"Grown Ups" might be what the NAACP intended when it urged television executives to put more black folks in prime time. Let's be very clear: It's no "Seinfeld," but it's not "Homeboys From Outer Space" either.
The show, premiering tonight at 8:30 on Channel 20, is the latest offering from UPN. That's the station hitherto known as YOU People's Network because it's home to many of the worst black shows on television.
The series is a coming-of-age comedy that manages to strike all the right Generation Y themes. It's racially diverse, sexually edgy. It has a funky soundtrack, and itty-bitty 23-year-old "Why are we here?" existentialism.
Jaleel White stars as the young professional J. Calvin Frazier. He and boyhood friend Gordon Hammel (Dave Ruby), along with Gordon's wife, Shari (Marissa Ribisi), live across the hall from one another in just-out-of-college digs in Chicago. White, familiar to fans of "Family Matters" as the clownishly exaggerated Steve Urkel, is reminiscent of a younger, more buff Will Smith. And longtime fans of the actor have got to be pleased that someone finally let that brother put some bass in his voice.
At first the chemistry between the two guys seems off; forced like the show's too-loud laugh track. But then the characters settle in and start to grow on you.
Calvin is obsessing about his schoolboy crush on Felicia. She now happens to be making time with the suavely handsome Marcus, who just happens to be a lawyer at the same firm his friend works for.
A funny subplot involves Calvin and his new roommate, Robin (guest star Soleil Moon Frye), each thinking the other is gay. Predictable double-entendres and suggestive repartee ensue, but the duo pull it off with great timing. One scene involves Calvin detailing his attempts to find the G-spot. "Don't get me wrong, I know the Zip code," he says, losing some of his macho swagger because he thinks he's confiding in a lesbian. "I just can't find the exact address. I just keep circlin' the block."
After Calvin bumps into his long-lost love, he urges Gordon to arrange a hook-up. A birthday party brings the whole group together for dinner and foreshadows the love triangle to follow.
White infuses his character with street-smart language and movement, and an authenticity that's quite engaging. And there are a couple of amusing pop-culture parodies like the pottery wheel "Ghost" fantasy with a clump of red meat. It's dangerously close to the edge, but manages to land on the right side of funny without quite falling into cornball.
"Pretty soon somebody offers you something that looks so good on the surface, you have to say yes," Calvin says. "And you don't even stop to think about it."
"Because if you did," Felicia chimes in, "you might say no."
That might sum up how you feel about the baby network, but if you let your defenses down a little, "Grown Ups" has some potential.