The Upshaws review: A fresh, funny family sitcom
Kim Fields, Mike Epps, and Wanda Sykes star in the new Netflix comedy about a modern Indiana family.
Sometimes, reinvention means going back to basics. The Upshaws, co-created by Regina Y. Hicks (Girlfriends, Insecure) and comedian-actress-writer Wanda Sykes, juices the multicamera-family-sitcom model with fresh dynamics, depth, and genuine laughs.
Mike Epps stars as Bennie Upshaw, a working-class mechanic living in Indianapolis with his wife, Regina (Kim Fields). Before the pilot has reached the 10-minute mark, we have a complete picture of the family's rich and complex backstory: Bennie and Regina have two daughters, 13-year-old Aaliyah (Khali Spraggins) and 6-year-old Maya (Journey Christine), as well as a grown son, Bernard Jr. (Jermelle Simon), who was born while they were in high school. Regina's older sister, Lucretia (Sykes), thinks Bennie is a good-for-nothing, primarily because he had a fourth child, Kelvin (Diamond Lyons), with a different woman the year Aaliyah was born. (Aaliyah refers to her half-brother as her "ghetto twin.")
Both Sykes and Hicks have more than two decades of TV on their résumés, and The Upshaws (premiering May 12) benefits from their sitcom expertise. (Note to parents: This may look like a traditional family sitcom, but it's Netflix, so the characters use profanity at their leisure.) There's an old-school, Norman Lear-style rhythm to the writing, particularly in Bennie and Lucretia's ongoing insult-a-thon. ("Shouldn't you be somewhere stomping on Tokyo?") And Gabrielle Dennis (A Black Lady Sketch Show) is cheeky perfection as Bennie's "baby mama," Tasha.
But it's TV treasure Fields who holds The Upshaws together. Regina is a three-dimensional character with relatable life struggles: She's got 20 years' experience as a hospital administrator, but she's passed over for a promotion because she doesn't have an MBA. She's happy with Bennie, but still grapples with resentment over the Tasha situation, and the many ways it complicates her family's life. Fields is a master of the "because I said so" death glare, and she and Epps have a sweet comic chemistry. But she shines in the dramatic moments, too, bringing authenticity to Regina's emotional intricacies. In most family comedies, Regina would be there to roll her eyes at Bennie's antics. On The Upshaws, Bennie's antics make us root for his wife all the more. B+