HOLLYWOOD — It's asking a lot of an inexperienced 19-year-old actor to carry a network sitcom, but J Mack Slaughter might just be able to pull it off.
He's starring in the WB's "Like Family," which shows promise of becoming a nice, family sitcom that could be a good companion to the show it follows, "Reba." And Slaughter has the kind of magnetism that could make the show work — and make him a star.
"Oh, there's a lot of people on the show," he said. "It's not just me." And there are a lot of other people on "Like Family," a multiethnic, multifamily family comedy.
In Friday's debut (7:30 p.m., Ch. 30), Keith (Slaughter) is a troubled teen (but in a nice way) whose single mother, Maddie (Diane Farr), is worried about trying to bring him up alone. So she moves in with her best friend, Tanya (Holly Robinson Peete) — who just happens to be African-American — and Tanya's family. So, suddenly, Keith has a tough father figure (Kevin Michael Richardson), a 16-year-sister (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and a 12-year-old brother (B.J. Mitchell).
And the nice thing is that, even though two of these people are white and the other four are black, that doesn't play into the situation.
Slaughter, who grew up acting and singing in the Dallas area, doesn't have a lot of Hollywood credits. His sole previous TV credit came on an episode of "What I Like About You" last season. (Oddly enough, he had his first on-screen kiss with Echikunwoke on that show.)
But you'd never know he's a relative newcomer. He fairly leaps off the screen in a way that's going to appeal to the show's younger target audience — the girls will love him and the boys will want to be him.
"I think he really is a good guy," Slaughter said. "I think he fell in kind of with the wrong crowd . . . and without having the proper family structure around him to kind of keep him in line, he was starting to go to the wayside. But he is a good guy underneath it all. Good person, bad situation."
The show itself is pretty standard sitcom stuff — broad and often silly. But Peete helps keep it grounded, and Slaughter just might help it take off in the ratings.
LUIS (Friday, 7:30 p.m., Fox/Ch. 13): I'm really, really glad to see Fox do its bit for diversity and give Luis Guzman his own sitcom — a show populated largely by Latino characters.
But I really, really wish that "Luis" was a better show.
Guzman stars as owner of a Spanish Harlem doughnut shop and landlord to the tenants above it. He's loud and opinionated, but he's got that proverbial heart of gold. He's annoyed by his ex-wife (Diana-Maria Riva), and he's extremely unhappy with his daughter (Jaclyn DeSantis) and her choice of a boyfriend (Wes Ramsey). He's got a white employee (Charlie Day) who wants to be Hispanic; there's an African-American con man (Malcolm Barrett) who annoys everybody; and various other annoying people invade his space.
"Luis" quickly devolves into people yelling things at each other. Things that are supposed to be funny, but aren't. So what we're left with is a show that's loud, annoying and not funny.