‘Single Ladies’: Series Premiere Review

Singleladies

 

Yup – so tonight was the long-awaited series premiere of VH1's new "romantic comedy" series, Single Ladies, starring Stacey Dash and LisaRaye McCoy. My review of the premiere episode is after the jump.

Single Ladies opens with a scene in which the series' stars – Stacey Dash, LisaRaye McCoy, and Charity Shea – argue with their men about the distinction between male soul singers who are "just nasty" and male soul singers who are "acceptable nasty." The scene doesn't work dramatically or comedically, but it succeeds in actually helping us understand exactly what kind of show we are dealing with here.

Single Ladies is not acceptably bad. It's just bad.

And like the fellas in that opening scene, the show doesn't really care that there is a distinction between a bad show and a guilty pleasure. The show unfolds in a way that makes it clear that everyone involved has absolutely no idea how to make a television show and doesn't care enough about their audience to find someone who does.

I actually don't know where to begin because almost nothing works here. So let's just provide some set-up shall we?  

  • Val (Dash) is a stylist who wants to get married. She just opened up a new boutique, was dumped by her boyfriend of five years, Quinn, when she gave him a marriage ultimatum, and has a random hook-up/quasi-dates K.C. (played by former boybander Tilky Jones).
  • Keisha (McCoy) is an aging video dancer who moonlights as a thief for Jasmine (played by Kim Porter) and doesn't believe in love. She's got boytoy Woody (played by Akeem Smith) and supposed-to-be charming and supposed-to-be slightly mysterious rich jeweler Malcolm (played by Principal Wood D.B. Woodside, slumming it in a major way and looking terrible doing it).
  • And last we have April (Shea) who has no job or life, but is married to a black businessman played by Anthony Montgomery (also slumming it) and is having an affair with the mayor of Atlanta (played by Common).

For starters, Single Ladies doesn't even know what it is. VH1 is selling it as a "romantic comedy" but there is not one laugh in the premiere. To be fair, the premiere is a television movie that only became a television show pilot late in production, but there is nothing in this episode to indicate that the producers understand how to write comedy or, for that matter, drama.  

This is amateur hour in every way. The show is poorly written, poorly cast, poorly lit, and poorly shot.

Everyone is cast for their beauty, not their talent. Dash has never been a strong actress and is working right up to the edge of what she can do, Shea is given almost nothing to play, and McCoy has very good comic timing (which she used quite well on All of Us) that the show isn't using.

All three women lack the skill to make something of this mess and they get little support from the rest of the cast. D.B. Woodside and Anthony Montgomery have showed considerable skill in the past, but they are reduced to ciphers here and are incapable of elevating the material. Common is tragically, embarrasingly miscast; Jones is playing earnest in a way that suggests he might have wandered in from a different, better show; and Travis Winfrey, who plays Val's gay assistant Omar, is probably the best thing in the show, but that's not really saying much. And none of the romantic pairings generate any heat.

It is clear that Single Ladies is working with the non-existent standard black television show budget, which means that the action is confined to roughly one place (Val's boutique) and the directing is as unobtrusive and unimaginative as possible likely to ensure that the show can be shot quickly and cheaply. Stacey Dash and LisaRaye McCoy are well over 40, but they are stunning women who don't need to be shot in soft lighting. The shots of things (jewels, clothing, cars, etc) are more visually compelling than any of the static two-shots of actors that the director employs throughout.  

The cheap nature of the production also means that the show fails to make good use of Atlanta as a setting, other than to insert pointless, distracting cameos from stars like Eve and Chilli. This really should be fixed in subsequent episodes, because it's the one element of the show that isn't completely and totally derivative. Atlanta is without question the center of the Black American bourgeoisie and there is tremendous dramatic potential in telling stories about that very specific piece of contemporary Black American life. Girlfriends was very much a Los Angeles show and New York City was the fifth main character in Sex and the City, Single Ladies has to use Atlanta similarly or the show simply will not work.

But the show's real problem is that by the end of the two-hour pilot, I don't really care what happens to these women. There is no real reason to like or care about Val, Keisha, or April, and the men are either pretty boy ciphers or cartoon villains. And crucially, Single Ladies doesn't bother to help us understand why these three women are friends. Presumably, the producers are shooting for a show like Girlfriends and Sex and the City, but those shows made the relationships between the women central to the show and established the bonds very quickly in the pilots. Single Ladies is a show ostensibly about women bonding but it fails to actually show its lead characters bonding. We are just supposed to accept that these three women are friends. We don't.

When Girlfriends started in 2000, the network required that Mara Brock Akil share producing and showrunner duties with Mark Alton Brown and Dee LaDuke (who were producers on Designing Women and produced the Black gay classic, Jackie's Back) in order to learn how a television show is professionally produced. This ensured that the show was well-made, but also, more crucially, helped Akil to learn what it takes to make a quality television show on a major network so she could take over showrunner duties in the third season and then go on to a very successful career.

That is obviously not happening here. Series creator and executive producer Stacy A. Littlejohn, who worked on All of Us and One on One, really needs an experienced hand here. Clearly, VH1 saw Queen Latifah's name on this show and figured that it wouldn't need to protect it's investment (I use that term very very loosely, of course) by hiring an experienced television producer, writer, or showrunner, to refine the premise with Littlejohn and make it work on television.  

Ever since The Game returned to record-breaking numbers in January and networks began greenlighting pilots with Black stars and casts, there's been all this talk about a "revival" in Black television, but if Single Ladies is any indication that renaissance is a swindle. One has to assume that everyone involved in making Single Ladies has complete and utter contempt for Black audiences. This is terrible, unprofessional work.  

But, let's be real here, VH1 knows that Black audiences are starved for their own shows and that we'll watch anything (at least, at first) and tell ourselves "but if we don't watch, we may not get anything else." This assumption likely animates everything that Hollywood does with respect to Black filmmaking and, if applied to this new wave of Black shows, will ensure that we are about to live through one of the worst periods for Black representations on television in decades.

Let's hope not.

About tlewisisdope

I write. I live in DC.
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24 Responses to ‘Single Ladies’: Series Premiere Review

  1. Luvvie says:

    This was DOPE! It might not be as funny as mine but it sure was more comprehensive and made some great points. That show just makes me shake my head.

  2. tigger500 says:

    Thanks for checkin me out! I had planned to do weekly reviews of the show, but I don’t think I can do it.

  3. LaWanda says:

    The show stank. Literally. I have watched and loved shows with colorful,complex,not so innocent characters. Mainly The Sopranos and The Wire, but thanks to good writing,acting, directing and producing, the characters flaws weren’t so glaring.

  4. Disgusted says:

    The person that posted that long drawn out post sounds like a HATER. The show may need some some changes/adjustment but its not all that bad. I’m speaking as an average viewer, you know the one who will actually tune in to watch and not critique. Its sad to hear an African American attack other hard working A.A. Its a shame that you couldn’t say one good thing about the show. I hope your proud of yourself. Good job :/

  5. tigger500 says:

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. That includes me. You can like it, but it’s not a well-made show. We can do better.

  6. nicholene_nelson@yahoo.co.uk says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your comments. When I saw the return of Stacy Dash and Lisa Ray McCoy I was excited and based on the sexiness of the trailer it sounded promising, though I was at first drawing comparisons between it, girlfriends and sex and the city. When I finally watched the show, I was terribly disappointed; I found that the actors were not connecting with their characters, i.e, I just didn’t buy what they were selling. At the time I couldn’t quite identify why it is that I wasn’t connecting with the characters but after reading your blog I now know exactly why it sucked.
    What I found surprising was that given the plethora of cameo appearances, I am now firmly of the view that the producers and writers don’t buy the script either. Girlfriends was a good and masterful replica of sex and the city (the first and the best); this show just falls flat.
    I love Stacy and Lisa, but they were never considered good actresses to begin with, so for that reason I did imagine that a role such as this would be really comedic. One final thing, Lisa would have been a better lead, her story line is more interesting but I suppose she lacks the moral fibre of a lead in this context.
    Your blog was great though.

  7. coolwrites says:

    Are you serious? How can you watch a show and not critique it? Critiquing is not a bad thing. It is what intelligent human beings do with their critical thinking skills. I cannot imagine that when you buy clothing or anything else you just used it without thinking about its good and bad points.
    We don’t do AA shows any service by offering them blind faith. Cooping such an attitude will not serve use well!

  8. coolwrites says:

    Excellent review again!
    I’d like to say I had high hopes for ‘Single Ladies’ but from the onset it was clear that all involved made two big errors. First, they were not clear about the show they wanted. Too much energy was given to thoughts of ‘Girlfriends’ and ‘Sex and the City’ and not enough to what unique voice and void this show would occupy. Second, the show was horribly cast. The two leads as is pointed out in your review do not have the acting chops to lift the poor script and direction, nor do they bring the experience necessary. Were the producers hoping that they had a built in audience with the locale and these two ‘stars’? I hope they find that they and VH1 have underestimated the intelligence, viewing savy and moxy of their audience.
    In my hopeful days, I would have indulged this hot mess with the hope that they would improve over time, but unfortunately this show is probably shot like ‘The Game’ and much of the season is already in the can.
    How I wish they had sought actors like, Max from Living Single or some of the other more appropriate and talented actors around. If nothing else, let us all pray that they at least improve the horrific scripts. Hey Tigger would you help them out here? LOL!

  9. tigger500 says:

    Thank you. I don’t know if I could help other than to say to VH1 “either start from scratch or cancel this mess.” lol

  10. tonya says:

    whats wrong with all of you, the show was great, if you dont like it dont watch it and just shut up thanks

  11. leena says:

    black ppl are so fuckin stupid its ok to have your own opinion but why everytime black ppl dont like something within our race they say “we can do better” what does that mean? when white folks dont like something in their race they dont say that..point is its a good fuckin show if you dont like it dont watch people always have to spoil ppls fun thats why we as people will never move forward we can do better no u can stfu cause who tf is “we” anyway?

  12. leena says:

    fuck you and this review its not gonna stop people frm watching it most ppl including me mainly tune in to see lisa raye anyways so the shows an automatic hit whether its bad or not which its not its very entertaining n its nothing else like it on tv right now so quit cryin grab some popcorn n enjpoy the fuckin show ppl are so bitchy

  13. leena says:

    always saying something negative can you think of one positive thing to say about the show? or is it tht bad to u thats its the end of the fuckin world…i can picture u right now (omg this shows so horrible its like the end of the black community omg we can do better omg lets go march n protest to stop the show its not good for black ppl boo hoo

  14. leena says:

    i mean the show wasnt tht bad to deserve tht long ass review ur really mad over there huh lol….omg we can do better tho right

  15. tigger500 says:

    leaving three incoherent comments isn’t cool. i’m entitled to my opinion. and yes, art is meant to be critiqued. i didn’t say anywhere that one couldn’t enjoy the show, just that it isn’t well-made by any basic television standards. but thanks for stoppin by

  16. tigger500 says:

    sorry, make that four comments. run along little girl

  17. Rocki727 says:

    To tigger500,
    I was actually surfing the web trying to find the premier episode of “Single Ladies” and happened to click on the link that led me to your review. Although you raise a few valid points, mainly that you and others are entitled to your opinions, (though they are as unsolicited as mine)I have to wonder to whom you are referring when you say “we can do better”. “We” black people are not all the same, so don’t put us into one box, as if we do not have diverse interests and preferences. If you are referring to yourself by “we”, by all means, DO BETTER if you feel you can. Lead by example, and not by criticism. If you can conceptualize a show premise, develop and write it intelligently, get the financial backing you need from an established network, hire a cast of estaablished actors with some name-recognition value, and shoot a pilot that is then picked up for several more episodes, and do it all without anyone offering one negative comment on your efforts, well then I will take my hat off to you in salute. However, if you were capable of doing any of these things you would probably be doing them, instead of criticizing those who ARE actually doing it. It may not be to your standards, but I am proud of Stacy Littlejohn, Queen Latifah, and the cast and crew of the show for taking a chance, and doing something creative and empowering. Not liking something is one thing, but tearing down one’s positive effort is something else altogether.
    Rocki727

  18. Rocki727 says:

    @ tigger500,
    I DO agree with you, though, that “Hotlanta” should definitely be showcased more. It is a great city, full of excitement, and that has not been taken advantage of yet by the show’s writers. It takes time for any show to develop though, but I hope they integrate the city’s activities into the show more as it goes along.

  19. Tanga says:

    I am so glad I was able to watch this series,,,,Its so f**ing perfect,,,I love all the characters more espec,,Keisha and her Malcolm, Val and Kristine,,,
    I take my hat off to the cast for they really did a great job,,,I couldn’t ask for more,,,
    btw, I was so surprised to learn that both Stacy and Lisa were born in the 60s,,,esp Lisa, she looks like she is from 1975 downwards,,,,, I love Keisha’s role and damn, the gal got game, hawt body and she’s dam pretty,,,,,I wish her and Malcolm hook up in real life,,,,,
    And for the record,,,,Val should have sticked to the guy who “does not go down on woman” or better yet Theo,,,,,
    I can’t wait for the next season,,,, BTW, congrats to Queen Lat on this project,,,and MANY GREETINGS FROM AFRICA,,,WE LOVE YA GAL,,,,

  20. PopSter says:

    Omg Single Ladies sucks. There’s a reason Stacy Dash hasn’t been in much since the 90s. I think she’s beautiful and absolutely stunning for her age but she does not have strong acting skills. Not only that but the storylines are terribly bad, the writing is bad, the dialogue is bad, the directing is bad. Let’s face it, its just bad.

  21. Disappointed says:

    so r u saying cos they are A.A we must support them? Why should we as A.A support Junk, just cos they are working.. Give us and represent us in a good way and you will see the support blow out the roof..
    As an A.A i am disappointed in your comment but mostly Disappointed on the stereotype this show is feeding our young ladies…

  22. Disappointed says:

    Just because other race support their race in silly stuff does not mean we as black pple should follow suit..
    We can do better in moving our race forward in the right direction..

  23. Disappointed says:

    so u r only tuning in to watch one black person..so how r u supporting Black pple working? Last time i checked there are more black pple on the show than Lisa Raye…So u need to support all of them or none of them, not this selective support you are doing.

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