tv review

Truth Be Told Is a Series of Worthless ‘Jokes’ About Race and Gender

Photo: NBC

Think about some of the culturally propped-up differences between black people and white people, and then think about some socially reinforced differences between men and women. Not the brutalizing violence and degradation — no jokes there! — but like, how men want to look at boobies and stuff, and women are like “whatever!!!!!” Congratulations, this can serve as the backbone for your Truth Be Told spec script. White guys: Should they say the N-word when singing along to “Empire State of Mind”? Black guys: Can they listen to John Mayer? New sitcoms: Are they secretly set six years ago? Truth debuts tonight at 8:30 on NBC.

The show stars Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Vanessa Lachey, Tone Bell, and Bresha Webb as neighbors and husband-and-wife besties who forgo all distinguishing characteristics except the desire to make worthless “jokes” about race. Bell’s Russell is supposed to be a stand-up comedian, which makes his brittle lines more egregious. He accuses an employee at a Chinese restaurant of “Uncle Tom-yumming it,” even though tom yum soup is generally Thai or Laotian, and then gets huffy when the employee doesn’t care that he said thank you “in Chinese,” even though “Chinese” is not a spoken language. This all happens in the first moments of the show, but if you choose to endure, you’ll be subjected to such comic premises as, “Hey, those Jews have so many kids,” “My wife, she keeps having her own ideas and stuff, even though I want to control everything about her,” “What’s the funniest way for a child to mispronounce vagina, and is it buh-gina?,” and “If a woman has ever done any kind of sex work, let’s ostracize and punish her for it.”

On the first episode (the only one made available to critics), the two couples are trying to go to a Jay-Z concert, a plan that could be thwarted by Mitch and Tracy’s inability to find a babysitter. But then they do — except is the babysitter too hot???? Then Russell tells Mitch he’s seen Kimberly the babysitter in porn! They eventually track down said video by searching “amateur interracial orgy.” As the men watch the video, we hear cheesy ‘70s porno music and a whole “did someone order a pizza?” line. That’s … not what anyone would associate with the term “amateur.” But more egregiously, it’s never specified why having been in a porn movie would disqualify Kimberly from being a babysitter. Also not specified: If Tracy needs a night out so badly, why can’t Mitch watch their daughter? If you can’t make sense, at least be hilarious, and if you can’t be hilarious, at least be coherent. Truth instead picks the clumsiest, least emotional, least specific ways to tell its ostensible story. Not a single scene feels authentic, even if we excuse the overexplanations we often see in comedy pilots.

This show is not provocative. It is not a conversation-starter, it is not thoughtful, it is not sharp, it is not enlightening. Truth was initially titled People Are Talking, which seems like a more accurate description of what’s happening on the show. There is no truth-telling, but in a clinical, legal sense, yes, if you look at the screen, it appears that people are indeed talking. Sadly, they are not saying much of anything.

Truth Be Told: A Series of Worthless Race Jokes