Lionsgate // 2007 // 440 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // February 13th, 2008
Only one thing turns a house into a home: Family.
Tyler Perry's House of Payne is yet another sitcom about a "dysfunctional" family where everyone acts crazy, but really loves everyone around them. The family is led by Curtis "Pops" Payne (Lavan Davis, Daddy's Little Girls), a cranky, cantankerous and self-centered fellow. His wife is the genial Ella (Cassi Davis, Madea's Family Reunion), who tirelessly attempts to show Curtis how ridiculous his behavior is. Their son is the slick Calvin (Lance Gross, Meet the Browns), who has a unique gift for skipping his college classes.
Things turn upside down for the Paynes when their nephew C.J. (Allen Payne, The Perfect Storm) is forced to move in with them when his family's house burns down. C.J. also has a troubled wife named Jeanine (Demetria McKinney, Daddy's Little Girls), and two kids named Malik (Larramie Doc Shaw) and Jazmine (A Dennis the Menace Christmas). Between the new housing situation, the endless hijinks at the fire station where Curtis, C.J., and Calvin work, and some other unexpected surprises, there's never a dull moment in the House of Payne.
The first twenty episodes of the series (which airs on TBS) are present here in a "Volume One" set. TBS has ordered 100 episodes, so one can only assume that there are five volumes being planned at this point.
* Bully and the Beast: Malik is being bullied at school by a girl. Curtis tries to intervene, but meets some considerable difficulty when he meet the young girl's mother, Madea (Tyler Perry, Diary of a Mad Black Woman).
* I Can Cry If I Want To: The family is throwing Curtis a surprise birthday party, but the party takes a sour turn when C.J.'s house burns down.
* More Than Meets the Eye: Jeanine is exhibiting very suspicious behavior, and C.J. thinks she might be cheating on him.
* Busted: Calvin takes up trying to sell off-brand purses, and everyone discovers that Jeanine has a drug problem.
* Lost and Found: C.J. tries to find his wife, and Curtis is forced to deal with his anger in an anger management class.
* Down and Outted: Curtis finds Malik wearing a tutu, and assumes that his nephew must be gay.
* No Money, Mo' Problems: Calvin gets a new girlfriend, and C.J. accepts a loan from Curtis in order to put Jeanine in rehab.
* Just Say No: A "Say No to Drugs" seminar at school proves to be very upsetting for Jazmine.
* Surprise, Surprise: Jeanine's upper-crust parents turn up, and Curtis is eager to tell them about Jeanine's failures.
* Father Knows Best: Curtis goes into a panic when the station fire truck gets lost, and Jeanine's parents attempt to get custody of C.J.'s kids.
* I Keep Coming Up Short: Curtis discovers that he is impotent, and attempts to rectify the problem by getting advice from his anger management instructor.
* The Buck Stops Here: The fire station creates a calender, a woman joins the fire station staff, and Jazmine sells candy for her school.
* Wax On, Wax Off: The women of the house can't figure out why Malik is taking so many long showers, but Curtis and C.J. know precisely what is going on.
* Head of the Class: Jazmine runs for class president, while Curtis joins an art class in the hope of seeing some nude models.
* Paternity and Fraternity (Part One): A woman from C.J.'s past is claiming that he has another daughter, and Malik starts hanging around with a bad crowd.
* Paternity and Fraternity (Part Two): C.J. gets the paternity test results, and all kinds of crazy antics are going on at the fire station.
* Cracking Under Pressure: Jeanine and her band of Wacky Crackheads decide to steal from the Paynes.
* Club PCP: Calvin throws at a party at the house while the family is out of town, but things go downhill fast.
* Sadly Mistaken: Calvin attempts to pass his mid-term exams, and Ella goes to confront Jeanine and the Wacky Crackheads.
* And Justice For All: Malik meets a 14-year-old girl he met on line who looks an awful lot like a 40-year-old man. Also, Curtis makes a mockery of the justice system when he serves as part of a jury.
Seriously, who names a show House of Payne, anyway? Don't they know that title is just begging for lots of snide jokes from snobby critics like me? So, taking the moral high road, I'm not going to tell you how this is one of the most payneful shows I've ever seen. I wouldn't dream of telling you that watching the Paynes is a payne. It would certainly payne me to stoop to such tactics. I mean, I'm just not going to go for the easy bait of telling you that you're going to need some payne relief after you watch the show. Absolutely not. I'm classy like that. You're welcome, Mr. Perry.
If I were the sort of mean-spirited fellow who judged television programs on things like "artistic merit" and "logic" and "a general lack of stupidity," I might have some harsh things to say about House of Payne. For instance, I might be inclined to tell you that the opening episode of this collection kicks the show off on an awful note. Tyler Perry shows up in drag playing his "Madea" character, and the whole show is centered around Madea's antics. It should have focused on introducing us to the characters, but instead it chooses to simply demonstrate that Tyler Perry is running the show. I also might whine about the many one-note episodes that only focus on one supposedly funny topic...a show with 50 lame crack jokes, a show with 50 lame masturbation jokes, a show with 50 lame erection jokes, and so on.
Were I attempting to provide those picky folks out there with some kind of "review," I just might be inclined to tell them that the characters here are thinly drawn, and the jokes are weak. C.J. probably has more screen time than any other character, and he is the least interesting character. Calvin is a one-note character of little interest, and the two child actors playing Jazmine and Malik are often gratingly cutesy. Lavan and Cassi Davis (not related) are both solid as Curtis and Ella Payne, but they generally are forced to spew some very weak comic writing.
If I needed to have some kind of consistent tone in the television shows I watch, I would probably be complaining about the fact that House of Payne shares the same problems as many of Perry's films and plays. Perry attempts to mix serious drama with goofy comedy, and the effect is quite disturbing. There are a lot of episodes that deal with Jeanine's crack addiction. The show plays Jeanine's troubled behavior for laughs, and introduces a group of wacky comic relief crackheads midway through this collection of episodes. This is counterpointed by very grim and serious discussions about the devastating effects of crack. The same problems occur when the show tries to deal with other serious subjects (such as the disastrous final episode about online sexual predators).
Anyway, I'm not going to mention any of those things, because I'm the sort of fellow that likes to focus on the positive. The show does manage to be modestly enjoyable during a handful of episodes, particularly whenever House of Payne isn't trying to tackle important topics. I hate to say that, because I'd like to recognize the more ambitious episodes. However, the serious shows are bad drama and awful comedy, for the simple reason that they refuse to pick a side. Straight-up comedy works best, and there are a small handful of laugh-out-loud lines (almost all of which come from the cheerfully mean-spirited Curtis).
Extras are limited to a simple twelve-minute featurette that spends six minutes showing long clips from the show and another six minutes of thoughts from Tyler Perry on why the show was created. Picture quality is so-so, just fine for a somewhat low-budget tv show. It's not like House of Payne contains a single moment that would require stunning visuals. Sound is fine, though on a few episodes the laugh track is mixed in too loud, drowning out the dialogue. Jonathan Gosier's simplistic musical cues are recycled with reasonable effectiveness.
Tyler Perry is a media phenomenon with a very loyal fan base, and undoubtedly those who love Perry's work are going to love this show. It's unmistakably Perry's own work, and go figure, he actually directs every single episode. Even the most hands-on television creators rarely attempt to accomplish that sort of feat. However, it bears all the problems of Perry's film work, and can't manage to fuse wacky comedy and serious drama in a way that doesn't seem patronizing or offensive. In addition to that, the show is generally pretty limp in comparison to the average TV family sitcom, anyway. The Cosby and Keaton families aren't in any danger of being overtaken by the Paynes.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 440 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "The House That Tyler Perry Built"
* Official Site