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Published: Saturday, 8/13/2005

Trying to make the cut

BY MIKE KELLY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
As Romadal (Dan White, right) goofs off, Calvin (Omar Gooding) and Terri (Toni Trucks) work on clients in the Showtime series Barbershop, premiering tomorrow night. As Romadal (Dan White, right) goofs off, Calvin (Omar Gooding) and Terri (Toni Trucks) work on clients in the Showtime series Barbershop, premiering tomorrow night.
ROBERT VOETS/©SHOWTIME Enlarge

When the movie Barbershop came out in 2002, one of the things that made it so remarkable was its sharp contrast to so many previous films with predominantly African-American casts.

Where other films purported to show "the black experience" in America by spotlighting some of its worst aspects - drugs, gangs, splintered family life, the violence and hopelessness of "the 'hood" - Barbershop featured intelligent - and sometimes hilarious - dialogue among its characters. And those characters were human beings with some depth, facing the same challenges we all do: to get respect, to get ahead, and, if we're lucky, to be loved.

Even though Jesse Jackson and a few other civil rights voices were offended by some of the comments in the movie, most audiences, both black and white - the movie had solid crossover appeal - felt that it honestly represented the characters in a barbershop on Chicago's South Side. They were a diverse bunch with opinions as varied as their skin color (news flash: "black" people actually come in as many varied hues as "white" people do).

The success of that movie begat the inevitable sequel, last year's Barbershop 2: Back in Business, and while the second installment in the franchise featured the same setting, most of the same characters, and some of the same smart dialogue, it broke little or no new ground.

All of which brings us to Showtime's new comedy series, Barbershop, the newest incarnation of the story, which premieres at 10 p.m. tomorrow on the premium cable channel. This one, too, is set in a Chicago barbershop, and while it has many of the same characters, all are portrayed by different actors.

Rapper/actor Ice Cube, who played the lead role of Calvin in both theatrical versions (and who is an executive producer of the series), is replaced here by Omar Gooding. Previously the star of ESPN's short-lived football series Playmakers, Gooding is the younger brother of Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding, Jr., and like his brother, Omar is immensely likable and has stage presence to burn.

Also missing from the TV version is Cedric the Entertainer, who as Eddie, the opinionated and outspoken elder of the shop, had many of the best lines in the movie versions - and most of the comments that annoyed Jesse Jackson. In Showtime's version, he's played by Barry Shabaka Henley, who's appeared in Collateral and Lackawanna Blues.

In the series' first episode, Calvin, owner of the barbershop, is pressured by his wife, Jen, into hiring a sullen thug named Romadal, her "sister's husband's brother's wife's uncle's kid," who just got out of prison.

None of the barbers at Calvin's shop likes the idea, but most of them are concerned with more immediate problems.

Yinka, a Nigerian immigrant, is trying to figure out why his stilted "dirty talk" isn't impressing the ladies, while Terri, a hot-tempered young woman, is dealing with her anger-management issues. Isaac, the shop's token white barber, is attempting to relate to all his colleagues - especially the attractive Terri.

As people come and go through the shop all day, there are plenty of discussions, jokes, put-downs, and arguments. Unlike most movie-to-TV transitions, the cable version of Barbershop is free to be looser with language than the originals, both of which were rated PG-13.

Unfortunately and disappointingly, most of the show's characters are so broadly drawn they're almost cartoonish, and the exchanges between the characters aren't nearly as witty as the big-screen versions.

Whenever a sticky situation arises, Calvin busts out with what's apparently intended to become a catchphrase for the series: "We need to pull up some chairs; this is goin' to take a while to explain."

After Romadal has been around for a few days, the other barbers conclude that he's not good for business, so they take a secret vote and decide he should be fired. When Calvin shows up one morning, they confront him with their decision.

Faced with a mutiny, Calvin sputters in disbelief.

"What does that $15 stencil job on the window say?" he asks.

"●'Open from 10 to 6 except Monday?'●" offers Isaac helpfully.

"●'We accept food stamps,'●" adds Yinka.

"●'Calvin's,'●" says Calvin. "It says 'Calvin's.' So I don't want to hear nothin' else about Romadal workin' here, OK? This is Calvin's barbershop."

That it is, but unless the show's scripts get a lot better in future episodes, it's one shop that's destined to have plenty of bad hair days - but not many viewers will be around to see them.

Contact Mike Kelly at: mkelly@theblade

or 419-724-6131.



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