For the past few days, I had noticed a series of annoying promos for The Soul Man–a new sitcom on TV Land starring Cedric The Entertainer and Niecy Nash. In the show, Cedric The Entertainer plays Pastor Boyce Valentine, a famous 80’s R&B singer best known for the risque song “Sex Wichoo.” After years in the spotlight, Boyce chooses to return home to St. Louis in order to take over his aging father Barton’s church upon finally surrendering to the call to ministry. (20 years earlier, Boyce had dropped out of seminary to pursue his music career.) Niecy Nash plays his wife Lolli, who he met in his R&B heyday.
When I sat down to watch The Soul Man last night, I was prepared to dislike the show. Sitcoms typically have a history of misrepresenting the African American church experience in the name of humor. Given that The Soul Man airs on TV Land instead of regular network television, my expectations were even lower. I had intended on writing up a scathing review based on my feelings about aspects of the promos alone (mostly dealing with the portrayal of Boyce and Lolli’s relationship). However, I was pleasantly surprised when I finally saw the pilot episode.
The pilot episode focused largely on Boyce, Lolli, and their teenage daughter Lyric (played by Jazz Raycole who is best known as the original Claire on My Wife and Kids) and their efforts to adjust to life after R&B stardom. While Boyce deals with criticism from his former pastor father Barton (played by John Beasley who is best known for his role on Everwood) and freeloading from his younger brother Stamps (played by Wesley Jonathan who is best known for his roles on City Guys, What I Like About You, and Roll Bounce), Lolli deals with the fact that the church women just don’t like her because they wanted Boyce to marry someone from within the congregation. (One lady is still holding out hope that she and Boyce will get married even though Boyce and Lolli have been married for 18 years.)
Although I am still convinced that Niecy Nash overacts a bit, the The Soul Man gives an almost realistic portrayal of the issues that facing new ministers. Church people can be petty and territorial. Family members can often have their own set of faulty motivations that need to be avoided. Congregants can end up being in need at the most inopportune of moments (as Boyce finds out during the pilot). Indeed, it was exciting for me to see a positive African American sitcom that represents this side of our culture on the air. After all, shows on “other cable networks” have left much to be desired. Nonetheless, I acknowledge that this was only the first episode. While the show is off to a decent start, there is plenty of room for improvement. Unfortunately, there is also plenty of room for it to descend to disappointing levels of contrived stereotypes and erroneous theology.
For now, I plan to enjoy the show as long as I can. It’s a summer show so it doesn’t get in the way of my usual TV rotation.
What did you think? Did you watch last night?
Check out this promo:
Bonus: Boyce Ballentine’s “Sex Wichoo” Watch at your own risk. No profanity though, but it is clear from the title that it has suggestive lyrics.