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With television sitcoms becoming an almost extinct species these days, it might seem like ratings suicide to air a sitcom as old-fashioned as TBS’s “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne,” which debuts tonight. The premise of more than one generation of a close knit African American family living under one roof seems like a blue-collar throwback to “The Cosby Show” or even a show like “What’s Happening.”

The storylines for “Payne” are also standard sitcom fare (tonight’s episode focuses on one of patriarch Curtis Payne’s grandnephews being bullied at school.) So why did TBS buy one hundred episodes of this series–something completely unheard of in Hollywood? Well, as any good comedian will tell you, comedy is all about the delivery. And it’s how Tyler Perry, actor/writer/producer, delivers “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne” that will make the show a hit with his millions of fans.

What “House of Payne” lacks in plot originality, it makes up for with its unique energy and spirit. Most of the cast have worked together with Perry on his other projects, so there is a chemistry and camaraderie among them that naturally spills over into the show–making some of the more over-the-top characters still believable as well as lovable.

And then there is the way Perry infuses those old-fashioned family values like respect, hard work and faith with his irreverent style–particularly in the character of Madea, the sassy older black woman (and favorite Perry character) played by Perry in drag, who makes a hilarious special guest appearance to the Payne household tonight. (Honestly, wouldn’t we all like to be able to speak our minds like Madea at least once in awhile?)

All in all, “Payne” is a harmless enough diversion for a summer series, but where it misses an opportunity to be a little bit more than that is in the way it treats personal struggles by certain family members. There are some genuine opportunities within the story lines to address forgiveness and faith as only close-knit families can, and from the episodes I saw, those opportunities are glossed over quickly. It’d be nice if “Payne” could find the balance between heart and humor that would make the show the memorable home that Perry’s characters deserve.

And if you’d like to spend more time inside “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne,”check out the rest of Beliefnet’s coverage.

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