'Truth Be Told': TV Review

People Are Talking - H 2015

People Are Talking - H 2015

It's terrible. Move along.

Two couples talk about race, sitcom-style, on NBC's new comedy starring Mark-Paul Gosselaar.

Let's go for the obvious here because that's exactly what Truth Be Told would do (and does, in its pilot): Truth be told, this show is terrible.

Did you see what I did there? Of course you did — because it was easy and predictable. Unfortunately, NBC doesn't share your keen sense of the lame. Truth Be Told used to be called People Are Talking, but NBC changed it presumably because people would be talking about how terrible it is. But, truth be told, you can't hide how bad this show is by changing its title.

OK, we're done on that front. You get it. NBC does not. On to the problems:

DJ Nash has created a series, based on his life no less, that takes a dated sitcom-style approach to talking about race — rendering the whole show superficial and ringing of, well, untruth. Sitcoms, of course, can engage the subject of race with both honesty and humor, but Truth Be Told is made in a manner that suggests it has no idea that shows like Fresh Off the Boat and Blackish exist. It's a 2015 comedy about race that could have been made in the 1980s or '90s — or even the early '00s — without changing the dialog or plot much at all (with the exception of a Jay Z reference). Nash gets mired in the tropes of "honest" conversations about race on TV from long before shows actually began to get at the subject with nuance and complexity. While TV has taken important strides in addressing ethnicity, sexuality and gender, Truth Be Told feels like an unfortunate throwback.

So why does Truth Be Told exist? This might clear it up for you: It's on NBC. And it airs on a Friday. So its odds at success are pretty slim. Exceptionally slim. In fact, it's NBC. So yeah, forget it.

Apparently the idea that Nash needed to express about his own life is that real friends in the modern world are not afraid to talk about race boldly and frankly with one another, which is probably a bigger lie than anything else you'll discover in Truth Be Told. People want to talk honestly about race about as much as they want to discuss their bathroom habits. But that unfiltered, direct communication is the heart of the working premise. Mitch (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) is married to "ethnically ambiguous" Tracy (Vanessa Lachey). The couple is best friends with Russell (Tone Bell) and Angie (Bresha Webb). Russell is the kind of guy who's sure that a woman working at a Chinese restaurant is faking her accent so people will think the food is better. Angie's the kind of lady whose grapplings with a multicultural world include getting the last name of the Jewish neighbors wrong. If this is how people talk about race, they should talk about something else.

It's easy to be shocked at what NBC has done to comedy in recent times — failing to recognize it, fleeing from it in a hurry or ordering this kind of representation of it — so calling out the network for its decision to go forward with a show like this almost seems like a waste of breath (or words). And yet, really NBC? You read this script and then paid to make it into a full-blown pilot? Then you watched the pilot and actually ordered it? Try watching something on television that doesn't come from your own network once in a while. Truth be told, you might learn something.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine