This Week in Black Television - Not So Common...

Television
by Curtis Caesar John
May 25, 2012 2:46 PM
11 Comments
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Tia Mowry, Andre Braugher, Michael Ealy

Let’s start with a review for the new USA Network series Common Law which stars an actor that the ladies swoon for, Jack McGee.  Um, just kidding, unless the ladies have blue hair.  I’m talking about Michael Ealy, most recently the co-star of Think Like A Man and best known as Ricky in the Barbershop movies, as well as for his charming looks and rugged (yet oddly often boyish) personality.  In Common he plays Travis Marks, a Los Angeles cop (yes, ANOTHER cop show) whose police captain (the aforementioned Jack McGee) forces him into couples therapy with his longtime partner Wes (Warren Kole) that he no longer gets along with to the point that it’s affecting their cases.  The two do indeed bicker like an old married couple, quick to expose each other’s insecurities and such.  Sorta like The Odd Couple if they were cops, with Ealy being Oscar Madison if Oscar could really get those attractive women he was always seen with.  So after two episodes how does the show stand up? 

Well, for me it’s mixed.  Michael Ealy is okay in it, and actually more relaxed that he usually appears – perhaps because he’s always wanted to headline something and has gotten his wish.  He also gets to be shown with a lot of women, so I’m sure that makes his job easier.  There are a number of humorous moments to the show and the chemistry between the two leads feels natural.  Yet the show runs slow at times, with bits of action thrown in between the plot for the ‘case of the week.’  The therapy sessions with Dr. Emma Ryan (Sonya Walger from LOST – and I so wanted to make a ‘Not Penny’s Boat’ reference) are definitely the best parts of the show, with veteran character actor Gary Grubbs and my girl Indigo (Weeds, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), among others, playing spouses of other couples in therapy.

But then that makes sense. USA is all about characters, not plots or sheer accuracy – and Common is definitely more about the two leads than anything else.  When you watch a show on this network, you have to know to expect that even though there are shows like Monk and Suits that excel past that.  The Wibberleys, creators of Common and real-life spouses – as well as Hollywood vets who penned National Treasure, I, Spy and more – understand that concept and run with it, and there’s a place for shows or even networks that aren’t trying to be more than it is.  Some may see that as lazy, but all entertainment doesn’t have to be multilayered or complex, it can just be what it is.  A film like RestlessCity didn’t have as much story as I would have liked, but the feel and look of the film is hypnotic.  It’s a similar argument made by commenters on this week’s ‘The Trouble With Scandal’ article by S&A’s own Tanya Steele:  a Shonda Rhimes show follows a certain formula and her numerous fans love that. All that said, there is room for improvement with this show but don’t expect Common Law to change the world.  It’s not built for that.  Last week’s second episode actually had an uptick in the ratings.   It usually comes on Fridays at 10pm but no episode shows tonight because of the Memorial Day weekend. 

The Game was interesting this week, living up to its double entendre title.  Tasha (Wendy Raquel Robinson) finds after reading one of his text messages that her new boyfriend Pookie (Rockmand Dunbar) has a woman in love with him, one who happens to be living in his house in Richmond, CA.  Pookie tries putting his foot down, but is left in a precarious situation and explains that the woman Rasheida was a friend, and while she stayed with him things got intimate between them, but never serious. Well Tasha calls Rasheida out and confronts both her and Pookie demanding that he tell Rasheida that it’s over, which he does, but Tasha regrets the pain the young lady is going through after the let down – after all she’s been there many times.  Meanwhile, Melanie (Tia Mowry) comes back home and breaks the news to Derwin (Pooch Hall) that she wants to do research at Johns Hopkins, and brings home former VJ Free (from BET) to help soften the news.  Now if she brought home Free for something else, maybe it would’ve actually made him feel better. Nonetheless,  Derwin calls his agent Irv to tell him that he’s unhappy in San Diego and they want to explore taking his career to Washington.   Irv instead comes back with an offer from the Sabres for $50,000,000 – yes, all those zeroes are correct.  Not able to pass up that solid amount of moolah, Derwin brings in Screech from Melanie’s favorite show Saved By The Bell to break the news to her that he’s staying in San Diego. That doesn’t quite work out well – and Melanie prefers Mr. Belding to Screech anyway since the latter used to be trying to get with Lark Vorhees, the sister on that show. 

Let’s Stay Together isn’t getting much better, with this week’s episode being highly disjointed and ending rather oddly. Honestly, it’s not worth even getting into, but the best aspect to it this week was having Kali Hawk as a guest star. 

The long running medical mystery of the week show House M.D. ended this past Monday with co-star Omar Epps having a significant part in the finale, though naturally it was all about the titular character Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) and how he’s dealing with having to go back to jail and not being able to see his best friend, Dr. Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) die from untreatable cancer.  No spoilers on this one folks, if you’re a fan you should see for yourself how things play out.  I dug it, and it was definitely time for House to end.  As I mentioned last week, it’ll be good to see Epps get more into his producing work and putting out different types of films with Black talent as he did last year with You, Me and The Circus.

Moving onto next Fall’s group of shows, starting this week with the ABC network, I’ll highlight shows with Black talent that are worth investing your precious TV watching into.  Seems like during the next year most of ABC’s shows will have a Best Black Friend or Old Wise Black Man character on shows like How To Live With Your Parents For The Rest of Your Life (sheesh!), Malibu Country, The Family Tools,and Nashville.  Oh joy. Among those,  Family Tools looks like it can be funny and it co-stars Edi Gathegi, who was a recurring character on House for one season and co-starred in X-Men: First Class, though not for long; Danielle Nicolet from the horrible Nicole Ari Parker/Boris Kodjoe 2004 sticom Second Time Around also co-stars as his sister.  I'm a fan of series star Kyle Bornheimer too - his short-lived CBS sitcom Worst Week was hilarious. 

One exception to the BBF/OWBM slate of shows is Last Resort with actor supreme Andre Braugher.  I’m somewhat biased since I’m the number one Andre Braugher fan on the planet.  I often stayed home on Friday nights to watch Homicide (did I just say that out loud?).  Regardless, this trailer is exciting with Braugher as the commander of the Navy’s most powerful nuclear sub who is given orders to nuke Pakistan. When he refuses, his sub is fired upon and left for dead. They ship somehow survives and they take over a small island (inhabited by mostly Black folks – why Andre, why?!?) and declare it their new home and a no man’s land to the US – with enough firepower to back up his claims. Exciting…but how long can they ride out this concept?  Hopefully for an entire season at the least.  Since Men of a Certain Age is no longer on, I’m glad Braugher is in this.


Then there’s 666 Park Avenue, a thriller show co-starring ABC’s resident queen of mean, the otherwise lovely Vanessa L. Williams.  Fresh off of her role in Desperate Housewives, and prior to that Ugly Betty, she plays the wife of ominous building’s owner Gavin Doran (Terry O'Quinn). At 666, anything you desire can be yours, all your needs, desires and ambition will be met, but every Faustian contract comes with a price.  Ooohhh. I don’t know about this one, but I was wrong about LOST until after the pilot aired so I say it’s at least worth checking out, though you may be turned off by Rachel Taylor, late of the botched Charlie’s Angels television remake.

The Neighbors is an odd comedy that ABC seems to specialize in lately.  It does however co-star an actress I’ve seen around before, but never by name: Toks Olagundoye, a Nigerian actress that’s guest-starred in a number of television shows and co-stars in Jeffrey W. Byrd’s upcoming film A Beautiful Soul alongside Harry Lennix, Golden Brooks, and The Game’s Barry Floyd (you may have seen the trailer during AFFRM’s Restless City screenings) .  Here’s the synopsis of The Neighbors:  Meet the Weavers, Debbie (Jami Gertz) and Marty (Lenny Venito). Marty, in hopes of providing a better life for his wife and three kids, recently bought a home in Hidden Hills, a gated New Jersey townhome community with its own golf course. Hidden Hills is so exclusive that a house hasn't come on the market in 10 years. But one finally did and the Weavers got it! It's clear from day one that the residents of Hidden Hills are a little different. For starters, their new neighbors all have pro-athlete names like Reggie Jackson (Tim Jo), Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Olagundoye), Dick Butkis (Ian Patrick) and Larry Bird (Simon Templeman). Over dinner, Marty and his family discover that their neighbors receive nourishment through their eyes by reading books, rather than eating. The Weavers soon learn that the entire community is comprised of aliens from Zabvron, where the men bear children and everyone cries green goo from their ears.  See, that’s some odd stuff.

Either next Spring or Summer we’ll see Mistresses which brings Alyssa Milano is back on network TV, this time as a working woman, an attorney working hard to make partner at her firm and get pregnant for her husband. But it looks like she won’t be able to keep her libido in check as she’s fantasizing about fellow attorney Jason George, who some here speculated would become a regular on Grey’s Anatomy but it more looks like will be a regular on this show.  Rochelle Aytes, a favorite of ABC (perhaps she has a deal with them) co-stars as best friend, April, a recent widow and mother of two who is rebuilding her life after the death of her husband and learning to move forward, with the support and guidance of her closest girlfriends that include Yunjin Kim (Sun from LOST). What’s the skinny on this aside from the dresses?  Eh, looks like ABC is concentrating on even more soapy dramas.  People may tune in for Alyssa Milano, heck I would, but it seems pretty trashy – but then so did the recently ended Desperate Housewives and that was a huge success. 

So that wraps up things for this week. Next week I’ll highlight which summer shows you should be watching, including animated series and continue my focus on the Fall tv lineup.  Have a great Memorial Day!

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11 Comments

  • misha | May 28, 2012 3:42 AMReply

    Akimbo, we've only seen 2 episodes thus far, yes? I don't expect the characters to be fleshed out in such a short period of time. However, I've already noticed the differences between the characters via their behavior, particularly as it pertains to Travis being the rule breaker and Wes being the "by the book" lawyer turned cop. Hence, the main source of their friction. But we've also gotten glimpses into their backgrounds. We saw Travis in the scene with his foster mom and foster brother and also the scene where he was able to calm the baby, which was attributed to his upbringing. And we've seen Wes fleshed out more via the scenes with his ex-wife. IMO, that's enough to give us an understanding of what makes them different. Of course a show like Psych has had many more episodes to define the personalities of Shawn and Gus and my comparison between the shows was merely superficial, in that they share similar tones but the dynamic is different. I love Psych and I do appreciate that the writers have fleshed out Gus as much as they have but he is essentially, the black sidekick. With Common Law, the characters are pretty much equals and I enjoy their banter as much as Shawn and Gus. Glad to see that the show is doing well in the ratings, despite the Friday timeslot.

  • misha | May 28, 2012 11:49 AM

    Ok Akimbo, I think the writers established who the characters are, you don't. Agree to disagree. :) But I must say that no show on USA is exactly groundbreaking...they all follow a certain formula. It's the characters, the chemistry between the actors and the twists on said formulas that sell each show. So while the setup for Common Law may be a bit too generic, I like the twist of having the duo go to couples therapy. And again, Ealy and Kole have very good chemistry and are quite charming together, IMO. Overall, I like the show, as I think it's fun and witty and even a bit more sophisticated than Psych. So I'll keep watching.

  • Akimbo | May 28, 2012 9:42 AM

    Although you get a character's entire story over the course of the show, the pilot is supposed to establish who the characters are. Everything I said about the Psych characters was apparent in the very first episode. As someone who really wanted it to be good, I have to say that it's not; it's a generic, pale imitation of a typical USA show. If it weren't for Ealy, I wouldn't have even finished the first ep, let alone a second one, but now I'm done. I'm glad you like it, though.

  • misha | May 26, 2012 6:10 PMReply

    Umm, I'm sorry but I'm really digging Common Law! Is it the most thought-provoking show on tv? Of course not and it's not trying to be. Rather, it's in the same vein as a show like Psych...a fun, funny show that doesn't take itself too seriously. Akimbo, I have to say that I do see a difference in personality btween the leads. Ealy's character is more of ladies man who grew up in foster care and is willing to bend the rules to get the job done while Warren Kole's character is more of the uptight, "by the book" cop who comes from privilege. And neither likes to admit when they're in the wrong. Hence, the need for couples therapy. Anyhow, I like Ealy and Cole together...they have good chemistry and are nice to look at. Yep, I'll keep watching. :)

  • Akimbo | May 27, 2012 9:24 PM

    @Misha, aside from Ealy being a ladies man, the two are like the same dude. Yes, they TOLD us that he grew up in foster care, but we don't see that upbringing shape the way he behaves or interacts with others. Same for the cop-turned-lawyer; they told us that's who he was, but aren't showing us. Then you compare with Psych that has two fully-formed and distinct characters: Gus, the uptight, know-it-all, squeamish, & by-the-book dork and Shawn, the free-spirited, lazy, irresponsible, rule-breaking charmer with serious daddy issues. The conflict between them stems from their being completely different people with (initially) different priorities & beliefs forced to work towards a common goal (the basic USA formula). Common Law failed to flesh out these characters, failed to deliver a compelling premise, and, at the the end of the dat, no one will remember these characters when the show is cancelled. To GEORGE, yes Fairly Legal is the other flat-out terrible USA show, but the Good Guys was pretty bad, too; they tried for campy fun and just totally missed the mark. They did have strong characters, though.

  • misha | May 27, 2012 12:35 AM

    Quite the vacuous, confusing statement. Thanks for nothing, George!

  • George | May 26, 2012 8:03 PM

    Clearly Common Law is a broad drama so you have to have lower standards. It very clear the execution is a mess. Since Fairly Legal USA New Show just are not up to par. Another Buddy Cop comedy The Good Guys just knew how to execute chemistry and humor better.

  • Akimbo | May 26, 2012 10:50 AMReply

    Funny thing about Mistresses is that Lifetime tried it once before, only with Alyssa's former Charmed co-star Holly Marie Combs as the lead. The abysmal Rochelle Aytes was is THAT version, too. On Jason George, if this show does as well as Off the Map did, I'm sure Grey's will welcome him back. And speaking of Grey's alum, I actually like Rachel Taylor; she was probably the best thing about that terrible Charlie's Angels reboot. ABC's going to keep casting her until something sticks (typical network behavior), but in her (and Vanessa L Williams & Terry O'Quinn's) case, I don't blame them.

  • Akimbo | May 26, 2012 10:38 AMReply

    Common Law is bad, even by USA standards. They haven't even properly explained or set-up why these two don't get along or what their relationship is, so, unlike any of the network's successful shows (Psych, White Collar, Burn Notice, Monk, so-on), the bickering here is really annoying and not fun. Also, these two don't seem like much of an odd couple: though they have different back stories, they have the same personality, sound exactly alike, and it seems that the source of their friction is not due to fundamental differences, but to the fact that they're both dicks who won't stop...being dicks to each other. There are no distinct characters here, just a bunch of generic dialogue and flimsy backstories. Add to the fact that the writers don't seem to know much about police work, and you've got yourself a show that wishes it was Bad Boys-lite and isn't even Hawaii 5-0-lite. If anyone else has watched, have you noticed how high Michael's voice is in this show? Normally, he's got this gravelly grumble, but here, he's bordering on Terrance Howard territory. Maybe it's his "comedy voice." He's joining Ronreaco Lee on my list of actors who need to be rescued from their shows ASAP; judging by the ratings, might be an achievable mission. I tried, but looks like it'll be a Necessary Roughness summer.

  • George | May 25, 2012 8:24 PMReply

    Seeing Michael Ealy on Common Law makes me wish That Showtime had given "Sleepercell" at least 2 more seasons. The material on Common Law is beneath him. The USA network formula has ran out of steam. Most of their show with exception of Burn Notice are Light Fluff.

    I think USA Network needs to consider adapting material from authors likes Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiassen. That way their shows will have better chance of being cohesive and creative success rather than just a ratings one.

  • Miles Ellison | May 25, 2012 9:47 PM

    It's unlikely that any show the USA Network could produce that was based on an Elmore Leonard novel would be anywhere near as good as FX's Justified. In Plain Sight was the best show on that network, and they canceled that. Overall, their shows are entertaining fluff, but they are light years behind FX's or Showtime's shows in quality. Sleeper Cell was a great show. It should have been on longer than 2 seasons.

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