In 1990, NBC struck comedy gold with a stand-up named Jerry Seinfeld playing a fictionalized version of himself in a self-titled sitcom. Now more than a quarter century later, the Peacock Network hopes that formula will again prove fruitful with Marlon Wayans in a series premiering this week.
In “Marlon,” a half-hour family comedy premiering with back-to-back episodes on Wednesday, Aug. 16, Wayans (“In Living Color,” “Scary Movie”) stars as Marlon Wayne, a loving though immature father of youngsters Marley (newcomer Notim Taylor) and Zachery (Amir O’Neil, “Mann and Wife”), who is still adjusting to life after his amicable divorce from his very together ex-wife Ashley (Essence Atkins, “Are We There Yet?,” “A Haunted House”).
An internet star, Marlon is a larger-than-life personality whose parenting style can best be described as well-intentioned though misguided, a combination that – along with Wayans’ formidable improv skills – provides much of the comedic moments in the series.
“I’m a crazy man,” says Wayans, who is also a creator and executive producer of the series. “… There’s nothing like just coming off the cuff, trusting your instincts and bringing you to your show. And I think when you’re doing comedy like this, when it’s your name and your view, you’ve got to make sure you inject your personality and your perspective and your point of view. … I’ve got a great cast that has fun with me and it’s like we’re jazz musicians playing some great standards and putting a whole new twist on it.”
Chief among them is Atkins, with whom Wayans has worked on many projects, among them “A Haunted House.” In that 2013 movie – in which Wayans and Atkins also starred as husband and wife – he was impressed by her ability to play along while he went off on his improvisational tangents. So when he got this series, she was the first person he thought of to play his partner in comedy.
“What I love about her,” Wayans explains, “is she has to play comedy double-dutch. Because she doesn’t know where to jump in. She don’t know how long my riff is going to be. She doesn’t know where I’m going but she stays in the scene and jumps in at the right time. She normally has something really great within her character to come back and combat it. And she always stays in the scene and keeps it grounded and I love her for that.”
Wayans also professes admiration for O’Neil and Taylor, the two young actors who play their kids. Their laughter at many of Marlon’s riffs appears to be genuine, and Wayans says they often served as his comedic barometer, much as he did for his older brothers Keenen Ivory and Damon when he was younger and they starred in their 1990-94 Fox sketch comedy series “In Living Color.”
“They knew when they were doing something funny when me and (brother) Shawn were laughing (hysterically),” Wayans says. “And then they would be like, ‘OK, we’re onto something. Shawn’s got pee on his leg and Marlon’s sitting here with snot bubbles on his face. We’re onto something.’ ”