It’s been a long time since I found a TV show with a group of African-American women who weren’t going at each others’ throats, throwing drinks and jumping off tables. Although I never had sisters and grew up around my older brother, his male friends and neighborhood boys, I still had a few positive female friends growing up. But since the ’90s flood of black TV shows has disappeared, it’s hard to find a show that was anywhere near “Girlfriends” (2000–2008) or “Living Single” (1993–1998). “Insecure” comes sorta close, with its start in 2016, but I wince every time they call each other “bitch” nonstop. Still though, I was pretty excited to see shows like Tyler Perry’s “Sistas” this year and Ava Duvernay’s “Cherish the Day.” Finally a non-reality show that showed women and couples coming together.
In addition to OWN’s reality-based “Black Love,” Ava DuVernay’s “Cherish the Day” and “Sistas” seemed like two shows where I could watch couples in stable, non-violent relationships and women being legitimate friends — even if two of the three shows are fictional. And as much as I am relieved by the sight of them, I’m growing exhausted with the women on both. Some of that exhaustion may work to my benefit, but I’m not sure what the point of the rest is.
Spoilers below: Do not read if you have not watched all episodes of “Sistas” or “Cherish the Day.” Please do not leave comments saying, “I haven’t watched either show yet” because I will automatically hide/mute your comment. This is for VIEWERS ONLY.
Is it really a ‘man thing’ that I do understand?
When I watch a show with male leads, I can usually tell whether men are included as writers. Primarily because I’ve spent quite a bit of time around them, I can almost always tell, “No man or even teenage boy would do that.” When I watch “This Is Us,” I can tell men are on the writing team. When I watch “A Different World,” I can tell that Debbie Allen definitely had some men weigh in. But I have always felt like “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy” are a woman’s fairytale of how men should act as opposed to how they do act. It’s entertaining for a short period of time before it starts to sound like a Harlequin novel.
On the other hand, “Cherish the Day” knows how to balance their male leads out to seem realistic. On the new show, strong male lead Evan is immediately introduced, along with a black male mental health professional (how often do you see that on TV?) and plenty of father figures (with Ben at the top of the list). These are not the kind of men who fit the stereotype of being absolute simps nor do they all look like they left prison yesterday. They are evolved and complex characters, and for that, I am relieved.
Unfortunately, on “Sistas,” almost every man on the show is ridiculous. While comical, it is borderline offensive to just assume that a man who was raised by two LGBTQ+ parents would want to wear red and yellow panties, kiss random men on the mouth, be prancing around in an all-male strip club and find nothing even slightly abnormal about putting a dildo in his butt. It’s a caricature of what being a black male parent — heterosexual or homosexual — is like and only perpetuates the scare tactics that already have made foster care slow to evolve. Then there’s the mentally abusive guy who seems to always be broke and dependent on his bicycle and his ex-girlfriend’s friend for a place to say. Even some of the professional men are cheaters, laugh off sexual assault or end up in jail.
Meanwhile the positive, put-up-with-no-drama men like Aaron (a preacher with no church), Preston (white guy whose personality seems to be created from a country song) and Paris (Ms. Irene’s grandson) are missing in action on too many episodes. If the goal of “Sistas” is to make sure women realize how much time they waste with no-good men, mission accomplished. But could there be more balance? Can we see the “good guys” win at least with one woman?
That’s the way love goes — or not
The beauty of “Cherish the Day” is that the women are as strong as the men. But the show gets exhausting to me primarily because I see the uglier side of my personality in Gently. Minus arguing with librarians — which seems like bottom-of-the-barrel attitude problems — Gently is a wee bit too independent and argumentative. The idea of anyone financially helping her or even being by her side seems to annoy her more than it does comfort her.
As much as I like the show, I think this attitude (my own included) has been shown far too often in recent years and I wish Gently would reel it in a little. The beauty of characters like Clair Huxtable (on the ’80s series “The Cosby Show”) were that she was as strong as she was gentle. Cliff and Clair worked more as a team than they did fighting among each other. The same thing I like about watching them in action is the same thing I like about seeing Rainbo and Dre on “Black-ish.” They work as a unit. (Note: I despised those divorce-adjacent episodes.) We’ve got enough broken, unstable and angry African-American couples we can find when the TV goes off. I just don’t want to see it when my television is on. I learn more about how to create healthy, happy and fulfilling relationships from looking at fictional sitcoms like “The Cosby Show” and “Black-ish” and real-life shows like “Black Love.”
Of course I can always turn my TV off and see them, too, but too many people cannot. My parents have been married for 40 years (this coming August) and grandparents were married for 49 years. I tip my hat to my older brother who cleared 21 years with his high school sweetheart. I just want to see more of that side than I do couples who don’t look like they’ll make it and/or cannot be trusted without adult supervision.
The underrated sisterhood angle
The one reason I keep cheering on “Sistas” is because these women stay by each other’s sides even during the worst situations. Adultery? They’re judging, but they still have each others’ backs. Insecurity? They’ll drown each other in compliments. Tragedy? Expect them all to be at the hospital with one another. Jealousy? It’s minimal, but even when it’s there, one of the other three will get the weakest link together pronto. Comedy? Good lord, please give a standing ovation to Danni. If you do not have a funny friend in your real life, you’re missing out.
But the friendship I enjoy the most is the mutual love and respect shared between Gently and Miss Luma Lee Langston. While many shows have explored the relationships between women and their grandmothers or moms, I can’t recall seeing many shows where the two women are non-blood related and enjoy just being in each other’s company. Even after Gently got married and went off to live a multi-million dollar lifestyle, with the help of Evan, she still wanted to hang out and do a podcast with Miss Luma. It reminds me of my childhood “best” friend — my parent’s chain-smoking landlord’s wife, who played Solitaire and told me what “my problem” is on a regular basis. I loved that lady! It is a wonderful sight to watch two women of differing ages just sit down and have mutual admiration for each other. For that alone, I have so much respect for the show.
No show will ever be perfect. You give me a show and I can nitpick something I don’t like about a character, a plot or even a scene. Regardless of my troubles with these new shows, it is still nice to see African-American women and men who are not (always) the butt of the joke or the token black friend. Let’s hope for the ’90s trend again — but with less stereotypes in Calvins, conniving Garys and dependent Zacs. It’s about time we see boys grow into men and women come together.
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