Book Writing Adventures

Discussion: How’s Television Measuring Up on the IRR Front?

By Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn

***********SPOILER ALERT****************

Kelle Stewart

In my day job as an entertainment journalist, I watch a fair share of television. (Okay, it’s more than the law should allow – but, hey, it’s a living.) Recently, I sat down to watch season four of “My Boys” (returning July 25th on TBS) and, admittedly, I’d been a fan of the series.

It stars Jordana Spiro as PJ, a Chicago sportswriter with a close-knit circle of poker-playing guy buds with whom she spends most of her time during any given episode. Then there’s Stephanie, the obligatory “black best friend” (every white chick on TV’s gotta have one) who would show up from time to time when PJ needs advice/support from a female perspective.

As I popped in the CD lamenting over the fact that my comedy fav Jim Gaffigan (who payed PJ’s brother) left the show to resume a demanding stand-up touring schedule, I still had hope that this sparkling little cable comedy could retain its luster – until Stephanie and Kenny announced they’re now a couple.

Say whaaaaa!!!

Up until now, Stephanie (played by Kellee Stewart, who you, dear readers, might remember as Bernie Mac’s daughter in the 2005 comedy “Guess Who?”) and Kenny (Michael Bunin, “The Soloist”) were sworn enemies. Then in last season’s finale, the two ended up in some random romp between the sheets at an ill-fated weekend wedding.

Michael Bunin

That these two were now an item is not just odd. It is, quite frankly, a distraction. Not only do the actors have no chemistry together, the characters are infuriatingly unaffectionate. (The bromance between Shawn and Gus on USA’s “Psyche” is more loving.)

It’s not that we need to see Steph and Ken back in the sack – although little of their initial tryst was actually shown anyway. But some simple hand-holding would suffice, and might be mildly believable. That they are an interracial couple, however, made the distance between the two even more glaring. Besides PJ, they have absolutely nothing in common. At least Brandon (one of the other “boys” played by Reid Scott) would have been more bougie Stephanie’s “type” (read: he’s fine).

Obviously the writers were trying to fill Gaffigan’s seat at the poker table. While this solution may be cost effective, it’s not exactly interesting to watch. I found myself longing for an episode of “The Jeffersons.” Say what you will about the Willis’ – Helen (Roxy Roker) and Tom (Franklin Cover) – but I believed that black woman and her white husband really loved each other – even if they weren’t smooching all the time.

TV journalist David Kronke offered a few interesting thoughts on the subject. “Producers, first of all, want to appeal to as large of an audience as possible,” said Kronke, affectionately known around these parts as the Mayor of Television and a contributor to the “Los Angeles Times,” “TV Guide Magazine” and the industry trade daily, “Variety.”

“But most often than not,” he continued, “producers are trying to make a statement by introducing such a dynamic, even if that statement is merely, ‘We’re not commenting on race because we don’t think it’s a big deal and you shouldn’t either.”

As an example, Kronke point out that in season 2 of AMC’s sexy 60s-era ad men drama, “Mad Men” — one of Christelyn’s favs returning for its fourth season-opener on July 25th – there was an instance where a couple’s interracial mixing mattered – albeit not for long.

When one of the copywriters, Paul Kinsey (played by Michael Gladis), began dating a black woman, the show made it pretty apparent that he was dating her because it gave his perceived bohemian cred a boost. The two even went South for the civil rights marches, where, in a throwaway line on the show, she dumped him after three days – and quite frankly, he didn’t seem a bit upset about it.

“I think this is a reasonable depiction of an interracial relationship,” Kronke noted, “as it’s commenting on an era, and a particularly subtle permutation of the psychology behind it, and not in the usual self-righteous in-retrospect kind of way.”

Who knows how the Steph-Ken coupling will play out on “My Boys,” or what the writers will ultimately have to say about the ebony and ivory pairing? One thing, however, is for certain: race on television still means something (no matter who’s sitting in the White House right now). And having more interracial couples on TV certainly lends credibility and acceptance.

In the coming months, I’ll be talking to the producers and stars of returning favorites like NBC’s “Parenthood” and ABC’s “Modern Family,” as well as new series showcasing rainbow couple character. Can Hollywood inspire, encourage or help validate interracial and intercultural pairings for sisters looking to swirl? As they say in the biz – stay tuned…

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