You'll want to take a seat in this barbershop

'CUTS' bestows much neater image on Baltimore

Television

February 13, 2005|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

He's black; she's white. He's a barber; she's a party girl. His working-class father built an inner-city Baltimore barbershop into a family business. Her wealthy father bought it just as neighborhood real estate prices began to rise.

Now this odd couple is managing a new enterprise, which he envisions as a "barbershop and sports bar with plasma TVs," and she sees as a high-end day spa.

Multiculturalism, mousse, manicures and gender warfare are the elements at play in CUTS, a savvy new sitcom from former Baltimore resident Eunetta T. Boone, that premieres tomorrow night on UPN. And they come together -- in the pilot at least -- to make one of the more promising comedic explorations of race and class on weekly network television.

With four series featuring primarily African-American casts, Monday night on UPN has become one of the most racially defined territories on the prime-time landscape. While some analysts have praised the network for showcasing African- American characters (at a time when the medium is still remarkably white), others have criticized it for creating a Monday night "ghetto." The criticism includes the claim that such programming divides the nation along color lines rather than bringing different demographic groups together to share the viewing experience.

CUTS slices through that argument in premise, execution and acting. The sitcom should appeal as much to young white viewers as it does to people of color. Much of the credit for that goes to Shannon Elizabeth (American Pie) who plays Tiffany Sherwood, the white half of the mismatched management team.

Sitcoms that feature predominantly African-American casts often include one or two cartoonish white characters -- who are stupid or mean. Tiffany is no brain surgeon -- in fact, there's a lot of Paris Hilton in her -- but she's not an idiot either. She's sensitive to issues of diversity and she respects others. By the end of the pilot, one comes to believe she can work with Kevin Barnes (Marques Houston) to make a go of their salon.

Elizabeth has something else going for her: She's hot. The camera lovingly follows Elizabeth's character in the pilot as she moves in and out of tight sweaters, slinky dresses and short skirts.

Boone, a former sportswriter for the Evening Sun, is one of the executive producers for CUTS, which explains the Baltimore setting. Her other Monday night UPN sitcom, One on One, featuring Flex Alexander as a single father raising a teen daughter, is also set in Baltimore (though both shows are filmed in Los Angeles). The location, she said in a Sun interview, is a function of her writing about things she knows.

Even though the action never leaves the salon in the pilot, Baltimore is regularly referenced through dialogue and character. A city building inspector helps Kevin and Tiffany find a way to open the salon, even though they have run out of money for needed repairs.

Supporting characters who work in the salon, as well as others who drop in during the pilot, suggest a vibrant multicultural community built on shared economic interests and respect.

Those who have complained about the way Baltimore has been depicted in urban dramas in the last decade should find this sunnier sitcom view of the city more to their liking. The thing to remember: Like the dramas, this, too, is TV fiction.

CUTS

When: Tomorrow at 8:30 p.m.

Where: WUTB (Channel 24).

In brief: A savvy comic take on multiculturalism in a Baltimore hair salon.

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