For the beginning of Spring there are a lot of going ons, together and tangentially, with Black folks in American television. Forgoing announcements of castings and potential new shows that my fellow S&A writers diligently announce, this weekly forum is moreso based on what happened in this show and that on the various networks…and what to expect within the next few days and week.
I will ask all regular readers to please fill-in any blanks I may miss as even I can’t watch that much of TV and do want to report factual info instead of just empty reports.
We’ll start the week with Mad Men, episode 2 of season 5. Last week’s joke of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce advertising themselves as equal opportunity employers after one of their competitor’s mistreated Black marchers saw a lobby full of Black men and women looking for work by episode’s end. Naturally they turned away all the Black men and acquiesced to accepting resumes for secretaries only (Hey, men can type too! Um, okay, maybe not so much in 1966). Enter this week where the newly level-headed Don Draper (Jon Hamm, in an episode he directed) has the only Black hire, his new secretary Dawn. Of course a few Don/Dawn jokes are made, albeit corny. Played by Teyonha Parris, she had a decent amount of lines and was still seen by episode’s end. Well, we know Don won’t be sleeping with THIS secretary. But see folks, when you talk about a recurring character, this is it, not a jump-off played by Naturi Naughton (no offense to Naturi, it was just obvious to regular viewers that you were a one-time character).
Check out Teyhona's IMDB page for her career stats and how she looks in contemporary settings, just in case you see her in something else (as Mad Men recurring characters are usually busy doing).
Staying on AMC for a while, season two of The Killing premiered last night as well. No Black characters here, and no mention or showing of the Killing victim Rosie Larsen’s teacher Bennet Ahmed, played by Brandon Jay McLaren in season one, who was beat up and left for dead when all the evidence wrongly pointed to him,. It wasn’t reported here (I meant to last year myself but got too busy) that McLaren will be headlining USA Network’s new show called Graceland next season from Jeff Easton, creator of existing USA show White Collar and will play US Customs Agent Dale Jakes. As reported on S&A recently, Courtney B. Vance will also co-star, as well as Daniel Sunjata. McLaren is also a new recurring character on second season of alien invasion show Falling Skies as engineering & technology expert Jamil Dexter. Way to go Brandon!
And speaking of premieres, today we finally get to see the first episode of Scandal, the new Shonda Rhimes show starring Kerri Washington. I’m anxious to see it, though the more I see the commercials the less confident I am that Washington can be believable week-after-week as a ‘fixer’ for politicians and the like. It’s not that she can’t hold her own on a serial, after all she did that half-season of The Practice, it’s just that when she gets all pouty I stop taking her seriously – kind of like Ben Stiller’s character in Tropic Thunder. Still, I’m not passing judgment until after the second or third episode, but will review the pilot next week right here…or maybe even by Friday. She has a great supporting cast which includes Columbus Short as well as Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond) from LOST, so despite the above I am looking to the show.
Regarding Shonda Rhimes, her original two shows Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice are still chugging along. A few weeks ago the former guest starred Debbie Allen as Dr. Catherine Avery, a urology specialist who heavily flirted with her old friend, (the former chief) Dr. Webber played by James Pickens Jr. One tends to forget how good of an actor Allen is, and though I don’t care for this show anymore she made me watch it as she shined. She was also contentious as she also played the overly-concerned mother of Dr. Jackson Avery (Jesse Williams) in this episode, since all Black people must be related. Still, all these actors had great chemistry. Private Practice that week finally resolved Dr. (Taye Diggs) care for his emotionally disturbed sister played by the fantastically-dope and-getting-so-much-better-at-everything Anika Noni Rose. Despite that, this show is a bore. I respect Shonda Rhimes, even more so after that great article on her in The Hollywood Reporter last year, but Private Practice is even more of a bore than Grey’s. I suppose though with chillingly well-done episodes like in which Charlotte’s post-rape trauma one (by Nicholas Brendon – Xander from Buffy the Vampire Slayer of all people!) it has reason for being on the air.
Last week’s episode of The Game felt like a fill-in episode, though it had some nice moments about motherhood and potential motherhood between Melanie (Tia Mowry) and Tasha (Wendy Racquel Robinson). Will Tasha be a surrogate for Melanie’s baby? We’ll see. The week prior to was more poignant, as Melanie and Derwin (Pooch Hall) found out they couldn’t have children both naturally and unnaturally – hence the surrogate - and tried to be strong about it but broke down in the end, separately but tenderly. More moments like that make The Game much better this year than last. It’s weird seeing Brandy on the show though, I’m unjustly able to just see her as the lead in her own titular sitcom Moesha.
Tuesday’s episode was all about family as Derwin was visited by his ‘play’ cousin that always did, and continues to, get him into trouble – they type that a star football player doesn’t need. Mailk (Hosea Chancez) and Tasha end up going home and Mailk is grateful that his real people – his family – have his back through his troubles with his football team the Sabres and Tasha deals with feelings of inadequacy with her mother (Loretta Devine) who still has never forgiven her for getting pregnant at 15 with Malik, but works through those feelings with her childhood friend, played honestly by Rockmond Dunbar. Good episode. This show is very back and forth with that so I’m glad to be able to honestly enjoy this one.
Let’s Stay Together chugged along this week too. Much better than last week’s focus on Kyla Pratt’s Crystal juggling of two boyfriends, a traditionally sitcom-y episode that felt like The Parkers. Oh how it made me long for the true blue and tight like glue days of Living Single. But this week saw the return, albeit briefly, of Erica Hubbard’s character Kita, who on the show is away on a Survivor-type reality show but in real-life is/was completing her pregnancy. Her return was better than the plot of main show couple Stacy (Nadine Ellis) and Charles (Burt Belasco) having the bridesmaid and bachelor parties that they never had, and both going in a direction neither expected. Not a horrible episode, but eh.
New Girl didn’t have much for Winston (Lemorne Morris) to do this week, like most, so I’ll highlight last week’s episode in which he let go and admitted that he was in love with new girlfriend Shelby, played sweetly and funnily be Kali Hawk, but making a terribly backseat discover about his roommate Schmidt’s new relationship after driving all the way to Mexico with Schmidt’s truck in doing so. Kali Hawk’s guest appearances in this how have been great and I enjoy her as an actress more every time I see her on screen. She has great comic timing, no doubt aided on New Girl by her Morris who is originally a comedian.
Lastly, Grimm got somehow renewed so audiences can thankfully see more of Russell Hornsby for another season (that crack was at the show, not Russell's performance).
That's it for this week. Next week I'll do a little focus on Taraji Henson in Person Of Interest (a great show) and as I watched it being filmed in Harlem, I'm looking forward to another CBS cop show, the debut of NYC 22 in a few weeks which co-stars Judy Marte from Raising Victor Vargas (only seen her in more indie stuff since then) and Harold 'House' Moore who's been making the television and film rounds in shows like House of Payne and Single Ladies. So glad they changed the name from "The 2-2" as constant ballet jokes were made at the production's expense! See you all next week...