Sometimes it's readily obvious why a studio will resurrect a movie or TV show for modern audiences to enjoy. A line of dollar signs is usually involved, but sometimes an attempt at artistic integrity will be invoked. But ABC's reimagining of the John Candy hit Uncle Buck seems to have been created because the science doesn't exist for the network to physically clone its current crop of popular and diverse family comedies to keep its schedule filled until the end of time. Thankfully, at least, this generic retread is raised higher thanks to Mike Epps and his raunchy talents leading an equally solid cast.
Uncle Buck doesn't do anything new with the central premise of the film beyond expanding it beyond that time frame, as it sees Epps' quick-talking Buck Russell somewhat reluctantly taking on a position as a guardian (or manny) of his brothers kids, upon which he can slowly instill his morally unkempt worldviews while they inspire him to be a (very slightly) more mature person. It's a super-pigeonholed and uncomplicated concept that presumably won't lend itself well to further development. But for now, sitcom plots!
The pilot/series premiere opens on a wildly unbelievable scene in a bar where Buck is wearing a crown of beer cans and standing in front of a massive beer can pyramid, because what other life is there for a 40-year-old party animal? Cut to a typical family home (for a TV family), where Will Russell and his wife Cindy (played respectively by TV vets James Lesure and Nia Long) want to get out of the house, but their overactive kids have destroyed the fragile old babysitter. Obviously the only to-be-permanent plan of action that could possibly be conceived is that Will's unabashedly bad-for-children brother should hang out for the weekend. Which takes all of ten minutes or so to get to this point.
The younger siblings, Maizy (Aalyrah Caldwell) and Miles (Sayeed Shahldi), are unrealistically precocious, as is the norm with these shows, but they remain cute kids even when their behavior goes wild, which is nice. Their moments with Buck, at least in the episodes screened for review, play more to his reckless and childish side. The oldest of the offspring, Tia (Iman Benson), is just crossing the threshold into her rebellious teenage years, so her connection with Buck also relies on the immature side of his personality. But that makes up the bulk of his personality, so there's enough to go around.
And it's good that this foursome does well together, considering their combined hijinks are the entire premise. (Lesure and Long are around, not to worry, but it's when they're absent that shenanigans ensue.) One episode focused on an out-of-control house party that needed to get spun around before the parents returned home, and another involved Buck building up a Girl Scout cookie-selling empire for Maizy by applying tactics from the world of drug dealers. Neither of those ideas is particularly awful, and perhaps they'd seem fresh and new to anyone who hadn't watched any TV for the past 30 years, but I'm hoping that the writers have at least a couple of ideas that aren't such well-worn staples of kid/teen story arcs. (Okay, the veiled drug references made me laugh a couple of times.) Unfortunately, the fact that every moment exists just beyond the realm of possibility takes away from any genuine feelings an episode might choose to provoke.
When Uncle Buck was first picked up to series last year, as developed by Steven Cragg and Brian Bradley - a decision that flew in the faces of the families of John Candy and John Hughes - it looked like it might land on the fall schedule. And when the first looks were shown, it made full use of Mike Epps' energetic drawl of a portrayal and thankfully didn't try to ape the film (or the previous TV adaptation), meaning it would have made sense paired up with Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat and ABC's other polished-looking single-camera comedies. But the fall passed and it seemed like it might be a midseason add-in.
But here it is, almost summer, and the network is only now bringing Uncle Buck out.for audiences, which is never a good sign. A worse sign? ABC is airing Uncle Buck episodes two at a time, giving it ostensibly no chance to build up any kind of word-of-mouth buzz during its stunted run, while also allowing potential viewers a chance to ask the question, "Why did you order this to begin with if you weren't going to do anything with it?"
That's the kind of treatment that should befall a truly abysmal series completely lacking in anything for audiences to get into, though, and Uncle Buck can be counted on for Mike Epps being there to draw chuckles even when the joke isn't that funny. So while it's not great, it's also not terrible, and it sits right there in the middle. (Arguably not as good as The Middle, though.)
Be sure you stock your fridge with all the essentials, and a few non-essentials, when Uncle Buck premieres on ABC Tuesday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET.