In the African-American community, the barbershop has always been a vehicle tailor-made for the screen. It's where the ebb and flow of ordinary life plays out on a daily basis, where men and boys gather to hash out the issues of the day -- and talk some smack.
Every snip of the scissors, every new haircut, every new client in the chair provides a fresh source of drama. So in retrospect, it's no surprise that the ''Barbershop" movie franchise did so well.
It worked because the humor was natural and unforced. It had an appealing cast, starring Ice Cube as Calvin, the barbershop owner; Cedric the Entertainer as Eddie, the crotchety old barber; and the rapper Eve as Terry, a woman with an attitude problem.
Given all this, ''Barbershop," the cable sitcom, should work, too. Airing tomorrow night on Showtime, it's got an impressive behind-the-scenes crew, including writer-director John Ridley.
It's got a believable lead, with Omar Gooding (brother of Cuba Jr.) in Ice Cube's role. Veteran character actor Barry Shabaka Henley plays Eddie, the grumpy old man with a fondness for testing the boundaries with offensive racial references.
And it still falls flat. Comedy, particularly when confined to the 30-minute strictures of the sitcom, has a strange alchemy. It works when you don't see the strings being pulled. You laugh not just because someone says or does something outrageous, but because the outrageousness reflects real life.
The actors come across as Shakespearean thespians pontificating on life in Da Hood. ''Running a barbershop is kinda like being at an all-you-can-eat restaurant," Calvin says in a voice-over. ''Right when you think it's all out of nonsense, the chef cooks you a fresh plate of craziness."
Craziness, to be truly crazy, can't be constructed. And the three plot lines of the first episode are meant to echo the insanity theme. There is: the problem of Romadal (Dan White), an ex-con barber whom Calvin is forced to hire because of loose family ties; the problem of the attitudinal Terry, who just found out her identity was stolen; and the problem of Yinka (Gbenga Akinnagbe), the Nigerian barber who's got difficulties talking down and dirty in the bedroom and looks to Calvin for a little coaching, whereupon hilarity does not ensue.
They zip around and around, skipping from one jump-cut scene to another. Terry, played by the talented but miscast Toni Trucks, gets hauled off to jail because her intense gesticulating gets her mistaken for an ''emotionally disturbed person." Of course, underneath all her rage lies a virgin with a heart of gold.
We don't believe it for a minute. And therein lies the problem of ''Barbershop." We don't believe it. And we're not laughing hard enough to forget that we don't believe it, either.