Average Joe Review: New BET+ Series Is Funny, Fierce, and Full of Promise

Average Joe Review: New BET+ Series Is Funny, Fierce, and Full of Promise
Average Joe Review: New BET+ Series Is Funny, Fierce, and Full of Promise

By the end of the Average Joe premiere, it’s clear that the BET original series is something special. The dark comedy drama is an irresistible fusion of blackly funny situations, top-caliber performances, and a genuinely gripping central mystery. From the gorgeous camera work, to the tight plotting, to the perfect balance of humor and suspense, Average Joe has all the markings of great prestige TV.

The dark comedy was created by Robb Cullen, who’s known for writing the film Cop Out as well as creating TV series like Heist and Back in the Game (co-creations with his brother Mark Cullen). This news series offers the tantalizing promise of being inspired by his own life; given everything that happens in the first four episodes, this is wild. In Average Joe, a man discovers that his recently deceased father had been a drug runner for a gang — and what’s worse, he stole money and a luxury car before his death. Now, there are some very angry Russians looking to figure out where the money went — and doing whatever it takes to get it back.

Average Joe Has A Not-So-Average Cast

Average Joe Angela and Joe

A show can only really be as good as the actors, and luckily, Average Joe is bursting with talent. Deon Cole plays the titular Joe Washington, an American everyman who is thrust into this high-stakes conflict with the Russian mob; sure, he and his family could be murdered — but there’s also $10 million dollars and a Lambo up for grabs. He’s helped by his friends Leon (Malcolm Barrett) and Touch (Michael Trucco). Joe’s wife, Angela (Tammy Townsend), and Leon’s wife, Cathy (Cynthia Kaye McWilliams), eventually get involved too — although the latter is much more enthusiastic about the whole thing.

Each one of these actors brings value to the narrative, which often isn’t the case with a cast this size. Joe is charming as the blue-collar patriarchy, and Cole is very funny in the role. Leon is an affable goof, introducing much-needed chaos to the story. Angela is the firm, yet vulnerable, voice of reason, keeping her family together, while Cathy is the polar opposite: a fierce wild card who knows a thing or two from her true-crime-plus-wine habit. What’s surprising is how much nuance and depth Officer Tuchawuski, or “Touch,” brings to the story; what began as a seemingly one-note character blossoms over the course of the first episode into the show’s most complex character. This never takes away from the rest of the cast, though — one gets the sense that this is a series that will gradually flesh out all of the major roles, much like Orange is the New Black

Average Joe Is Easy On The Eye, Heavy On The Humor

Average Joe Cathy Montgomery

Crime and comedy go well together — The Sopranos wouldn’t have been The Sopranos without the humor. That doesn’t mean the balance between being funny and being suspenseful is easy to pull off though. One of the most impressive aspects of Average Joe is how it seamlessly transitions from high-tension drama and charming, silly gags. In one scene, Joe is getting brutally attacked by an unknown assailant; in another, he’s bickering with Leon over Steelers tickets while a corpse slowly bleeds into the carpet. This never feels forced or disorienting, though — likely because the comedy itself tends to lean dark.

The second most impressive aspect of Average Joe is its visuals. The show has a clear aesthetic from the get-go, with the cool tones and slightly desaturated color grading giving the setting, “The Hill” district of Pittsburgh, an old-school vibe — it’s a rich ’70s feel while still being contemporary. The series is stylishly shot, with many scenes being elevated by interesting, evocative composition choices.  Average Joe is a joy to watch, thanks to directors Eric Dean Seaton, Christoph Schrewe, Marshall Tyler, David Katzenberg, and Joy T. Lane.

Where Average Joe stumbles is the writing, and occasionally, the pacing. For the most part, the show’s writing is smart and charming, and the direction is pretty strong throughout; however, the first act of episode 1 is really bogged down by exposition, and is the weakest point in the four episodes provided for review. Some of the gags feel a bit dated as well, and the series verges on contrived in key moments: The show relies too much on characters showing up at the last minute off-screen to save someone onscreen, just in the knick of time. Despite these hiccups, the BET+ series offers a lot of fun. Average Joe is shaping up to be one of the year’s best new series.

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