ATLANTA — Netflix continues its assault on every nook and cranny of TV land with its first African-American family sitcom in "Family Reunion," the type of show the WB specialized in during the 1990s.
In fact, the show features Tia Mowry, who starred with her twin sister Tamara in "Sister Sister" two decades ago, and Emmy-winning actress Loretta Devine, better known for her dramatic work in "Boston Public" and "Grey's Anatomy" but did have a nifty turn on NBC's shot-lived but well-liked "The Carmichael Show" as the lead character's mom.
Mowry's last big role as the lead in the show "The Game" (the CW and BET) took her to Atlanta from 2010 to 2015.
In this case, the 40-year-old actress plays a Seattle mom, Cocoa, with four kids ages 8 to 16. They attend a family reunion in Columbus, Georgia, and love it so much they decide to move there.
Cocoa's mama's boy hubby Moz (Anthony Alabi), in an echo to Mowry's "The Game" character, is a pro athlete. The mom? Devine's M'Dear, the matriarch in Columbus. M'Dear is appalled that Cocoa and Moz have a more permissive 2019 New Age vibe to their "new school" parenting.
"The jails are full of new-school kids who need their butts whipped," M'Dear complains at one point during the first episode.
And (gasp!) they don't attend church although Moz's dad is a pastor — and played by "Shaft" legend Richard Roundtree.
But the conflict doesn't cut too deep. Even their 16-year-old smartphone-loving daughter's resistance to the South eventually breaks down.
Mowry said she has no problem relating to her Cocoa character.
"She was a cheerleader growing up," Mowry said. "The popular girl. She loves everything about motherhood and parenting. She's all about going with the flow with life. She loves yoga. She loves all different types of religions. She's non-judgmental. She shares clothes with her daughter. That's how I am in real life. It's refreshing and fun to see this non-traditional family being put in this fish-out-of-water situation."
These are the types of fun-loving parents who instead of yelling at their kids go out of their way to embarrass them. So when they find out their teen girl is at a party without telling them, they crash the party and dance.
Mowry also loves how the sitcom is infused with African-American culture unapologetically, be it about afros, the "Black Lives Matters" movement and sweet potato pie — all referenced in the debut episode.
"Netflix gives a lot of freedom in regards to creating your own voice," Mowry said. The writers room is all Black. "All these writers have lived the moments in the stories. It's all very real, down to the dialogue."
Netflix sitcoms are not held to the broadcast/cable standard of 22 minutes and 30 seconds (after commercials). The first episode is 32 minutes long. "If a scene needs more time, Netflix gives us that time," she said.
The first season is available Wednesday, July 10. — (Cox Newspapers via The New York Times)