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‘The Big House’ devoid of laughs

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Yvette Nicole Brown, Faizon Love, Aaron Grady, Arnetia Walker, Keith David and Kevin Hart star in "Big House" Friday at 7:30 p.m. on ABC.

Yvette Nicole Brown, Faizon Love, Aaron Grady, Arnetia Walker, Keith David and Kevin Hart star in “Big House” Friday at 7:30 p.m. on ABC.

Craig Sjodin, ABC

Despite its title, "The Big House" is not a prison drama. It's a TV sitcom.

On the other hand, if you sit through a couple of episodes you'll feel like you've been in prison. There are no laughs here, either.

"The Big House," which premieres Friday at 7:30 p.m. on ABC/Ch. 4, is yet another half-hour show based on the life of a stand-up comedian. It's a formula that has worked before — think "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Seinfeld," "Roseanne" and "Cosby," just to name a few — but it certainly doesn't work here.

Kevin Hart (whose biggest credits to date are small roles in "Along Came Polly" and "Scary Movie 3") stars as Kevin, a spoiled 18-year-old whose comfy Malibu life ends when his father goes to prison for embezzlement. He has to move in with his late mother's sister and her family in Philadelphia — they're loud, obnoxious and oh-so-stereotypical. Many cartoon characters are more fleshed out.

"The Big House" houses his overbearing Aunt Tina (Arnetia Walker), his strict Uncle Clarence (Keith David), his resentful cousin Eartha (Yvette Nicole Brown), his enormous cousin Warren (Faizon Love) and his bratty cousin CJ (Aaron Grady).

We're assured that this is based on real life — on how Hart's family treated him when he went home to Philadelphia after living in Los Angeles for a couple of years.

"They made it seem like I changed," Hart said. "They was, like, 'Look at you — your hair is combed. You got shoelaces in your shoes. You changing, boy. You Hollywood.' It's like I had to fit in with my family all over again."

Which is a pretty slim concept for a show. Particularly given that it's not funny.

Lacking actual humor, "The Big House" falls back on "jokes" about Warren's weight and a lot of yelling. Apparently, the thinking is that loud equals funny.

It doesn't.

And for a show like this to work, you've got to like the lead character. He's smug, arrogant and unlikable — which makes the sappy "awwwww" moments in this sitcom all the harder to stomach.

At least "The Big House" is only scheduled to run for six weeks.


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com