Comedy with a purpose: It's a beautiful day in 'The Neighborhood'

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Kyla Brewer / TV Media
The cast of "The Neighborhood"

The cast of "The Neighborhood"

At the end of the day, it's nice to kick back and enjoy a few laughs. Watching a TV comedy is a great way to unwind, but some sitcoms are more than just a string of snappy one-liners. A new series takes a humorous look at a serious issue as it tackles racism in America.

Max Greenfield ("New Girl") stars as Dave Johnson, a friendly conflict negotiator from the Midwest who cheerily moves his family to a primarily black neighborhood in L.A. when his wife gets a new job as a school principal in "The Neighborhood," premiering Monday, Oct. 1, on CBS. Unfortunately, his new neighbor Calvin, played by comedy legend Cedric the Entertainer ("The Steve Harvey Show"), isn't happy to see a white family move in next door.

Luckily for Dave, not everyone shares Calvin's point of view. Calvin's gracious wife, Tina (Tichina Arnold, "Everybody Hates Chris"), welcomes the Johnsons to the community. Calvin's young son, Marty (Marcel Spears, "The Mayor"), is happy to see Dave, his wife, Gemma (Beth Behrs, "2 Broke Girls"), and their young son, Grover (Hank Greenspan, "13 Reasons Why"). Meanwhile, Calvin's older unemployed son, Malcolm (Sheaun McKinney, "Great News"), finds it entertaining to watch his frustrated father interact with their new neighbors.

Despite his efforts, Dave just can't seem to ingratiate himself to Calvin, who is convinced that the white family's presence will disrupt the culture of their beloved neighborhood. While "The Neighborhood" could easily rely on the odd-couple banter between Calvin and Dave for predictable laughs and gags, series creator and showrunner Jim Reynolds ("The Big Bang Theory") has said the series has a deeper message. During this year's Television Critics Association summer press tour, he explained that he hoped the sitcom would open a dialogue about race relations.

"This is a traditional sitcom," Reynolds went on to say, "a comfortable and welcoming vehicle to bring people into a safe space and then talk about some difficult issues."

Loosely based on Reynolds' own experience moving his family to a historically black neighborhood in Pasadena, Calif., "The Neighborhood" chronicles Dave's efforts to break through Calvin's gruff exterior to become his friend. Dave may be the friendliest guy in the Midwest, but Calvin is having none of it. Similar to Norman Lear's groundbreaking TV classic "All in the Family," the new comedy isn't afraid to explore hot button issues such as racism and reverse racism.

Cedric the Entertainer has had a huge influence on the show's direction since signing on to the project in March, and Reynolds has given him a lot of credit and praise for his contributions to the show's development. The dialogue between the two men reverberates through the show as the stories are told from the perspectives of both the black and the white families. In a July interview with Variety, the creator said he welcomed the comedian's input.

Sheaun McKinney stars in "The Neighborhood"

Sheaun McKinney stars in "The Neighborhood"

"He gave us the benefit of having an authentic African-American point of view," Reynolds said. He later added: "Cedric and my relationship is kind of a metaphor for the show. He's been instrumental to it."

With a huge star and a noble objective, the comedy shows a lot of promise, but there have been some bumps on the road to prime time. After undergoing a few title changes from "Here Comes the Neighborhood" to "Welcome to the Neighborhood" to its current incarnation, the cast was changed up. In May, it was announced that Greenfield replaced Australian actor Josh Lawson ("House of Lies"), who was originally cast in the role of Dave back in March. Then, in June, reports surfaced that Behrs would take over the role of Gemma Johnson for Dreama Walker ("Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23"), who had been originally cast in April. No definitive reason was given for the recastings other than the fact that CBS wanted to work with Greenfield.

The cast shuffling meant the pilot had to be reshot, and luckily the cast and crew had an industry veteran at the helm. Legendary television director James Burrows, best known for co-creating the TV classic "Cheers," directed both pilots for "The Neighborhood." A Hollywood icon, he's directed more than 50 television pilots, and he reached a significant milestone when he directed his 1,000th TV episode in 2016 with an installment of NBC's "Crowded."

It's clear the network has high hopes for "The Neighborhood." CBS gave the show a series order back in May, and it was featured at the 12th annual PaleyFest Fall Television Previews event in September. In addition to Reynolds and series star Cedric the Entertainer, the show's executive producers include Aaron Kaplan ("The Chi"), Dana Honor ("Me, Myself and I"), Wendi Trilling ("9JKL") and Eric Rhone ("The Honeymooners," 2005).

Just like Calvin's precious neighborhood, Monday nights may never be the same as the Johnson family settles in and adjusts to a new life in the big city. Dave may never win Calvin over, but it should be entertaining to watch him try. Don't miss the premiere of "The Neighborhood," airing Monday, Oct. 1, on CBS.