- Buy the DVD
All photos © Turner Networks
Reviewed by Will Harris
ver the course of the past few years, writer/director Tyler Perry has found himself in the enviable position of having virtually every film with his name attached to it become a significant box office hit. It was inevitable that he’d find a way to score similar success on the small screen. “House of Payne” is, like Perry’s films, essentially critic-proof, with any complaints instantly dismissed by fans of his work. Be aware, however, that non-fans who are interested in finding a legitimately funny sitcom will often have plenty to grumble about.
The show is ostensibly about fireman C.J. Payne (played by Allen Payne) and his family, but you wouldn’t know that from the initial episodes of the series, which put the predominant focus on C.J.’s uncle and fellow fireman, Curtis (LaVan Davis). The status quo of the series changes quickly, however. First, there’s the rib-tickling irony of having C.J.’s house burn down, necessitating that he and his family move in with Uncle Curtis and Aunt Ella (Cassi Davis). Then, things then get oddly sober when it turns out that C.J.’s wife, Janine, is responsible for having burned the house down, due to her addiction to crack!
As you can probably already tell, there’s a very strange dynamic to “House of Payne.” The comparisons to “All in the Family” are inevitable at the beginning, with Curtis being a big blowhard who’s constantly spouting lines that all essentially translate to, “This is my house, and if you don’t like it, you can get the fuck out!” Once Janine vanishes from the scene as a regular, C.J. and the kids take the spotlight more consistently, but Curtis and Ella remain the Archie and Edith of the series, and are unquestionably the driving force of any scene they’re in. As far as the kids go, they’re more or less sitcom clichés – a chubby son (Malik, played by Larramie Shaw) and a smart-mouthed daughter (Jazmine, played by China Anne McClain) – and, truth be told, Allen Payne doesn’t really offer much screen presence. Even so, it’s far more enjoyable to have him on screen than his fellow firefighters down at the station. Every time the show shifts to a work-related plot thread, the comedy is at a minimum, thanks mostly to the woefully unfunny fat white guy of the cast, Bart Hansard.
If we’re supposed to give “House of Payne” a free pass for its good intentions of trying to approach “real” issues -- well, sorry, it just can’t be done. There are some sporadically entertaining lines, such as when Jasmine breaks into Curtis and Ella’s house and robs them, and Curtis identifies the perpetrator by declaring, “The ‘Soul Plane’ DVD is missing. Only a crackhead would steal that movie!” Overall, though, the comedy is barely up to the standards of the old UPN sitcoms from back in the day, and the attempts at social commentary fail across the board.
Better you should go pick up a season of Showtime’s “Soul Food” on DVD than waste your money on “House of Payne.” Even a guest appearance by Madea in every episode couldn’t save this show.
Special Features: There’s one short and thoroughly backslapping featurette, “The House That Tyler Perry Built,” but that’s it.