`Barbershop' shaves off warmth of the original

Television

August 14, 2005|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

Barbershop, which premieres tonight at 10, is Showtime's sitcomization of the film franchise of the same name. It's an obvious move - the films on which it's based are half-sitcom already, taking place mostly on a single set full of colorful characters who talk a lot. But though the TV version catches some of the tone, replicates the topicality and shares executive producers of the big-screen originals, it lacks their grounded reality, as well as their warmth.

It doesn't help that the first episodes warm over incidents from Barbershop 2, as, against his better judgment, shop owner Calvin Palmer (Omar Gooding in for Ice Cube) disastrously hires a relative of his wife, and a new franchise appears to threaten the peace of the neighborhood.

Where Ice Cube played Calvin with depth and seriousness, as conceived here, he is more of a typical sitcom lead, hapless and at the mercy of the eccentrics around him. More critically denatured is Eddie (Barry Shabaka Henley in for Cedric the Entertainer), the old barber whose role in the film as voice of experience and sacred-cow slaughterer drowns here in nonsense and vulgarity.

Where the films embody the qualities they espouse - they're films about decency and respect that are themselves decent and respectful - the sitcom wants to push buttons. Its language is rougher than the originals', and it's more insistent about sexual content.

Still, it's not the worst half-hour on television, and among sitcoms fielded by Showtime it ranks very near the top.

Not the least to be said in its favor is that it's a show about ordinary working people, and a few not-working people - a demographic that TV has largely abandoned. The medium is gripped with dreams of upward mobility, and in such a context, it's refreshing if not radical of Barbershop to suggest that money isn't everything.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

`Barbershop'

When: Tonight at 10

Where: Showtime

In brief: Great movie franchise loses much in translation to cable sitcom

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