NBC’s new sitcom Truth Be Told is obsessed with “being real” when it comes to talking about race. Unfortunately, it’s also obsessed with being raunchy.
White college ethics professor Mitch will challenge anybody, anywhere, any time, for being politically incorrect – but he’s often brought up short by his best friend and next-door neighbor Russell and Russell’s wife Angie, an African-American couple…and by his own stereotyped assumptions about race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion. Mitch’s own wife, Filipina Tracy, and their four-year-old daughter Sadie, just add to Mitch’s confusion. Can Mitch manage to “keep it real” with his wife and friends, and still avoid falling into the biased thinking he deplores?
The first episode of Truth Be Told was larded with borderline offensive comments. Russell accuses an Asian saleslady at a Chinese take-out of faking a Chinese accent in order to appear more “authentic”; Mitch blasts a parking-lot attendant for racism, since he assumed a Porsche belonged to Mitch and not Russell; Mitch and Russell sing along to Jay-Z, but argue over Mitch’s use of the n-word; and Mitch and his wife mock their Orthodox Jewish neighbors for having five children (Mitch mixing up their name, calling them “the Goldsteins,” and Tracy “the Goldmans”), among other racial comments.
And then there’s the sexual dialogue: four-year-old Sadie repeatedly refers openly to her vagina, saying “I have a rash on my bagina. Daddy, do you have a bagina?” (In fact, every line of dialogue uttered by the little girl contains the word “vagina.” Apparently, the entertainment industry wants to indoctrinate actresses early in what will be expected of them in their future careers – endless references to their body parts, while ignoring their intellects and accomplishments. What a great introduction to Hollywood for a four-year-old girl!) But that’s just the beginning. The main plot of the first episode involves Mitch’s reluctance to hire a “hot babysitter” for Sadie, fearing his wife will be jealous: “The best boobs in the house shold belong to the wife.” Then Russell declares the babysitter has appeared in pornographic movies. The episode concludes with all four adults – Mitch, Russell, Tracy, and Angie – watching a porno film, trying to decide if the woman in it is actually their sitter, or merely looks like her.
In a Paley Center panel, series creator and head writer D.J. Nash claimed that “my white guilt is the fifth character on this show.” (Obviously, Sadie doesn’t count – nor does Sophie Nack, who plays her.) At the panel, Nash talked endlessly about how the series will be “keeping it real” by “talking about things we don’t like to talk about or are uncomfortable with,” under the assumption that people dislike discussing racial stereotypes “because you’ve been taught you shouldn’t talk about it.” The notion that most people are simply being respectful of and polite to those around them, or genuinely don’t CARE about racial differences, seems not to have occurred to the showrunner.
Declaiming about his open-mindedness, Nash also modestly predicted that Truth Be Told will be “our generation’s All in the Family.” Based on the evidence of the first episode, it seems likely that Norman Lear’s place in television history will remain secure.
Truth Be Told premieres Friday, October 16th at 8:30 p.m.. Eastern on NBC.