'Bob Hearts Abishola': Freshman comedy fails to deliver on Chuck Lorre's intended message on immigrants, sparks backlash over race jokes
Lorre spoke about how "Immigrants Make America Great" would be the theme of the show but its first two episodes are already alienating viewers.
'Bob Hearts Abishola' premiered two weeks ago on CBS. From executive producers Chuck Lorre, Eddie Gorodetsky, Al Higgins, and Gina Yashere, the premise of the comedy was middle-aged businessman Bob (Billy Gardell) falling for his Nigerian-immigrant nurse, Abishola (Folake Olowofoyeku) after his heart attack. Even before the comedy premiered, viewers were divided, worried about racist jokes. With shows like 'Two and a Half Men' and 'The Big Bang Theory', many expected the show to be disrespectful, rather than positive towards immigrants.
When the sitcom premiered, it surprisingly proved to be much more accurate, but this is more in credit to Yashere, a British-Nigerian comedian and Lorre's decision to cast actresses of Nigerian origin, Olowofoyeku and Shola Adewusi who plays Abishola's, Aunt Olu. With the premise itself seeming promising, the show could have done wonders but fails to deliver due to the writers resorting to stereotypes and outdated jokes.
Abishola's aunt and uncle, though portrayed by great actors, are reduced to stereotypes that are generally peddled about relatives of color - overly involved in Abishola's personal life, and does not hide how much they want her to be with Bob because of his wealth. Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum, there are people angry, as according to one viewer, the show contains "racist jokes directed at white people." Of course, it is a possibility that many share this view and rather than endearing the plight of immigrants to the white population of the United States, Lorre just ends up upsetting them. As Rotten Tomatoes states, "Groundbreaking, but unfortunately grating, 'Bob Hearts Abishola' undermines its own progressive premise with underwhelming humor that relies too heavily on outdated stereotypes."
This is an important thing to consider today. In the same week that 'Bob Hearts Abishola' premiered, President Donald Trump's administration decided to cut the number of refugees allowed into the country by nearly half - from 30,000 to 18,000 - over the next year. If Lorre intends on opening up people's minds about the hardships immigrants go through - first what brings them to the United States, then what they need to do to survive in the country they have decided to make their home - Lorre also needs to keep in mind the frames of minds of those who are staunchly against immigrants and refugees.
It is, of course, a very delicate subject that requires a lot of nuances while handling and right now, neither viewers nor critics are convinced about Lorre's ability to pull off a groundbreaking premise that he has brought. Certainly, by including Gina Yashere, he took one step towards ensuring the Nigerians he wanted on the show could be represented fairly. But with only one woman of color as the sole perspective on the writers' team, it looks like Yashere was included not for true diversity and representation, but so that he doesn't face backlash over appropriating the stories of people of color.
If Lorre wanted to truthfully tell the stories of immigrants, by ignoring how they came to the country because that matter would be too divisive and perhaps too dark for a comedy, he already foregoes his commitment. Moreover, the lack of writers who could actually write about immigrants who come to America is striking. Sure, Yashere represents the Nigerian aspect of the show, but she is a second-generation British woman of Nigerian origin, having been born and raised in London.
'Bob Hearts Abishola' airs on Monday nights on CBS.