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South Central

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Few sitcoms have been as ambitious and nervy as South Central, a show about a single mother trying to raise her three children in inner-city Los Angeles. Joan Mosley (Tina Lifford) has been unemployed for a month, a fact she’s trying to keep from her teenage son, Andre (Larenz Tate); daughter, Tasha (Tasha Scott); and 6-year-old foster son, Deion (Keith Mbulo). Tasha wants money to buy a stylish jacket and gets angry when her mother says no; Joan doesn’t have the heart to tell her that she’s already bouncing checks at the grocery store. Andre wants an electronic beeper, but his mother forbids it, saying it will only make the LAPD think he’s a drug dealer: ”Why don’t you just carry a sign saying, ‘I’m young, I’m black, I’m stupid; shoot me’?” Does this sound like a downer? It’s not.

South Central, created by Ralph Farquhar (Married With Children) and Michael J. Weithorn (Family Ties), is unusually frank about the problems of the poor and the struggling, and is wise about the complexities of family life. Every role is wonderfully acted. On the basis of one episode, it is impossible to tell whether South Central will sustain its delicate tone-this is the only prime-time half-hour that seesaws between riotous hilarity and abject despair-but it deserves the best of luck. A-

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