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Thursday, June 12, 2014

DVD Review: The Soul Man: The Complete First Season

I have to admit that I’d never really given Cedric The Entertainer a chance. And that’s due entirely to his name. His real name is Cedric Antonio Kyles. But he uses the name “Cedric The Entertainer” to distinguish himself from the well-respected Cedric The Drywall Repairman and the widely idolized Cedric The Haberdasher. Anyway, enough of that.

The Soul Man is a situation comedy that stars Cedric The Entertainer as Boyce Ballentine, a singer who returns home to become a minister after his father retires. And he is actually quite good, so maybe I’ve been missing out all these years. The series also stars Niecy Nash as Lolli (Boyce’s wife), John Beasley as Barton (Boyce’s father), Wesley Jonathan as Stamps (Boyce’s younger brother), and Jazz Raycole as Lyric (Boyce’s daughter). The Soul Man: The Complete First Season contains the twelve episodes of the first season, as well as some bonus material.

Boyce Ballentine has moved his family from Las Vegas back to St. Louis because he’s received the calling. In the first episode, “Lost In The Move,” his wife and daughter are still trying to get used to the adjustment. Lolli has the first really funny line of the series: “Honey, we’re all having a difficult time on account of your father.” The episode’s title refers to some items of clothing Boyce is looking for, which Lolli says were lost in the move (meaning she tossed them because she didn’t like them).

There are the usual weaknesses inherent in the sitcom format – some lame jokes, simple plotlines and easy solutions. In “Pastor Interference,” when Boyce and Lolli are about to have sex, he says he wants to get freaky, and actually uses the cliché, “I’ll go get the whipped cream.” That might have been freaky or daring four decades ago, but these days only a fourteen-year-old or a Mormon would consider that kinky. But then Boyce saves it by also grabbing a spatula, and then saying: “Now, God, you’re going to hear your name quite a bit. We’re not asking for help. We’re just saying thank you.” That’s great. There are actually a lot of good lines in this series.

Some of the best material is the stuff delivered quickly. Like during an audition in “The Ballentine Hands,” Boyce says “We’ll call you” and Lester immediately says “We won’t.”  And in “To Leave Or Not To Leave,” when Boyce is on the phone with his mother. He says, “Are you trying to tell me dad was fun once?” She immediately responds: “Twice. That’s how you boys got here.” That episode has a lot of funny material, as when Barton tells Boyce, “We should move this church into the twentieth century.” Boyce corrects him, “Twenty-first.” Barton responds, “Even better.”

It is often Barton who has the best lines. Like in “My Old Flame,” he says, “What she don’t know won’t hurt you.” And in one of the best episodes, “J.C. Carpenter’s Gospel Show,” he’s hilarious when he says “Get out of my way, I gotta go kiss somebody.” His delivery is spot-on. By the way, right near the end of that episode, when J.C. steps up to the front of the church, the congregation applauds. Now, when you work as an extra, they want you to be absolutely quiet, and so you have to fake your applause. But check out the guy in the suit on the left side of the screen. While pretending to clap, his hands don’t come within a foot of each other. It’s like he’s kneading a giant hovering invisible ball of dough. It’s hilarious. I watched it eight times.

This show also has a couple of excellent guest stars. Cynthia Stevenson (whom I love in Home For The Holidays and Happiness) appears in “How To Be A Church Lady” as Carolyn, a woman who is engaged to a man at Boyce’s church and tries to fit in. She is delightful, as always. And in the next episode, “Loving Las Vegas,” Tim Reid guest stars as Henry, the manager of the hotel where Boyce and his family stay. (I will always think of Tim Reid as Venus Flytrap, from WKRP In Cincinnati.) He’s great in this episode.

Be sure to watch the closing credits, because some of the songs that play over them are seriously funny. The closing credits feature different songs for different episodes. The song in the episode titled “The God-Fathers” has lines like “I want you/I need you/I just can’t remember your name.” And the closing song in the episode “Loving Las Vegas” is wonderful. It’s a country song with the line, “How can I miss you if you don’t go away.”

Bonus Features

The two-disc DVD set includes interviews with the cast, totaling approximately fourteen minutes. Cedric The Entertainer talks about appearing on Hot In Cleveland (where the character of Boyce originated), and gives some ideas on parenting. Niecy Nash also talks about parenting. And together they discuss their characters’ relationship. They’re really funny and sweet together, by the way. Wesley Jonathan talks about his character. And the cast talks about the music video and about the joy of taping in front of a live audience.

The Soul Man: The Complete First Season is scheduled to be released on July 8, 2014 through Shout! Factory.

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