, as Wayans encourages her to “go ghetto”; and you better believe he demonstrates as such. Multiple times over. It’s really the only running gag the pilot has.
Marlon attempting to prevent his wife from moving on from their marriage in a healthy manner didn’t translate well, I guess
On the topic of Marley, however, MARLON at least managed to get actors with some legitimate chops. It’s not exactly like they’re given Shakespearean theater to work with, but Essence Atkins exudes a palpable amount of stretched exasperation, and Notlim Taylor and Amir O’Neil are notably better than many of their peers. And gosh darn it if O’Neil’s smile isn’t just infectious! The only stinker is Ashley’s friend, Yvette (Bresha Webb). Already featuring a rather unsavory subtext of Wayans constantly referring to her as a “ho,” Yvette… never really showcases even a hint of her prescribed behavior! She wants to take Ashley out to help her move on from the divorce, which is honestly a perfectly reasonable thing for a friend to do, but the show instead vilifies her and plays up her Born Again Christianity, the weakest streak of humor in the show as seen so far.
There is nobody on God’s Green Earth that heard about MARLON and thought, “Hmm, that seems like something that Thomas Seraydarian was going to like.” I hate to play into your expectations of me, but you were right. Sure, if I was 14 and home sick from school and this was on, I wouldn’t fight through my foggy medicine head to turn it off. But you know what, MARLON airs at 9:30 PM on Wednesdays and I’m 23, so I have no time for it. Next!
MARLON airs on Wednesdays on NBC