I generally don’t give a damn about the state of black relationships or I should say that I don’t give a damn about how black relationships have suddenly become a hot topic in the media, blogs, quilting circles, and the 4th St Baptist Pentecostal House of Greater Salvation’s thrice weekly ice cream social at Miss Agnes Davenport’s house. This may sound dismissive on my part but as long as I’m in a healthy, happy I think the relationship crisis is someone else’s imaginary problem that is used to drum up ratings for Night Line and help comedians sell books. (I can be aloof like that sometimes so there.) The portrayal of black relationships did come to my mind at the start of this year’s television season.
Before I go any further riddle me this:
What shows were the following black couples on?
Eddie & Jennifer Sutton
Jonas & Molly Blane
I’ll wait a second…
Eddie and Jennifer Sutton had the lead roles on Lincoln Heights which aired on ABC Family for four seasons. Jonas and Molly Blane were two of the main characters on CBS’s The Unit for four seasons also. Each show lasted a couple of years but met their doom when they were cancelled. Both shows presented something rare on primetime TV, a married black couple in a drama. ***Taye Diggs and Audra McDonald’s characters on Private Practice are now divorced so I won’t count them. ***
Carl and Harriet Winslow, James and Florida Evans, Michael and Jay Kyle, George and Louise Jefferson, and of course Cliff and Clair Huxtable all were main characters in 30 minute comedies but to my knowledge a married black couple of color has never fronted an hour-long prime time show for more than a few years. (I’m actually shocked that The George Lopez Show lasted as long as it did. Think about it, a vato like George married to a Cuban? Maybe that’s why According to Jim lasted longer. Who keeps giving that Belushi guy television shows any way?)
Getting to my point, a few weeks ago Undercovers premiered on NBC in the 8 o’clock time slot on Wednesday night. Starring Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Undercovers is odd because unlike Lincoln Heights which aired on basic cable or The Unit which aired at several time slots and finally died on Sunday nights after football, Undercovers is there for the world to see. Undercovers premiered to an audience of over 8 million which isn’t bad but what I want to know is will the viewing public stick with a quasi-serious show starring not only two black people but two black married people who aren’t doing, dare I say it “black things”?
As I said the show isn’t all grimaces and frowns but there are plenty of action sequences built around two once retired spies who are now caterers. For the most part the main characters, Stephen and Samantha Bloom carry on like any other youngish married couple, they show affection, flirt, and make pithy remarks about one another, kill people, and even do it. This is what I see as a stark contrast to most black couples on hour long shows, whether they were in the forefront of the show or not. There are no downtrodden ghetto obstacles to overcome, just a family business, bad guys, and good guys.
To the Peacock’s credit they have stacked the deck in Undercovers favor. The Blooms are played by the prettiest black folk NBC could find and they’ve also put a solid supporting cast in place to keep the show balanced. (Hell, they even have Major Dad on their side.) So by all accounts can this work without getting treated like a Fox show and getting moved around like The Sarah Connor Chronicles? (As you can see I’m still a little perturbed about that.)
The reason I’m posing all of these questions is because as my boss would say the “P-word” comes into play and by “P-word” I mean perception. Will seeing black people coupled and married on the tele change how black romance perceived by the rest of America? Or will future shows featuring black people insist on dwelling on the darker images of what America sees as black life?
One of my home boy’s coworkers once said to him “XXX… We don’t know any black families like yours. You’re married, educated, with children…” Sure, these are the statements of a few non-black people who obviously see us one way but will they watch a show that features us another way? If my man’s coworkers are taken as a microcosm of their demographic can they wrap their myopic little minds around something they don’t know? (I haven’t asked this many questions since I used to bombard my pops with questions when I was little.)
Will a show with black folks doing what is perceived to be “atypical negro behavior” (That would be a good name for an indie-rock band, Atypical Negro Behavior.”) work or will Undercovers just die a painfully death as a mocha-hued Hart to Hart? (That’s Mrs. Hart, She’s gorgeous!)
We all know successful, upwardly mobile, married black couples but will the world buy into our reality or just change the channel? What do y’all think?
Vaya con Dios?