Mike Epps puts a new spin on old favorite ‘Uncle Buck’

“Every family has an Uncle Buck,” Mike Epps says of his character, a charismatic hustler who has gotten by on his charm for years.
“Every family has an Uncle Buck,” Mike Epps says of his character, a charismatic hustler who has gotten by on his charm for years. ABC

No one will ever mistake Mike Epps for the late John Candy.

The two funny men don’t look alike or talk alike. They have different comedy styles. Candy, who died in 1994, was typically the good-humored goofball; Epps, who’s filming a biopic as Richard Pryor, is edgier.

But look on your television this summer and you’ll see Epps playing a re-imagined version of one of Candy’s best-loved film characters, Buck Russell, in ABC’s Uncle Buck, which premieres with back-to-back episodes at 8 and 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“The producers called me and said they had an Uncle Buck/John Candy remake for TV,” Epps says. “I was like (snaps fingers), ‘I’m in. Come on with it.’ 

The result is a manic, yet sweet-natured show that’s the closest we’ll get this summer to an old-fashioned family sitcom. Just about every other new comedy airing in the coming months is mean-spirited.

The most obvious change from the 1989 movie is that the re-do involves an African-American family. But the premise — a no-account hustler becoming a surprisingly effective babysitter and nanny to a suburban family of three kids — is generic enough and inclusive enough for anyone and everyone.

“Every family has an Uncle Buck,” Epps reasons. “He’s the kind of guy who pretty much has a lot of advice for everybody but himself, like the dentist who has a cavity.”

And it’s high time, Epps adds, that the shiftless Uncle Bucks of the world get a little TV love.

“There’s always good comedy in somebody who just messes up all the time,” he says.

Buck’s streetwise tactics are in classic form by the second episode, when he helps youngest girl Maizy sell cookies for her Sunny Scouts troop by using sketchy sales and distribution techniques.

“The key to moving these cookies is to build your operation,” he teaches her. “You hire your crew (the other kids from the neighborhood), so you don’t get any cookie crumbs on your fingers.”

Then he advises her to get a big kid to serve as “the muscle” and to find a secure place where “the product” can be kept. “We’ll call it a cookie house,” he says.

Next step: “You want people to know you’ve got the best stuff in town, so you give them a sample at no charge. Call it a free taste.”

Before she knows it, he tells Maizy, she’ll be rolling in the cookie dough.

This isn’t exactly textbook child-raising advice. But Buck somehow comes out smelling like a rose.

“He’s not good for kids,” Epps says. “But he turns out to be good with kids.”

Epps, who also played a wisecracking uncle in the Starz basketball comedy Survivor’s Remorse, started out as a stand-up comedian but has proved to be more than capable in dramatic film roles.

He reportedly beat out some big-name competition (Marlon Wayans, Michael B. Jordan, Nick Cannon) to snag the role of Pryor, the legendary comedian, in a film being directed by Lee Daniels. His co-stars include Eddie Murphy, Oprah Winfrey and Kate Hudson.

“Playing Richard Pryor, it doesn’t get any better than that,” Epps says.

That said, he’s no less stoked to be associated with Candy and Uncle Buck. It’s almost a public service, he says, to introduce the material to a new generation of viewers.

“This show is like a dedication to John Candy,” he says. “The reality is there’s a new generation, the new millennials, who don’t really know who John Candy is. Maybe a few of them, after seeing our show, will check out the movie and find out what a funny man he was.”

Beyond that, Epps has no grander ambitions than to deliver a half-hour of entertaining television.

“I just want people to have a good time,” he says. “I want the viewers to make this a show that they know will give them a good laugh, maybe a nice little life lesson and maybe help them appreciate their own family a little more.”

Uncle Buck

  • 8 p.m. Tuesday
  • WFAA/Channel 8