As with almost everything he touches, Tyler Perry's television output has been a boon for Atlanta Superstation TBS. From the moment House of Payne proved that the playwright's "go with God" message could translate into straight-up sitcom gold, the channel has been championing the movie mogul's every output. With his latest - Tyler Perry's For Better or Worse scheduled to start over the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend, it's interesting to note that his most popular series is shutting down for a while. Based on one of his more infamous characters, Meet the Browns saw David Mann recreating his celebrated stage role as the fashion dysfunctional patriarch of the extended family of Mabel "Madea" Simmons. As Leroy Brown, the noted actor and singer soars, especially when given a live audience to work with. Here, as in the previous packaging of the show's first series, Mann and his minders are still getting the hang of things. The rough edges have been smoothed out, but these 30 minutes of mindless moralizing could still use a stronger sense of humor.
This set continues on with the story of Leroy Brown (Mann), a good hearted but goofy man who misread the last wishes of his late father. In a letter to his struggling son, Dad delivers the following missive: "Take care of the old..." What Brown doesn't understand is that the rest of the note reads "...Thunderbird in the garage." Instead, he believes he is mandated to open an old folks home, and goes about getting his daughter Cora (Tamala Mann), his doctor nephew Will (Lamman Rucker) and Will's nurse wife Sasha (Denise Boutte) to help. They call the place "Brown Meadows." Along the way, Brown picks up a pair of orphans named Brianna and Joaquin as well as a Hispanic handyman named Jesus (Antonio Jaramillo) who is studying to be a lawyer.
When a nearby nursing home goes up in flames, Brown Meadows is suddenly overrun with residents. They including a bigger than life B-movie actress named Miss Daisy (K Callan), an ex-military man named Colonel Cleophus Jackson (Tony Vaughn) and the sexually active Ms. Edna (Juanita Jennings). Add in a spoiled heiress named London Sheraton (Arielle Vandenberg) who is serving her community service sentence for DUI at Brown Meadows, and a collection of friends, family, and foils, and you've got the set-up for a standard half-hour laugher. The episodes contained on this three DVD set include the following:
"Meet the Entrepreneur" - Brown wants to market his secret barbeque sauce recipe.
"Meet the Ex" - Will ex-girlfriend, a successful socialite, shows up at Brown Meadows.
"Meet the ER" - Brown gets shot in the butt during a convenience store robbery.
"Meet the Secret" - one of the foster children is being coached by a pedophile.
"Meet the Intervention" - Brown is addicted to the lotto.
"Meet the New Job" - Cora becomes a full time teacher.
"Meet the Gold Digger" - Brown meets a woman who wants more than his heart.
"Meet the Wills" - Will reacts badly to Sasha's mammogram results.
"Meet the Cougars" - a young man falls for Sasha.
"Meet the Thief" - Brown sets up a neighborhood watch.
"Meet the Sweet Tooth" - Cora wants to lose weight, and Sasha helps.
"Meet the Matrimony" - Ms. Edna is engaged!
"Meet the Man and the Mouse" - Will and Sasha want more privacy, and plan to move.
"Meet the Real Dad" - the foster children's real dad shows up from prison.
"Meet the Hubby" - Brown is asked to pose as Edna's husband.
"Meet the HBIC" - it's power struggles among the Brown Meadows' staff.
"Meet the Troublemaker" - Cora must deal with a bullied student...and his gun.
"Meet the Bully" - Brown must deal with a bully's equally aggressive father.
"Meet the Naked Truth" - Brown takes up art - and the Colonel is the model!
"Meet the Two Left Feet" - Will and Sasha take dancing lessons.
Pedophilia...child abuse...urban violence...bullying...these are some of the supposedly hilarious issues tackled by Meet the Browns in this surreal second "season" set. While series overseer Tyler Perry is known for mixing the hilarious (?) with the horrifying, some of the episodes in this collection really push the boundaries of believability. Only the man who made Madea a household name could consider a storyline about a an elderly nursing home operator being injured during an armed robbery to be ripe for comic possibilities. Poor Basil Fawlty only had to contend with a ratty moose head to the skull. Similarly, the '70s and '80s were overrun with "Very Special Episodes" of everyone's favorite laughfests. Few, however, could be prepared for the insinuated sickness of "Meet the Secret" (not even Arnold, Dudley, and Mr. Horton). In fact, as long as Mr. Brown has his two foster kids as part of the predicament, the show seems to love bringing them to the brink of miscreant mother/deadbeat dad disaster.
It's this level of entertainment whiplash which marks Meet the Browns' main failing. We don't want to see our clothing challenged hero hurt, or even worse, spiritually and socially wounded. We want more slapstick and less sacrifice. Yet even Cora, Brown's beloved daughter, has to face down the barrel of a handgun here ("Meet the Troublemaker"). When the series is really swinging, during episodes like "Meet the Entrepreneur," "Meet the Intervention," and "Meet the Sweet Tooth," the need for a nastier edge seems specious at best. But Perry knows his audience, knows that those who come to his work don't expect things to be sunshine, lollipops, and reading rainbows. Instead, they want broad humor and burlesque ("Meet the Naked Truth," "Meet the Hubby") as well as the harrowing headlines that seem to make every struggle seem even more Olympian ("Meet the Wills," "Meet the Bully").
Perhaps if Brown and his residents weren't such collective caricatures, we wouldn't mind. After all, a lot of sitcoms mixed meaningful dialogue about important issues with joke-a-minute merriment. But Meet the Browns can't seem to get the balance right. At one moment, Brown is making as many malapropisms as possible. The next, a young boy is crying over an attempted touch. As Ms. Edna flaunts her aging lust, an angry convict father comes to claim the foster kids. As a newbie to the Perry world, everything appears off balance and slightly strangled. The acting is consistent and comedic, and there are ancillary issues which keep our attention. Besides, it's not that we don't want or don't expect bad things to happen to these people. It's just that the series never suggests why these concepts have to coexist. Comedy is not necessarily meant to be a messenger. It's most viable option is as pure escapist fun. Meet the Browns seems stuck on being both mindless and meaningful. It's a dichotomy that doesn't quite work as well as everyone involved thinks it does.
For the most part, Meet the Browns looks rather good on DVD. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image (indicative of the show's post-HD conversion creation) has a lot of detail and bright colors to boot. The production value is high even if the direction is often uneven and flat. For the most part, the visual element here is as good as you would expect from the digital medium.
Offering both a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix as well as a standard Stereo presentation, the combination of dialogue and other aural elements is handled well here. Of course, many will seem surprised at what sounds like a laugh track (didn't we part ways with those around the time of After M*A*S*H*?), but for the most part, the tech specs provided here live up to their post-millennial making.
Did you read the above comments on Video and Audio? Believe it or not, that's what Lionsgate considers "DVD Features" (no extras, mind you, just 'features'). Otherwise, there is no added content.
If there is a such a thing as spreading oneself too thinly, Tyler Perry just may have achieved said artistic aims. With a couple of films each year as well as a collection of TV shows to oversee, the man is clearly pushing the limits of his creative abilities. While not an outright flop, Meet the Browns is definitely the lesser of his many offerings. Earning a Recommended rating, one must come to the series as a fan. Without said investment, the laughs will be limited and the acceptance of the awfulness almost non-existence. In fact, a Rent It might be more in line with the series' schizophrenic make-up. While hitting its stride, Meet the Browns still suffers from the very things that make Tyler Perry beloved...and belittled.