If you don’t like most reality television (and I don’t), and enjoy a good piece of fiction (especially if it has one of your favorite actors in it), the times are both good and bad.
Good, in the sense that now even basic cable networks are producing quality shows.
Bad, in the sense that a Negro is still hard to come by in a high quality series.
But if I love you, I’m willing to suffer.
Por ejemplo: I hate Taye Diggs. I’ve got no problem with Audra MacDonald. She’s a lovely woman, but I’m not watching their show, Private Practice. Not even now that the lovely Sharon Leal is there. I’m not a big MacDonald fan. I didn’t even know who she was before Private Practice. I’m sure she’s great, but because she’s tied to Diggs (and some of the most flat characters on television) I can’t watch her show.
But I have, for several weeks straight, now sat through Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse on FOX because I love Harry J. Lennix.
It helps that the show is sci-fi and has an interesting (albeit borderline offensive, repulsive and sexist) premise. He is a brilliant actor. In a fair world he’d be a multi-Tony/Oscar award winning power house starring in nothing but thrillers and period dramas because he’s that kinda dude. But no. The Lennix is lucky if Spike Lee makes a movie that year because that means he might get a small part. Or if Don Cheadle cracks a collarbone. Or if someone confuses him, yet again, with the dude who played the badass on Veronica Mars. (That was the somewhat younger, but similar Christopher B. Duncan.)
But I’ll suffer through Eliza Dushku’s one-note acting and the whole “memory rape”/’human trafficking for kicks” premise because Harry killed in Julie Taymor’s adaptation of Titus and because of that film he has me for life. I cling to the screen hoping that someday he will get another role like Aaron the treacherous Moor – the Shaft of Shakespeare, the polar opposite of Othello — and will chew up all the scenery, reducing all his co-stars to rubble.
I also suffer through “Prison Break” for Wentworth Miller (a show about to finally be put out of its misery); through Grey’s Anatomy for Chandra Wilson’s awesome Miranda Bailey (even though they keep messing up her character) and Sandra Oh’s Cristina Yang (who I love). I still watch “Lost” even though they killed everyone who could tan with the exception of Naveen Andrews’ character and thank God Naveen is hot, otherwise I might have given up after they offed Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Mr. Ecko.
Stupid smoke monster.
It also helps that “Lost” is still a pretty interesting show, dead Michelle Rodriguez, Harold Perrineau and all.
I want to watch quality television, but I also want to see my favorites, like Vanessa Williams’ scene-stealing action on “Ugly Betty,” Omar Epps on “House” or S. Epatha Merkerson on “Law & Order.” I also loved the magnificently cool and multi-talented Jesse L. Martin when he was on L&O and can’t, won’t warm up to his replacement, comic-turned-semi-serious actor, Anthony Anderson.
Sometimes seeing the hottest Moor in the history of Shakespear means you have to suffer through him following Eliza Dusku around like a modern-day Bojangles with a criminal justice degree, just like I suffered watching the gorgeous Gina Torres follow Nathan Fillon around on Firefly when Gina, clearly, could carry her own show and about two movies on her back if ever given the shot.
And I lie awake wondering, why won’t they put Jill Marie Jones on Grey’s or Desperate Housewives? What’s the point in being that funny and THAT good looking and you’re not on television? Is Tracee Ellis Ross or any of the rest of the cast of “Girlfriends” ever going to pop up anywhere? Why did “Isaiah-gate” have happen (sigh, the arrogance, I know), essentially ruining the TV career of one of my favorite sporatically imployed black actors? What happened to Gloria Reuben and Eriq LaSalle’s careers post-ER? How did Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishbourne even end up on TV (ER and CSI, respectfully) after such brilliant, yet sporadically employed, film careers? They’re both Oscar-nominated actors. (He was Morpheus and Ike Turner!) Why are Victoria Rowell and Debbi Morgan both stuck on the soap opera plantation? And why did BET have to become MTV instead of CBS, because, seriously, that’s what I needed. A real, full-fledged network. Not more things that jiggle when they wiggle.
Damn you, Robert Johnson. You knew people would pay to watch garbage. People love garbage. It’s cheap and it appeals to such a broad, ignorant crowd. You tried to put a few vegetables in there, but at the end of the day ass sells so we got ass. But I have to believe that if something is well-written and entertaining all people, not just black people, would watch it.
But everyone wants to nickel and dime it so we get our latest Tyler Perry production by a guy who doesn’t know anything about film and runs all his movies and TV shows like glorified stage plays, but there’s no push to grow, adapt or change because the formula works. Ring, ring goes the cash register.
It’s a cruel, cruel world for the under-used minority actor.
Poor Allen Payne. I can’t, won’t watch House of Payne, and I own every film he’s ever been in (almost) that was worth buying.
(Which is essentially New Jack City, CB4, Jason’s Lyric, A Price Above Rubies, The Walking Dead, Tuskegee Airmen, 30 Years to Life and — don’t laugh — the 1995 comedy/horror Vampire in Brooklyn. I swear, it’s like he and Angela Bassett think they’re in an ENTIRELY different film from Eddie Murphy and Kadeem Hardison.)
And so, Friday night I will be watching Dollhouse because Harry J. Lennix is on it and I love him. I know they’ll never let him be as badass as he was in Titus ever again, but, if it gets that bad, I own the DVD. I can just watch it over and over and dream.
Who will you suffer through bad plot points and dialog for?
Side note: The acting of Angela and her hubby, Courtney B. Vance actually got me to watch an episode of ER for the first time in years a few weeks back. It was about the death of their characters’ son and I spent the whole episode both crying and going, “Damn! Angela’s skin looks AMAZING!” Really. It’s a pity that woman has had such a hard time getting quality work.