By Paul Katz
Updated May 19, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

Give Tyler Perry credit for half an innovative sitcom. The writer-actor created (but doesn’t appear in) House of Payne, a series with a bleak premise about a fireman (Allen Payne) and his two kids living with his parents after his drug-addicted wife burns down their house. It’s tough to balance humor with these darker themes, and in this first batch of episodes, Perry occasionally pulls it off — but not without annoying TV moppets, a neighbor channeling Blanche Devereaux, and a grating laugh track. When the show returns in the fall, Perry should unleash Madea on the Payne household. They could use the laugh.