This hasn’t exactly been a banner year for Black television or Black folks in television yet there are some standouts that should be recognized and applauded as the Best of Black Television 2011!
Best New Attempt – Reed Between The Lines
Insert successful and subjectively attractive Black man and wife. Add three cute and precocious kids. Drop a splash of a classic Black sitcom star as a supporting character along with standard sitcom couple and family situations, and oh…Have one of those parents be a Cosby kid. Stir, don’t shake because it’s not that kind of party, and you have Kellie R. Griffin’s sitcom Reed Between The Lines. As a standard sitcom, it’s pretty good though a bit dry at times. It is better than BET’s Let’s Stay Together and not as ignorant as a decent amount of their other programming. And the chemistry with tv couple Malcolm Jamal Warner and Traci Ellis Ross is picking up as the series moves along, so there is hope for this show, especially if they move beyond stale situations. And of course you have to love Anna Maria Horsford.
The funny thing is that all three actors helped change character dynamics in the roles they’re most known for. As a Black boy in the 80’s, Warner’s Theo Huxtable, while somewhat a troublemaker and sometimes lazy, was a well-round young man who compared to his peers on television in non-Cosby related material was, well, existent, since Black boys only repeated as gang members in cop shows or little people adopted by White men. Ross as Joan Clayton on Girlfriends showed how a successful Black woman can also be neurotic and sensitive and damn funny; while Horsford as Thelma on Amen could be a whiny daddy’s girl and a woman struggling to define herself, though often failing, but never giving up on herself or her potential man. You three helped change dynamics in television… I’m rooting for y’all to make it better again.
Best Actor – Giancarlo Esposito on Breaking Bad
Wow. Well, I said more than that after watching the ‘Hermanos’ episode (season 8, ep. 4) in which we finally see drug kingpin and chicken restaurant franchise owner Gustvao ‘Gus’ Fring’s origin (no spoilers within). That, alongside both the season opener and finale of Breaking Bad is what makes it one of the best shows on television. In this past season, Giancarlo Esposito as cemented himself as one of acting’s greatest and most underappreciated talents. His steely gaze, his calmness and assuredness when either talking about manufacturing crystal meth or cooking a great dinner, his vengeance on those who did him wrong, all those things and more comprise one of the best TV characters in recent years, strong enough to play off of series star Bryan Cranston. I never would have thought after watching Do The Right Thing twenty-plus years ago that this guy would develop into a master thespian. But he did, and he’s dope – has been for some time now – and I want to let him know that we want more.
Best Actress – Maya Rudolph on Up All Night
I wasn’t a fan of Maya Rudolph on Saturday Night Live. Not that she was bad, but, eh (she did a great Condeleeza Rice though!), I wasn’t a fan of Away We Go, her pretty successful movie from a few years back either. And I’ve yet to see her in Bridesmaids (though it’s coming in the mail tomorrow – thanks Netflix!). But, I don’t need all of that because all I need is to see more of Rudolph in Up All Night. As an Oprah-esque, um, okay Sally Jesse Raphael-esque talk show host, Rudolph as the aloof, self-absorbed, emotionally vulnerable and non-filtered Ava Alexander constantly steals the spotlight from series lead Christina Applegate, whose character Reagan Brinkley serves as executive producer of Ava’s show while struggling to raise her first child. While it may be argued that Rudolph has the easier job of the two, being funny ain’t easy and whether she’s doing a memorial service for a show crew member whose name she can never remember (not she can remember any of their names) or spying on a loser ex-rapper boyfriend, the often goofy yet charming Rudolph as Ava pulls it off consistently, week after week. Up All Night is renewed through the end of the season, so check Rudolph out. Now! (well, after reading the rest of this list).
And Nick Cannon as Ava’s show announcer, while appearing only once in awhile, is charmingly amusing as well.
We Want To See More of You Award – Christine Adams on Terra Nova
As one of the renegade leaders (see: bad guys) on Fox’s Terra Nova series, Adams gets to play a heavy baddy that wants to rule over the colony of people from Earth’s distant future who escaped to the prehistoric dinosaur filled past to rebuild civilization. But Adams and her group the Sixers, a splintered group from the colony who oppose the present rule, don’t seem to civilized - or are they the ones in the right? The show is filled with a lot of questions and weak mystery, but with that Adams’ character Mira is drastically underused and we should see her do more than snarl at colony leader Taylor (Avatar’s Stephen Lang). Still, you can tell she’s having fun in the role and she does look sexy in her frayed rebel wear and big guns and…um, hopefully you can check her out for yourself. The season finale just aired, but it appears that the show may indeed be picked up for a second season, though who knows with what changes.
Wasted Talent Award – Ashley Madekwe on Revenge
Revenge is a decent nighttime soap opera about a young woman who seeks revenge on the wealthy elite that caused the ruin and death of her stand-up father. Starring Emily VanCamp (Brothers & Sisters) it’s a fun vengeful romp from what I’ve seen. I say that last part because despite the good cheesiness of the show, it’s difficult for me to watch it because Ashley Madekwe, who we last saw as the vivacious and unpredictable yet green call girl Bambi on Secret Diary of A Call Girl is so good on her old show but so underused on Revenge. Good for her for landing a network show, a feat many actors would kill for, but as the lead’s BBF, she’s not left with much to do. Which is sad because Madekwe is a wonderful, growing actress who needs something more to catapult both her acting chops and career into greatness.
Best Black Show That’s Not A Black Show Award – The Good Wife (CBS)
As the title states, the show isn’t a black one – production or star wise as there are no people of African descent in the main cast. Still, with this legal drama taking place in Chicago (and filming in NYC!) theproducers and writers haven’t attempted to whitewash the show which from day one has included Black folks in most every episode in key character rolls. A short list of talent from 2011 that appeared regularly on the show, during this present season and last, include: Anika Noni Rose, Michael Ealy, Michael Boatman (appearing since season 1), Romany Malco, Renee Elise Goldberry (also appearing since season 1), Monica Raymund, Gbenga Akinngabe, Sonequa Martin, Chris Butler and even Nicole Beharie, though hers seemed to be a throwaway role. All that said, this list doesn’t include actors who have played defendants, witnesses, etc.
The We Miss You Award – Detroit 1-8-7 and Men of A Certain Age
It may not have changed the game for cop shows like NYPD Blue or Homicide: Life On The Street did, but Detroit 1-8-7 was a thrilling and often funny cop drama that had a great allure. Cancelled way too early, it starred Micheal Imperioli (Christopher from The Sopranos) as oddball Det. Fitch, but introduced audiences at large to his rookie partner Det. Damon Washington as played by the wonderful Jon Michael Hill, who also recently appeared in director Conrad Jackson’s Falling Overnight. But that’s not it – the show also co-starred veteran actor James McDaniel, who acted with the most joy and freedom I’ve ever seen from him in, and Aisha Hinds as the squad’s strong-willed and hands on lieutenant. Rochelle Aytes and Tessa Thompson also appeared in recurring roles. This was an enjoyable show that was cancelled too early but you can now catch on Netflix.
Men of A Certain Age just ended after two seasons and shame on you if you missed it. Just one name is needed to watch it though: Andre Braugher. I’ve long declared Braugher as one of the best actors in the world (though his throwaway appearances in movies like Fantastic Four 2 doesn’t really count) and the best actor on TV period. But if that’s not enough, Lisa Gay Hamilton as his wife and Richard Gant as his controlling father make Braugher’s character Owen Thoreau Jr. shine even brighter as they both force him to deal with insecurities about being a more self-assured man and father. Brian White as Braugher’s workplace nemesis was also a bright spot and recurring roles by Albert Hall, Little JJ and Emily Rios also added to the brilliant drama.
Best Television Documentary – America in Primetime
If you’re a television history lover, nay, if you enjoy seeing how writers and actors have developed their television shows and characters then you have to watch this four-part show. It aired on PBS this past autumn and focused on, in order: The Independent Woman, Man of the House, The Misfit, and The Crusader.
When discussing Blacks on television, most documentaries only focus on The Cosby Show, the Jeffersons as they appeared on All In The Family, I, Spy and maybe even Julia; and of course on Dr. King when it involves the 1960’s. But America in Primetime included Black actors, producers, etc throughout every episode. In The Independent Woman episode, the best of the series, race isn’t even brought up but super-executive producer Shonda Rhimes speaks about her show Grey’s Anatomy. Also present to talk about their various characters or shows are Andre Braugher, Michael K. Williams and Larry Wilmore. Catch this when it comes back on, or buy it where you can. It’s worth it.
The Looking Forward to It Award – Scandal
Speaking of Shonda Rhimes, her much hyped and much awaited but still unscheduled new show Scandal stars Kerry Washington as professional ‘fixer’ Olivia Price, a woman that makes the problems for high-stakes clients go away well before anyone even knows they exist. Along with her crackpot crew, they are the masters of damage control – even for the President of the United States. Price is based real-life fixer Judy Smith (she did spin for the Monica Lewinsky scandal, among others) and the show also stars Columbus Short. C’mon ABC, schedule this show already…we’ve been waiting months for the premiere!