A review of episode ten* of VH1's Single Ladies after the jump. You can read all my reviews of the show here.
*I was informed that the premiere movie – what I call episode one – is considered a separate entity from the show. So my reviews are numbered incorrectly. Oops. This is technically episode nine. Why VH1 did it this way is beyond me.
I have mixed feelings about tonight's episode. Some stuff worked really well, but too much of it was just … off.
I really enjoyed the way that the Val and Jerry relationship developed and I particularly liked the way the (supposed) end was handled tonight. The show has treated Jerry with the utmost respect and that was the treatment of his desire to never marry again. It's a reasonable feeling to have, but it does conflict considerably with the kind of woman that Val is. There was no attempt to make Jerry the bad guy and even when Val finally tells him it won't work, we feel for them a bit.
Also – Stacey Dash did terrific work in the scene where Jerry told her he didn't want to ever get married again. Her totally silent reaction perfectly captured how Val's world was completely falling apart before her eyes. Magnificent work.
I also liked the way LisaRaye handled that scene with Malcolm's ex-wife even though it is abundantly clear that Malcolm's "honesty" is really just "honest about what he wants to share." I mean, really? Racist father gives money to daughter's black friend but draws the line at that black friend being daughter's boyfriend? If he really don't like black folks, he ain't giving him any money regardless of the relationship to the daughter.
But then, Keisha and Malcolm's relationship is ridiculous and the sloppily rendered film noir-esque plotting to it really stands out tonally from the rest of the show. If Terrance really does hate Malcolm, why doesn't he just blow his spot up now? Why be cryptic? Is a character like Terrance really the cryptic type or is he the explosive Tazmanian devil destroy everything in his path type? These are the kinds of questions one thinks of when watching this particular storyline unfold.
I really wish we could have gotten to know Vincent and Omar with Vincent before they so abruptly ended that relationship. Last week, Omar got drunk because Vincent didn't attend a dinner party, but this week he's "over him" and dating some old fling? It could happen, but the show didn't earn it. Omar's story can't continue to happen offscreen…
…certainly not if it just makes room for the completely ridiculous April the A&R exec story (which continues to be completely, amazingly unbelievable and very very boring) and the neverending saga of Christina the immature college student who is a different person depending on who she's dating. With this new guy, she's now insecure and jealous about her new boy toy's interest in the girl they brought into their bed. This despite last week's escapade with the guy who had a low sex drive.
I am willing to believe that there is a limit to Christina's wildness, but the problem is we don't even know why she's wild and so we can't gauge when she's reacting within the limits of who she is or when her behavior is solely the wild creation of writers who have no idea what to do with her character. She broke up with last week's guy because he wasn't going to satisfy her sexually and now she's relatively conventional in her disdain for a new guy's desire for another woman, which turns out to be about wanting him to be her boyfriend? When has she ever wanted a boyfriend? Why couldn't her annoyance have been about something more interesting like an affront to her (perhaps mistaken) belief in her inherent desirability? That would feel more like the Christina who's been introduced to us.
A full season in it is clear that the show is still really struggling to service all of its characters well. The writers would do well to think about the tone conveyed in each story, the plotting, and the central relationships. Right now, there is practically no relationship between Val and Christina, which is a glaring oversight and a failed opportunity to show different sides to both women. Omar and Christina need to be integrated more fully into the show. And there just have to be stories about the main characters and not just stories about each of them independent of one another.
All in all, not a bad episode but not a very good one either.
I’m going to think about this review some more before I respond. For the most part it’s fair. There are some things that you simply have no way of knowing. Like Vincent, Wilson Cruz is a good friend and I wrote the part for him. He was supposed to be in the last four episodes but due circumstances beyond our control we were forced to write him out abruptly.
And I have quite a few Japanese friends and this story line was formed directly from long conversations about the attitudes of many people in Japan. I’m sure you don’t have sold on the idea that a person will business with a man from another race but are far from comfortable having that man marry his daughter. Anyway, I should stop. I’ll come back later.
Sorry about the typos above. Trying to read your review, post on Facebook and twitter. Too much!!!
Like your response to the episode itself, I had mixed feelings about your review. To quote you exactly, “Some stuff worked really well, but too much of it was just … off.
I should first start by saying that I actually enjoy your blog and have read it faithfully ever since Travis Winfrey turned me on to it. Over all, I think that all of your reviews are a bit harsh. And I think you too often dismiss the real work and artistry that people of a piece of work simply because it is not your taste. I mean, the Kelly Rowland review was… Ouch. And it’s obvious that it is precisely because you like and respect her so much that you are so disappointed with the final product. I get that.
But in support of the artists you review there are so many variables that go into the making of any form of artistic expression that it is really unfair to suggest that the final product is the exact vision the artists had in mind. We, the writers, singers, actors, are often at the mercy of lawyers and accountants who have no interest in the artistic merit of the final product. They are trying, based on whatever secret formula they have devised (and certainly do not share with us) to pick commercial hits and justify their jobs and expense accounts. And, because most of us don’t have the clout of “A-list talent”, we are constantly being second guessed and must (if we are to have a product at all) find a way to achieve both goals; commercial success and artistic merit. It is, to say the least, a very tricky dance.
Many times, in your reviews of Single Ladies, there have been behind the scenes opinions, realities, requests and responsibilities that have limited the space in which we, as writers, were even allowed to work and thus affected what you are so casually dismissing. But of course, how would you know this? So, a few weeks ago, my mentioning the degrees and universities had nothing to do with “throwing them in your face.” I was only trying to suggest that the three writers on the show (and there are only three, most shows have at least 6 or 7) are very conscious people. We don’t just throw anything together. Comments like “if the writer’s even bothered” were particularly disturbing because I have been on shows where the Exec Prod don’t care and are just collecting a check. That is not the case here. We are forever negotiating a minefield of expectations and agendas.
Travis and the character he portrays, Omar, is a great example. As much as you love the character and Travis’ fine portrayal, we have gotten complaints about expanding his storyline and certainly got a lot of negative mail and commentary about his on screen kiss. Almost all of this commentary came from the black community. And some in the gay community (black and white) have complained that he is nothing more than a typical stereotype. I am the one who pushed to expand the character’s role and I am grateful that I work in place where that suggestion was headed. Ms. Littlejohn listened to my reasons and my story pitch and said okay. Most shows, especially Black shows, are content to say, “We did the gay episode.” As if gay, African-American can be reduced to a 30 minute after school special. Unfortunately, the four episode arc we wrote and were ready to produce for Omar and Vincent had to be nixed for reasons beyond the control of anyone on the show. Many shows would have just killed the storyline of the gay character all together. Ms. Littlejohn pushed that we keep developing Omar’s life. Even if it meant she and I had to stay and write after we finished shooting at 3 a.m. on a Saturday morning until 8 o’clock the next morning so the script could be delivered and cast on Monday morning. Part II tomorrow.
And still I see typos. I apologize. It’s late and I’ve been in front of the computer for hours.
Let me say first that I really appreciate that you keep coming back each week to read what I write. I don’t imagine for a minute that doing so is easy for you.
That said, I completely understand the challenges of creating anything for black people in an industry that thinks so little of us, in an industry that has very narrow beliefs about what we want to see on television. I have no doubt that VH1 as an entity owned by Viacom, which continues to support everything that is wrong with BET and MTV probably asks you to do things that you wouldn’t ordinarily want to do.
I have no way of knowing all the specific things that take place behind the scenes that result in what I watch. And frankly, it’s immaterial. I judge the work. It is simply too easy to sit back and say “oh well the corporate suits won’t let a black show be great” and then proceed to say I love Single Ladies because it’s one of the few shows we have.
Your comment suggests you are frustrated with the situation in which you are asked to work and the way it infringes on your ability to be creative. I get that. But that doesn’t mean that critics, who are not privy to that information, must watch uncritically to make you feel better about working under (admittedly) terrible circumstances.
I think you guys need stronger writers, a bigger budget, better sets, a stronger cast, and a freer hand to make the show you want. I don’t pretend that you are laboring under the same luxuries that Matt Weiner or Alan Ball enjoy. Trust me, I don’t.
And I don’t hate Single Ladies, but I am frustrated by it’s inconsistency. I am frustrated by the fact that black folks are continually asked to support and like and champion work that we know we shouldn’t. I am frustrated by the fact that after Living Single and Girlfriends, someone seems to think we need yet another single bougie women in a city dramedy. I am frustrated by the fact that our smaller number means that investment in our entertainment means some company may not make money so doesn’t invest the way it would for a white-led show. I get it.
It isn’t just about the stories themselves so much as the way the stories are told. I don’t object to any story per se so much as I sometimes object to the telling of it(or the acting). I stand by my assessment of the April storyline and my frustration that Christina is a character flailing at the margins of the show. Those decisions could be by design or they may not be, either way I say they do a disservice to the characters, the actresses, and the show.
As for my harshness, well, to each his own. But I also think that your much shorter, happier comments on reviews of the episodes I like suggest you know I am fairer than you care to admit. If you want me to just like it all uncritically, you should know by now that ain’t happening.
As to why I do this: I think the black folks are so conditioned to feel obligated to support and like (one can support without liking, contrary to popular opinion) everything that other black folks do because we get so little chance to do anything. I am sympathetic to that belief, but I also reject it. I think we can do better. I think we should do better.
I also think there is nothing wrong with critique; indeed, I think criticism is essential to the making of art. I think we often confuse what we like with what is great. I like True Blood, but it is just as wildly inconsistent, contemptuous of some of its characters, and absurd in its telling as Single Ladies sometimes is.
You reference my Kelly Rowland review. I think it’s a good piece to pull up. I adore her. I think, tonally speaking, she’s the best female singer of her type in the game. But my adoration for her should not, cannot, and will not get in the way of an honest assessment of the creative output. Sure – people may like it. And sure it may be what is hot in the streets. But that doesn’t make it good. Craft matters. Production matters. Notes matter. There is little to crow about on Kelly’s album other than the fact that she got to make a third album and those that love her uncritically have something to listen to.
I’m cool wit all this, man.
Actually, it’s not hard at all to read your blog each week. I’ve been working in TV for 16 years and I have a very thick skin. But, I do think we are having two entirely different conversations and thus I’ll step back. I am not asking you to think uncritically. I am asking that you think critically about critique.
At the end of the day I applaud and salute you. I have no complaints and I have a good life. I have a great job. Working in TV is fun. I’m not a brain surgeon. I’m not solving world peace. I’m not feeding hungry children (although I do have an 8 year-old nephew who might qualify). I get up in the morning and go to work everyday and make believe.
In the words of the great Shirley Horn, “Here’s to Life.”
just saw a sneek peek… now Christina has a live journal!! http://www.vh1.com/video/misc/678505/disaster.jhtml#id=1668405
Why is she asking you to accept and consider the show’s issues in your critique! I don’t think she even realizes that she is providing a bright example of the problem in black entertainment. S**t, craft matters!
You obviously do think critically about your critiques, but maybe they should think a little more critically about how much they are willing to sell their integrity, ouch was that a little harsh?
I must share that I appreciate your comments and the additional understanding it provides us on the dynamics of the show.
However, if your premise holds (that behind the scenes opinions, realities, requests and responsibilities affect critiques) then should we applaud shows more or less based on the ‘conditions’ in which they were developed? How would that affect our response and appreciation for The Cosby Show, The Game, Girlfriends, etc…?
I posit that while ‘conditions’ are a valuable footnote, they should not dictate one’s critique. Great is great and bad is bad.
I feel guilty because I want to love this show.. But honestly I have friends who enjoy Jersey Shore more than Single Ladies.. Crazy world huh?
I have not been able to develop any attachment to any of the characters.. The kind of feeling you get where you always rooting for your favorite character whether they are wrong or right. The poor little white girl who is only in the episode long enough to only see her have sex or talk about sex belongs on the MTVs cancelled show Skins instead of this show. I was pleased with Jerry.. It was nice to see a nice Black man even though he didn’t want to get married. Yes I guess you can say the stereotypical gay character is present, but I really appreciate him being there.. And to just go from him being desperately whining to be with his boyfriend one week.. To they guy irritating him to death by a mere sneeze is..not fair .. Even sex in the city showed the decline in a relationship and even sometimes managed to do it in one episode. I don’t get angry or sad when the ladies go
Through their trials, when Val broke up with Jerry. I was more upset that there would be a lack of a positive black male, then the fact that they broke up.
The story from one episode to the next often leaves me wondering if I skipped any episodes..
I’m really disappointed every episode
And April.. Sometimes I wonder why she is even there .. Don’t get me wrong. I have had my share of being mistreated by guys, but I think it really bothers how her husband is portrayed .. It’s like the writers are determined to make us hate him.. Even though she was in the wrong. ( I know this was discussed before). I mean if was the other way around .. Some women would probably spend the guys Money too for
Retaliation, but in most cases .. We cry, and talk to
Our friends, eat ice cream, etc… I wish they would have let his character be more vulnerable .. Maybe instead of distancing himself from Val .. Delve deeper into their friendship.. Maybe even have then develop feelings..anything but that angry Black man routine..
Sorry for the typos 🙂
Does anyone know what the song is that plays in the background during the party scene in episode 10? My wife is going crazy trying to find it.