By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
8:00 AM CST, February 1, 2013
Premiering Friday night for a modest six-episode run on TV One, the black-oriented basic cable network that is not BET, is "Belle's," a sweet if slightly undercooked sitcom about an Atlanta soul food restaurant and the family that keeps it.
The big name here is co-creator and director Ed. Weinberger, who in another century wrote for "The Mary Tyler Moore Show"; co-created "Taxi" and the first two Bill Cosby sitcoms; and created Sherman Hemsley's post-"Jeffersons" series, "Amen," and the Compton-set legal comedy "Sparks," whose cast included "Belle's" co-creator and ensemble member Miguel Nuñez. Weinberger has been off the scene for a good long while, and his new series is old-fashioned in both the better and the worse senses of that term.
It is narrated by wise child Pam Mott (Nadja Alaya), whose mother, grandfather and aunts run the restaurant, which lends it at times a pleasant aroma of juvenile fiction. She finds her name boring ("It rules out so many possibilities — hip-hop artist, rock star, femme fatale") and keeps a diary she calls "The Deep, Dark Secret Journal of Pam Mott," while admitting that her secrets are neither deep nor dark, as she is only 10.
As an actress, Alaya is just a little stiff, but in a way that oddly works to her advantage. The effort seems real in a way that the material doesn't quite.
Indeed, something of the same might be said of the series as a whole: Its rhythms fall awkwardly between those of single-camera and multi-camera comedy, and it declares its intentions and meanings a little too clearly. But what it lacks in subtlety it makes up in sincerity; it wants to mean something.
"This is no ordinary restaurant," says Pam, but a place full of "characters you never thought you'd meet with stories you can never guess the end to," though you could if you tried. In the first episode, the family wonders whether to let the restaurant be used for the reunion of a family whose ancestors might have kept their own forebears as slaves.
"Slaveholders that think they're going to waltz in here and have us cook their food, pour their drinks and wait on them hand and foot," grumbles Grandpa (Keith David, "The Cape").
"That is what we do, Dad. We're a restaurant," Pam's mother (Elise Neal, "The Hughleys") points out.
If the twist that follows is foreseeable, the end is nevertheless affecting. And unless some surprising turns in tone are in store, the series should prove family-friendly. As risqué as it ever gets is Pam's cleavage-y Aunt Loretta (Tami Roman, who is one of the "Basketball Wives") comparing herself to a Jaguar: "We're both stylish, refined, powerful and fun to drive."
When: 7 and 7:30; 10 and 10:30 p.m. Friday
Rating: Not Rated