Producer: 'You're coming up with a negative angle designed to put us on the defensive'

By James Hibberd
Updated January 12, 2016 at 10:27 PM EST
Michael Yarish/CBS

Rush Hour

  • Movie

CBS’ Rush Hour. Kinda racist? Or no?

Like the hit film franchise on which its based, the upcoming drama series unites two very different cops: one, an obnoxious and fast-talking black officer (Justin Hires replaces Chris Tucker in the role); the other, a tightly wound Chinese law-enforcement official (Jon Foo in for Jackie Chan). During the show’s Television Critics Association’s press tour session in Pasadena on Tuesday, a panel of the cast and producers were asked by a reporter whether such characters are really still appropriate in 2016.

Things grew tense as executive producer Bill Lawrence accused the critic of “coming up [with a] negative angle, which designed to put us on the defensive.”

Specifically the critic, who has seen the show’s first episode, first asked: “When the Rush Hour movies were out, they took criticism for being centered on two character who were really stereotypical. … Watching the pilot, I see you haven’t done much to change those archetypes. At a time where shows are really trying to have a nuanced discussion about race, these characters still feel very stereotypical to me. How are you going to try these archetypes a little bit so that they don’t feel so rooted in these longstanding stereotypes?”

Hires (21 Jump Street) took on the question first: “I am African-American, I’m a comedian, I crack jokes,” he said. “It’s not just that it’s a stereotype; this is the reality of who I am as a person. It depends on who you are. Some people like comedians who are loud and talk fast; other people like comedians are more of a Jerry Seinfeld. There are some people who like comedians more Chris Tucker and Martin Lawrence. I do not think we are showing negative stereotypes at all on this show. I think we’re showing truth about what America is and who we are. A part of that is showing diversity. You might see someone on television that you don’t like.”

Hires added that while he enjoys Empire, some people see Taraji P. Henson’s portrayal of Cookie Lyon and think “she’s not showing the best look” for the black community.

“It really depends on your perception and your perspective of what you enjoy,” he said. “I think we’re showing pretty much an accurate portrayal. If you ever see my stand-up comedy, I’m kind of like that character. I don’t think that I’m being negative toward myself or the African-American community when I’m doing my stand-up comedy nor when I’m acting on my show.”

The critic then countered, “You bring up a good example when you talk about Empire. Even though those characters have a lot of stereotypical aspects to them, they show other sides of the character to subvert the stereotypes and give us a deeper understanding of who the characters are. I did not necessarily see that in this pilot. I’m particularly interested in hearing from the producers who created the show.”

That’s when Lawrence (Cougar Town, Scrubs) stepped in: “I have a track record — I’m very proud of diversity on the writing staff, I’m very proud of the diversity on the show behind the cameras, very proud of the diversity in the crew — and I want to say that not in a defensive way. […] Your question does lead to an answer that is important to us: Pilots, especially when you’re talking about what is — on some level [to do an] hourlong procedural on CBS with action and comedy — if we’re to play those tropes week in and week out … the audience wouldn’t respond to it.”

Continued Lawrence: “When you point out Empire, a show I watch, it’s because things have evolved. If we didn’t do that, you wouldn’t be the only one to call us on it. … All shows change after the pilot. … We see, slowly and surely, the archetypes you see in the pilot [change]; you can’t do the movie over and over for five years. You see Jon’s character become lighter and funnier and poking fun back. You see [Hires’] character being influenced more by Jon’s professionalism and attitude, and come to respect that and want to prove himself there. I’m pretty proud about the trajectory. I expect this show to be on next year.”

Below is the trailer:

Natalie Abrams contributed to this report

Episode Recaps

Rush Hour

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • Brett Ratner