Welcome back to This Week in Black Television. This week we're covering the return of The Game, the debut of Laurence Fishburne in the new TV drama Hannibal, and other significant television goings-on with members of the Black community.
Sorry for the extended absence of this column from the 'site, but between my film festival New Voices in Black Cinema and other
film-centric duties I've been a bit distracted, but have returned.
I wrote separately about the return of The Game last week and whether Pooch Hall was indeed back or not as running back Derwin Davis. And I was right, he was just back for the first episode as he indeed did get traded to the Baltimore - what he wanted but was saddened that the only adult life he knew - as a San Diego Saber - was done and over with. This NYC-based episode led Derwin to have a trite brawl with the draft pick that he was traded for, Bryce ‘Blue’ Edwards played by charming newcomer Jay Ellis that turned into a teary (mostly his tears and probably the female fans that watch the show) goodbye for his character. This well-acted but oversexed return of The Game, indeed the 100th episode of the series, introduced us to the rookie sensation Blue, as well as Keira Whitaker, a child-star turned unemployed actress trying to gain back a career played wonderfully and surprisingly maturely by Lauren London. Though the eventual couple at first meeting sweetly, their next encounters become awkward then downright embarrassing.
The season opener also saw another breakdown in quarterback Malik's (Hosea Chancez) sobriety after realizing he has no power within the Saber organization or in football in general, that he’s just a cog in the system, just to have him bounce back after a pep talk from his cousin and confidant TeeTee (Barry Floyd), and Tasha (Wendy Raquel Robinson) encountering her ex-boo Rick Fox despite her supposed love for Pookie, played by Rockmond Dunbar. **WARNING - THERE ARE EPISODE 2 SPOILERS FROM THIS PART ON **. This week we see that Tasha did indeed sleep with Rick Fox, who in some respects is the love of her life, but she denies that feeling in a rachtet-like behavior filled conversation with Pookie while Rick is still in her hotel bed. Yeah, I felt silly even writing that entire line. This whole episode saw a great departure in writing and emotional connection from the previous one as it focused squarely on Tasha and her immaturity in dealing with relationships and love. Despite the gullible Pookie falling for another of her emotional and badly acted tirades to cover up her infidelity, he ends up proposing to her and she accepts - then runs out hours later to chat, then sleep with in her car, Mr. Rick Fox - only to be caught afterwards by Chardonnay (Brandy Norwood). Meanwhile, in something that happens only on TV in a decent-sized town like San Diego, Keira continues to run into Blue at the club, the supermarket, and he even moves into her building. Though she's still upset at him for sleeping with her friend, R&B singer Ciara, despite the bond they were building they make a turn toward reconciliation at episode's end. I can sometimes accept the sitcom like coincidences that occur here, but the fact that they have to play things this way is what's frustrating about The Game and their deus ex machina story devices even when the show has so many liberties to be better and to do better. I should add that both The Game and the sitcom that follows it, Let’s Stay Together, have been renewed for 2014 already, which is fantastic news for the cast and crew and hopefully, the viewing audience as well.
Meanwhile this past Sunday The Walking Dead had their season finale, directed by no other than Ernest Dickerson, who is underrated as a director for some brilliantly coordinated action scenes like the one that opened up the show. As well written as the dialogue was in this season ender, drawing strong comparisons between the Governor and Carl’s similar world views when it comes to killing and death, The Walking Dead is also one of the – if not currently the most - badly conceived shows when it comes to portraying and highlighting non-white male characters. For the sake of this forum, I’m talking about Michonne and Tyreese. Frankly, though the fanboys and others laud her, I'm sick of Dania Gurira’s portrayal of Michonne. I know the comics aren't the same as the television show, they really don't have to be, but the Black characters are so passive as compared to their comic book versions, most especially in comparison to the White lead characters like Rick, Darryl and even Merle.
Bad as that is with Michonne, often made to sartorially appear slave-like and bending to the will of Rick and Merle and even young little Carl (which I don’t contribute directly to the actress but to the writers and directors), its even worse with the wasted use of a good actor like Chad L. Coleman as Tyreese. In the books he's the first person aside from Shane who was a real challenge, or you can even say alternate, for leadership among their group. He’s level-headed, smart, strong and resourceful. On the television version, Tyreese upon closer examination has the first two attributes, but with barely existing scenes, none of which have much weight beyond his refusal this last episode to leave with The Governor, did not have much to show on proving it. Coleman has been added to the main cast for next season, as has Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha (who plays his sister on the show instead of his daughter as the books portray). I should add that Martin-Green is also appearing on Sunday’s other most guilty-pleasure show (no, I’m not talking about the corny The Client List which no longer co-stars Naturi Naughton but does still have Loretta Divine as a regular as well as Michael Beach, Tammy Townsend, Leonard Roberts and Jowharah Jones (the original Nico Slater from Ugly Betty) in guest roles) Once Upon A Time as the kinda confusingly motivated but well-played villain Tamara. I think the sharp eyebrows lend to her bad-azz attitude.
Speaking of villains, the new NBC drama Hannibal premiered last night. In a new story that shows the backstory about how FBI profiler Will Graham came to know and be initially mentored by Dr. Hannibal “(the eventually known) Cannibal” Lecter, played deliciously (yes, I said it!) by Mads Mikkelsen who most viewers know best as the Bond baddie from 2006’s Casino Royale but should know better from Nicholas Winding Refn’s chillingly fantastic Valhalla Rising (it’s on Netflix!). I only bring up Hannibal here because, aside from having a hauntingly good first episode the show also stars S&A fave Laurence Fishburne as FBI Special Agent Jack Crawford, the head of the bureau’s Behavioral Crimes Unit. In a role originated on the silver screen by Dennis Farina (Manhunter), then Scott Glenn (The Silence of the Lambs) and Harvey Keitel (in the forgettable Red Dragon), Fishburne holds his own as the suspicious and strongly-determined Agent Crawford, going to major lengths to solve the initial murder by relying on the overly-sensitive Graham (played by Hugh Dancy) and Lecter to help. The great thing about the potential of this series is that it will give viewers, and fans of the movies and the original Thomas Harris novels, a chance to explore the minds of Graham, Lecter and Crawford more deeply than the films ever could. I for one always look forward to seeing Fishburne in anything – I feel he excels in episodic TV as he gets to expand his role more than a film’s two hours allow.
There were some nice nods to history in the premiere episode. If you didn’t know, William Petersen from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation starred in the original novel adaptation Manhunter as Will Graham. His CSI character Gil Grissom is the one who recruited Fishburne’s character Dr. Ray Langston to be on his team before Petersen departed CSI. When they first appeared on screen, Grissom appears in Langston’s lecture room as he’s talking about criminal pathology to his students. In fair play, Fishburne’s Jack Crawford did the same upon recruiting Dancy’s Will Graham to join his team in the Hannibal pilot. So three different generations of the movie and TV investigators met in the same way, just in different shows.
a solemn good-by should be paid to newscaster Bob Teague upon his passing last week at the age of 84. As one of
this nation’s first African-American TV reporters, locally in NYC for WNBC
channel 4 and occasionally nationwide for NBC, he was hired in 1963 from The
New York Times. I personally barely
remember Teague but I knew him more by reputation, and his legacy as a
broadcaster and stance as a trailblazer should be rightly acknowledged.See his obituary by Brian Williams below.
Next week I’ll examine Chi McBride’s role on CBS’s newest cop show Golden Boy, catch you up on BET’s Let’s Stay Together (which I’ll just say for now has somewhat steadily improved) as well as other key Black TV happenings.