Reed Between The Lines is 18 episodes in and so I now feel pretty comfortable saying that the only thing that totally works on the show is the character of Dr. Alex Reed and Malcolm-Jamal Warner’s work bringing him to life.
I have a really good sense of who Alex is because his stories often reveal new layers to his personality. Alex is the primary parent and so he frequently has a better sense of what is happening with the children than Carla does. He’s a brilliant man who’s intelligence frequently tips over into a kind of pompousity that makes him inflexible.
In Malcolm’s strongest episode to date, Episode 9, Alex’s reaction to Keenan’s interest in rhythmic gynmastics reveals that, though he knows his kids, he sometimes forgets that they can surprise him. Malcolm has a great moment with Carla where he admits to a certain inflexibility in the face of things he doesn’t like. I particularly like how in this episode, his frustration wasn’t about the fact that rhythmic gymnastics isn’t appropriate for a boy, but about his inability to trust that Keenan, who actually is quite lazy, can surprise him.
This inflexibility recurs and is often at the root of all of his stories, but in really interesting ways, like in Episode 18 when he simply can’t get past getting one bad performance review from a student.
And Malcolm is truly great week in and week out. He’s relaxed and charming, even when he’s playing Alex’s stubbornness. I respect that he commits to Alex’s pomposity and finds ways – usually a well-timed laugh – to disarm the audience.
But as good as Malcolm is, it isn’t really enough to overcome the problems with the show. Tracee Ellis Ross, in particular, is floundering in a series of stories about her job that place her with poorly cast guest stars and take her away from the family. She rarely gets the opportunity to reflect on her own behavior in a way that reveals something new and interesting the way Alex does.
Ultimately, Reed Between The Lines is a pleasant diversion, but it can’t really continue to only service Alex Reed and Malcolm-Jamal Warner well. The rest of the characters deserve the same level of care in their characterizations.