With it’s crystal-clear picture and contemporary set design, it’s obvious that that Marlon is a sitcom for the modern world. The NBC series, created by Black comedy genius and veteran Marlon Wayans, premiered Wednesday night, and it was a true sign of the times.
The lead character played and named after Wayans is a YouTube vlogger by trade. He has over 6 million subscribers and pays his bills by promoting various products, like non-alcoholic tequila. But for all of it’s modern touches, Marlon is entertaining in the same way that some of my favorite sitcoms of the ‘90s were. It’s richness is firmly rooted in finding joy and laugher in the Black experience. Furthermore, it has added something new to the legacy of representing Black families in the genre.
Marlon is about a recently divorced father of two who, despite his own inappropriateness and irresponsibility, has managed to maintain a healthy relationship with his ex-wife Ashley (Essence Atkins). He is frequently at her home to annoy her and their kids. Meanwhile, at his home, his best friend Steve (Diallo Riddle) — a refined gentleman who is also unemployed and three credits away from a bachelor’s degree — has been crashing with him for two years. These dynamics offer an equally modern take on Black sitcom family.
A couple of Marlon’s contemporary predecessors — like the recently canceled Carmichael Show and even Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns (2009-2011) and House of Payne (2006-2012) — have relied on the premise of close-knit, intergenerational families to anchor their series. It’s a recipe that has worked for Black sitcoms in the past.
Attempting to shake up the idea that all Black people were constantly battling poverty as represented in classics like Good Times (1974-1979) and Sanford & Son (1972-1977) before it, The Cosby Show (1984-1992) introduced the world to Black affluence via the Huxtable family. Helmed by Heathcliff, a gynecologist, and his lawyer wife Claire, they changed the face of Black families on sitcoms. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996) thought to combine these two worlds — poor and extremely upper class — by dumping a street-wise Will (Will Smith) with his wealthy California family. What all of these shows had in common, though, was a nuclear family that included a mother and father who were still together.
On the other hand, shows like Living Single (1993-1988) departed from the wholesome family model by focusing on the lives of four single Black women living in Brooklyn. And Martin (1992-1997) followed the antics of its titular character — a radio show host — and his girlfriend Gina (Tisha Campbell-Martin). These Black sitcoms were racy and youthful in the '90s, an era where wholesomeness and respectability reigned supreme.
Now, in 2017, Marlon has managed to combine both worlds. At Ashley’s house, he is the loving and super playful patriarch. At his place, he is a bachelor with a roommate. And perhaps most importantly, it’s hilarious. His interactions with Ashley remind me of the exchanges between Ray (Tim Reid) and Lisa (Jackée Harry) as they tried to collectively raise Tia (Tia Mowry) and Tamera (Tamera Mowry) on Sister, Sister (1994-1999). His feud with Ashley’s best friend is just like Martin (Martin Lawrence) and Pam’s (Tichina Arnold) constant bickering. Marlon’s carefree spirit and recklessness remind me of Will on Fresh Prince. The middle Wayans brother has created something new that already feels like a classic.
I can’t wait for the moment where Marlon keeps up the tradition and breaks the fourth wall.