Married People borrows just enough from real life to make its sunny sitcom premise interesting. A middle-aged couple living in a big house in Harlem (Ray Aranha, Barbara Montgomery) rent out the two upper floors. They are black, and their renters-two married couples-are white. ”Why do white people want to live in Harlem?” Aranha asks in the pilot. Gentrification, his wife answers: ”Call Harlem ‘Central Park North’ and white people will come running.” Already, this is racial politics a little closer to the edge than, say, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
The whites are obvious clichés: Jay Thomas (as a free-lance writer) and Bess Armstrong (a lawyer expecting a baby) are aging baby-boomers who yearn for fresh kiwi fruit; Chris Young and Megan Gallivan play youthful newlyweds who must be supported by their parents. The black couple is a less obvious cliché: He’s a cranky old man obliged to complain constantly about those kooky kids upstairs; she is an unceasing fount of earthy common sense and homespun wisdom. When Bess Armstrong says she doesn’t intend her baby to change her life in any way, Montgomery laughs heartily and says, ”With babies, you change their diapers, and they change your life” — a nugget of pseudo-truth that Armstrong accepts as a profound insight.
Still, the acting here is uniformly good. Gallivan brings a beguilingly fresh approach to her potentially annoying sweet-young-girl role, and the byplay between Armstrong and Thomas is especially sharp. This may also be the first show that gets some of the details of free-lance writing down accurately; in the pilot, Thomas tries to pass himself off to his neighbors as an investigative reporter at work on an Important Article. When Armstrong reveals that he’s working on a profile for TV Guide, he’s mortified. TV Guide as a punch line on TV? Pretty cool…B+