What is the point of NBC’s Truth Be Told? No, really, I’m wondering. Don’t get me wrong: I fully understand the need for television series (and all other forms of entertainment) to talk frankly about subjects like race and culture. In fact, I often, and somewhat aggressively, champion series that do just that. Yet, for all of its posturing — particularly by creator DJ Nash — Truth Be Told is such a bland exercise in “honesty” and “candidness” and “hot-button issues” that there is just to way to justify it existence.
At this summer’s Television Critics Association press tour, DJ Nash was quick to mention how the series would tackle such important issues as racism and, uh, whether it’s OK to hire a hot babysitter. He talked up the diversity of its writers’ room, at one point saying, “We are black, we are white, we are African-American, we are ethnically ambiguous,” presumably as an attempt to win over critics like me who won’t shut up about how absurd it is that so many writers’ rooms are still white- and male-dominated in 2015. (When talking about the diversity of the show’s writers, which was also highlighted in the letter to critics that accompanied the screener, he made no mention of women. Pamela Fryman does direct the pilot, so maybe that’s enough?) Nash was also quick to mention that his wife is Korean, and his best friend and his best friend’s wife are black — you know, the “It’s all right because my best friend is black” defense. This explanation reeks of overcompensation, white guilt, and an overall desperation to be deemed acceptable by another ethnic group. It wouldn’t be far off to say Truth Be Told is DJ Nash’s plea to let us know he’s “one of the good ones.”
Maybe I’m being too harsh on the guy — I’m sure he means well — but the Truth Be Told pilot is so obnoxious that hyperbole might be the only way to accurately represent the way I sighed with frustration at every so-called joke in the episode. It opens with best friends Mitch (Mark-Paul Gosselaar; the series at least succeeded in finding the right dude to play the whitest possible character) and Russell (Tone Bell) at a Chinese restaurant, discussing whether the Chinese woman behind the counter is faking her accent. Why are they wondering this? Who knows, and who cares? It is, in part, a lazy way for Mitch to provide the exposition that Russell is a stand-up comedian. Even so, I would have even preferred, “Hey Russell, it’s cool that you are my best friend and that you do stand-up comedy. What a guy.”
From there, Nash deals us jokes about a valet handing Mitch the keys to Russell’s Porsche, with the racist assumption inspiring more anger in Mitch than Russell (Mitch’s most salient character trait is that he is drowning in white guilt), although the valet only believed the car was Mitch’s because of a John Mayer CD. I understand the very basic construction of the joke: bait and switch, role reversal, “Who is the whitest artist you can think of?” But it’s still just not funny. It’s also 2015: the writers can do better than John Mayer.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar as Mitch, Tone Bell as Russell, Bresha Webb as Angie, Vanessa Lachey as Tracy — (Photo by: Ben Cohen/NBC)
The A-story in this episode is about the men and their wives — Mitch is married to the “ethnically ambiguous” Tracy (Vanessa Lachey) and Russell is married to Angie (Bresha Webb) — lucking out with Jay Z tickets procured by one of Angie’s ex-boyfriends, (which brings us to the B-story of boring male jealousy and ownership over women). First, Tracy has to find an acceptable babysitter. Enter Kimberly (Antonimar Murphy), a super-hot sitter who Mitch borrowed from their Orthodox neighbors. Their religion is important, you see, because it means they won’t need someone to watch their kids on a Friday night. Also because it gives Mitch the chance to say things like “Jew to Jew” and to sing about getting her phone number to the tune of “Hava Nagila.” Kimberly, meanwhile, is also “ethnically ambiguous,” which must be mentioned because it’s noted in the episode as a way to showcase Mitch’s only other character trait: he has “a thing” for ethnically ambiguous women. (If you are tired of reading the phrase “ethnically ambiguous” at this point, just think of how tired I am of writing it. DJ Nash, however, powers through.)
Throughout the episode, there are the requisite shots of Kimberly’s cleavage, debate over whether Russell should go through his wife’s text messages, the discovery that the babysitter may or may not be a porn star (uggghhh), and a conversation about whether it’s OK for Mitch to sing the N-word when rapping along to “Empire State of Mind,” (Mitch wants Russell to just hear him say it once because, he proudly proclaims, he doesn’t say it with the “R.”) Putting this conversation up against Black-ish‘s recent episode about the same racial epithet is like pitting the guy who dives into your Twitter mentions to tell you about his mixtape against, well, Jay Z.
The only mildly impressive thing about Truth Be Told is that it manages to avoid devolving into 22 straight minutes of offensive jokes, though that’s only because the series is too boring to even be offensive. It’s completely inconsequential, a speck in a sea of sitcoms, and one that I hope never gets any more attention than this review.