Phylicia Rashad & Keshia Knight-Pulliam (circa 1985)
Believe it or not, this is the great LaWanda Page, best known as Aunt Esther from SANFORD AND SON. Yes, this is her and it is real! She was a fire eater, among other acts…and she was fine!
(this is a reposting of my column on Shadow And Act - http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/this-week-in-black-television-how-to-fix-black-sitcom-characters)
In Part II of my focus on Black sitcoms, I am concentrating on helping us all figure out what’s going wrong, or right, with Black talent in other sitcoms – specifically on shows where they’re the only Black person on cast. Below, are some points in helping us, and the entertainment community at large, figure out how these can improve.
Surprisingly, Lamorne Morris’ character of Winston in New Girl has of late been given much more to do than stand around, spout something intelligent or insightful that the silly other characters haven’t noticed and then fade back into the background. Maybe, just maybe executive producer Liz Meriwether and her writing team have been reading my column (it’s possible!) and taken notice that people care about my man Winston and done right by him? Whatever the whys and wherefores, the point is that Winston finally matters. Shame that he had to break up with Kali Hawk’s Shelby (she’s #4 on my personal ‘Wifey’ list) but it has bettered his character; their Halloween breakup episode was one of the best of the series this year.
So where can they improve Winston? Really just by building a more distinct personality for him. He’s not cartoonish like Schmidt or angry like Nick nor does he need to fit into a goofy mold. Winston is sensible but prone to high emotion and definitely has some centering and growing up to do, some of which it seems they were trying to establish in season one, though unsuccessfully and boringly like when they tried to make him a super-nanny of a little white child. Yes, that’s true. But the recent episode in which Winston plotted with Jess to get a bathtub for the house, which led to utter disaster, was an intelligent and comedic way to bring him into the center of the action. Why should all of Jess’ attention center on Nick and their ‘will they or won’t they’ subplots? (Of course the flipside is that Nick got to spend time with the beautiful and talented Olivia Munn from The Newsroom but we’ll leave that alone for now). So what should his personality be? Well he’s found his path and figured out what his post-European basketball playing days skill set is, as a radio producer, so they can build on that and have him try and settle his inadequacy issues which harken back to his overbearing and dismissive mother and more successful athlete sister, and work from there.
Work Well With Others…and Makes Them Better
Guys With Kids (yes, I obviously watch it so leave me alone!) much to the surprise of viewers and critics alike (myself, included) is still running. It works because it has classic sitcom characteristics: easy-to-understand characters, both visually and personality wise, cute kids/babies, and surprise…its own voice. It also has a great element that wasn’t fully regarded my (not me) most: Anthony Anderson, who is the absolutely best thing about the show, without question. And this comes from a non- card carrying member of the Jesse Bradford fan club (yes, you don’t have to tell me, I obviously watch too much television if I’m a fan of Jesse Bradford). Anderson carries the show on his narrower with more weight loss but still broad shoulders and his good chemistry with sitcom veteran Tempestt Bledsoe, a relationship in which he is the stay-at-home dad for two rowdy boys and a newborn twins. So how does Anderson make this show work? Well, while the sitcom is built as an ensemble and does not center on any one character or couple to guide it, there will always be a standout – and that’s Anderson, who since the Saturday morning NBC kiddie show Hang Time, and his continual work in movies like Exit Wounds, Kingdom Come, and even Barbershop, has been the comedic, or in films like Hustle & Flow the sardonic, breath of fresh air that either helps elevate other performers or the movie on a whole. Unfortunately, when Anderson is the lead, like in the short lived K-Ville, or dreadful movies like his Kings Ransom and My Baby Daddy, he doesn’t have as much success. Not everyone can take the lead, but Anderson is that go-to-guy to make average fare extraordinary.
Um, Actually BE Funny
Staying on NBC but leaving Tracy Morgan alone on 30 Rock since it is coming to an end come January (though I can write a chapter of a book on the idiot evolution of his character), as well as Leslie David Baker and Craig Robinson on The Office as their show ends come May 2013, we have the comedian Retta who plays Donna on Parks & Recreation. How can the smart-mouthed Donna be improved upon? She cannot. Donna is comedy gold! Some may argue that we need to see more of Donna. This could not be further from the truth. As the best sitcom ensemble on the air, beating out Damon Wayans Jr. and crew on Happy Endings, the cast on Parks gels beautifully. Though the show could use less of Andy (Chris Pratt) they use Donna to perfection, centering in on her occasional hilarious facial reactions and behind-the-scenes sexy shenanigans that we sometimes get glimpses of. Donna cares about others, but cares about herself more and while she values her job (which I now realize I have no idea what she does!) is more concerned about her life outside of it, making her less cantankerous than her workers and thus my favorite kind of city worker. Her dynamic must come from her comedy background, knowing how to play the supporting role to distinction (think Steve Landesberg on Barney Miller) and not digging for the spotlight. Funny and witty and possessing great comic-timing, Retta is an amazingly rare gem among the tropes of sitcom actors, Black or otherwise.
Know how to Tally Ho!
The British invasion of American television is nothing new, though on Black shows it has been less common outside of Idris Elba on The Wire and Lennie Smith on Jericho. It’s been seen even less in comedy, and seldom from Black women. Toks Olagundoye from The Neighbors is the exception to the lack of Black female Brit talent on American sitcoms. Now The Neighbors, a show about a normal family from the city that buy a house in a suburban subdivision of aliens from outer space who all dress alike and have names of celebrities, is a show that you definitely should not judge by its pilot, which was barely watchable. Yet like Guys With Kids, the actors make the questionable material work, thanks to veteran actor Jami Gertz, but also Brit actor Simon Templeton as Larry Bird and Ms. Olagundoye who plays his wife Jackie Joyner-Kersee. While as an alien slowly getting turned around to Earth customs taught by new neighbors the Weavers, Toks (a cute shortening of Olatokunbo, her full first name) is often the first to point out the silliness and hypocrisy, of many Earth customs – often with a sarcastic and maddening English spark, especially when Larry Bird takes them at face value. Her comic timing is very on point, and works tightly with her co-stars. And let’s face it, she’s much cuter than ALF. So nothing against American actors of course, but sometimes these Brits have a way of jazzing material up. Must be all that tea.
The long and short of it all is that the best Black sitcom characters, aside from having some combination of the above virtues, don’t act like subordinates to the other cast members. That was my main problem with Winston last season on New Girl, but less so now. Though, that’s my problem with Echo Kellum on Ben & Kate, though I’ll give him some more time to get into his role.
That’s it for today folks. Look out after Christmas for ‘The YEAR in Black Television’ where I’ll review the best shows and their moments, as well as lament on those we lost. Happy Holidays!
(reprinted from my article on Shadow And Act 10-11-2012 — http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/this-week-in-black-television-the-new-fall-season-thoughts-thus-far)
This regular feature has been clearly absent the past two weeks because I was buried under an avalanche…of too many TV shows! Between returning favorites like Fringe and new fare like Last Resort, there’s been a torrent of TV watching in the ol’ homestead. But now I’ve finally dug myself out and am able to share my humble opinions on what’s good so far and what (or who) needs to go back to the drawing board. Warning – SPOILERS ARE ABOUND!
Co-starring Kym Whitley and starring Justin Kirk, Joanna Garcia-Swisher
People are coming down on this show, and while it may not be a comedy giant I actually enjoy Kirk’s acerbic wit and his chemistry with ex-girlfriend and now boss Dorothy Crane, played by Garcia Swisher, best known as daughter Cheyenne from the Reba McIntrye WB series Reba. What’s horrible about the show is Bobby Lee, who just isn’t funny as a “punching bag’ character – though many may argue that he’s not even funny when he isn’t that – and that they usually funny Tyler Labine is being wasted as an almost straight man when he’s usually the funniest person on the cast, making us miss his biggest charm. Whitley is okay as Juanita, a nurse in the practice and obviously just provides a supporting role and actually has less screentime that everyone else. Undoubtedly the best thing about the show is the Crystal the monkey from The Hangover II playing Dr. Rizzo. If you don’t remember him (her?) from that, he’s also the monkey that appeared in that commercial during the Summer Olympics where he was on the parallel bars that was shown right after a story Bob Costas did about Gabby Douglas doing the same. Yeah, ahem. That said, the monkey really is funny!
Co-starring: Craig Robinson and Leslie David Baker
Thankfully this is the last season of this show, which really sucks after Steve Carrell left. Still, as his star rises more every year Craig Robinson as Darryl remains one of the only watchable aspects of this show, and was recently promoted as assistant regional manager of fictional paper company Dunder-Mifflin under Ed Helms’ Andy Bernard, who has been in charge of the branch last year after Michael Scott’s (Carrell) departure. Really, everyone on the show seems to be winging it right now and it’s pretty boring, though a new storyline with Jim (John Krasinsky) realizing how stagnant his life is and taking a secret chance jumpstarting a new company is a fresh compelling storyline. Recent show addition Clark Duke, who starred with Robinson in Hot Tube Time Machine, has given the show some much-needed humor and vitality. And having Ameenah Kaplan’s recurring character Val as Darryl’s love interest is also nice to see – they have nice chemistry and she’s has a welcoming on-screen presence.
Co-starring Tyler James Williams and Bill Cobbs, starring Matthew Perry
Though I’ve always liked Perry, I wasn’t expecting much from Go On. BIG MISTAKE. I see Go On as a dark comedy, one not so concerned with being nice but ultimately does sneak in some great lessons on not just how to relate to others, but moving on with grief as Perry’s character Ryan King has lost his wife and is forced by management at the radio station where he hosts a popular talk show to enter therapy before returning. The writers returned King to work by episode two, providing a workable balance between his professional life and his therapy shenanigans, in which he’s on surface the most stable among his cohorts but they’re all pretty damaged underneath. Tyler James Williams isn’t given enough to do though and he’s extremely overshadowed by his co-stars despite being the second most recognizable cast member behind Perry, so hopefully that will change soon. Veteran character actor Bill Cobbs, best known for his old angry Black man roles of late (and totally underrated in the film Get Low), as blind man George is one of those who does so, so much that in the pilot he wasn’t a regular cast member but go bumped up afterwards replacing actor/voice artist Khary Payton, who can’t seem to ever land a regular TV role outside of animation.
Co-starring Monica Raymund, Eamonn Walker, Charlie Barnett; starring Taylor Kinney and Jesse Spencer
Dick Wolf’s latest TV drama takes us out of NYC and to Chicago to a firehouse that takes on some of the Windy City’s toughest fires with the prettiest cast you’ll ever see doing so. The pilot just aired last night and predictably begins with a somewhat carless death of one of the squad members then transitions to a rookie aka ‘candidate’ coming on-board to take his place. Charlie Barnett plays said candidate, Pete Mills, and his fresh-faced enthusiasm is infectious, but not over done like in most melodramas. The kid is good on-screen and as an audience member you look forward to seeing more of him, though the main drama surrounds Kinney, who must like trouble as he co-starred as an EMT on the 2009’s failed NBC rescue drama Trauma (which co-starred Derek Luke) as firefighter/elite rescue squad Lt. Kelly Severide and House M.D.’s Jesse Spencer, with an impressive American accent, as his counterpart on the fire truck squad, Lt. Matthew Casey.
Monica Raymund, most recently seen on The Good Wife, plays EMT Gabriela Dawson, a forthright young woman who begins to question her skills after saving the life of a young girl through unsafe measures and is then left under review by her superiors. Raymund is given some fairly heavy drama which she does an adequate job of facing. I’m not sure this is the best role for her, but we’ll see how she performs in her next few episodes. I had to question whether I was being sexist being glad that she’s not one of the firefighters and having to prove that ‘she can do that job better than any man’. I’m glad that’s not her role as that would have been extremely predictable, though one has to question why there are no women on the squad (I have no idea what the ratio is between male and female firefighters in Chicago). Walker is just okay as the Fire Chief Boden, the man in charge of both the truck and rescue squads. Basically, he’s the big daddy and as such is somewhat detached from the heavy day-to-day internal struggles of the younger cast members. There is a back-story to him though, as rookie Mills sees significant scarring on his back as he walks in on the chief changing. Hopefully we find out more about that and him. I love how he was integral to the plot of the 2006-2007 FOX show Justice, as one of the four law firm members who handle high-profile, media-circus cases – basically what Scandal could’ve/should’ve been (though that’s not saying much since Justice didn’t last an entire season).
I’m not sure if this show will last, but the pilot’s fire scenes were excellently filmed and choreographed and imagine the budget for Chicago Fire is huge. It’s no Rescue Me, and really shouldn’t even be compared, so while the jury is still out it’s worth the next viewing.
Starring Giancarlo Esposito, co-starring Maria Howell, Tracy Spiridakos, and Billy Burke
I did a full review of Revolution weeks ago, and now four episodes in the show is, well, it’s just okay. Episode two, entitled Chained Heat, was a boring follow-up to the first pretty-good episode. Bit at least things picked up in number three, and this past Monday’s episode ‘The Plague Dogs’ was engaging and even a bit heartfelt. We haven’t seen Maria Howell’s character Grace since her secret use of electricity, which has been expunged from the Earth and resulted in a 15-year catastrophe, got her kidnapped by an unknown assailant in episode two. Characters Aaron and Maggie (Zak Orth, Anna Lise Phillips) did make it to her house and finally discovered what the device that Charlie’s (Spiridakos) dad gave Aaron was for, to spark the use of electric power, allowing Maggie to use her iPhone and see pictures of her children one last time.
Giancarlo Esposito is still scarily respected as Captain Tom Neville, a high-ranking office in the immediate region’s militia. He’s tough but not an a-hole, and his interaction with his prisoner, Charlie’s brother Danny (Graham Rogers) provides the best performances on-screen. You wait for Esposito to come on screen and are upset when he’s not. I want to enjoy Revolution more, so I and many other sci-fi fans prey that it will get better since it was the first show this year picked up for a full season.
Guys With Kids
Starring Anthony Anderson and Tempestt Bledsoe.
Is this still on the air? Just kidding (But really, is it?). Once you get past the awful title, the show is a standard as ever sitcom. I will say though that Anthony Anderson and Tempestt Bledsoe, in her first regular show since the revered The Cosby Show, do have good chemistry and the couple with multiple kids who are at their wits end. I like Anderson, he’s a funny dude, and he handles the material best as he can. Jesse Bradford as his newly divorced buddy Chris is funny and engaging, but The Sopranos’ Jamie-Lynn Sigler is not funny and pretty unwatchable in comedy. No one expects this show to last but if you just feel like watching a standard show that won’t stretch your imagination and will make you guffaw once or twice, tune into this sitcom.
Ben & Kate
Co-starring Echo Kellum, starring Nat Faxon and Dakota Johnson
Having reviewed the pilot in a prior column, I’ll go onto say that after three episodes Ben and Kate still stands up. Kellum has good comic timing as the titular Ben’s buddy Tommy, playing a relatively wealthy kid with too much time on his hands – and thus makes all the time for Ben. This can be argued as, pun not intended regarding his character’s name, Uncle Tom like tendencies, but if you inserted a white person into that role one would not be saying that. Still, history unfortunately accounts for something. The second episode in which Tommy gives up his parent’s house to cover as Kate’s since she’s trying to prove that she and her daughter Maddie live in a prestigious neighborhood so that she can attend a good school, was pretty funny and co-starred veteran actors Vernee Watson (Fresh Prince, What’s Happening?! – to name a few) and Tom Wright (Brother From Another Planet, Barbershop) as Tommy’s parents.
Co-starring Jasika Nicole and Lance Reddick; starring Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson and John Noble
Though Reddick has yet to appear, Jasika Nicole has been featured heavily in this final season of Fringe as Astrid Farnsworth. The action of the show now takes place in a dystopian 2036 wherein the creepy bald dudes The Observers rule over the Earth with an iron fist and Peter and Olivia’s now grown daughter Etta is an undercover freedom fighter. Nicole is not given enough to do still outside of helping mad scientist Walter (Noble) in the lab but it’s good to have her presence there.
Co-starring Lamorne Morris. Starring Zooey Deschanel.
I’m so not a fan of how Lamorne Morris’ character Winston is treated on this show that in a previous column I’ve coined the phrase “Winston’d” him/her to denote when a Black character appears on a show/movie to supposedly co-star, but is relegated to the background behind ALL other stars of the show/movie despite his/her supposed presence. This also applies to Ernie Hudson of Ghostbusters, who has the same name in that movie series, as not just to put this all on young Morris.
All that said, I somewhat feel that Winston is moving out of that rut. In the past episode he actually got a promotion on his job after feeling like a lesser-than these past few weeks. In a prior episode this season he’s been portrayed as so sad that he cannot escape the shadow of his WNBA star sister (the beautiful Keenyah Hill from America’s Next Top Model (2nd runner-up Cycle 4) and Ebony Lewis’ Truth Unspoken web-series) and overbearing mother played by Anna Maria Horsford, and can’t even figure out how to ‘get busy’ with his girlfriend Shelby, recurring cast member Kali Hawk (who we don’t see enough of and was hilarious in the ‘Time Angels’ episode of Adult Swim’s NTSF: SD: SUV).
666 Park Avenue
co-starring Vanessa L. Williams and Samantha Logan. Starring Terry O’Quinn, Rachael Taylor, Dave Annable
More soap than horror, and not necessarily in a good way, 666 Park Avenue continues ABC’s specialty of cheesy programming. The show’s premise is that, “At 666 Park Avenue, all of your dreams and burning desires can come true: wealth, sex, love, power, even revenge. But just be careful what you wish for, because the price you pay… could be your soul.” All that action takes place at an exclusive apartment building named the Drake, which is owned by O’Quinn (Locke from LOST) who plays a Gavin Doran, a devilish (or is he The Devil?) man that makes resident’s dreams come true – at a price. Vanessa L. Williams plays his wife Olivia, who is definitely in on her husband’s notorious plans to entrap new resident Henry Martin (Annable, from the very-much missed Brothers & Sisters which used to occupy this Sunday night slot) through his girlfriend and new drake resident manager Jane Van Veen (Taylor) who is trying to figure out the mysteries of the building.
I was on Twitter this past Sunday and saw some tweeter’s asking the same thing I was: When are they going to give Vanessa Williams something to do? We never see her directly involved in the evilness that Gavin is doing, she mainly stands around (still) looking pretty. As the heavy on Ugly Betty, we know that Williams has it in her to play a hardcore bad characters – so let her do it showrunners!
For me, the best part of the show is the strange teenager Nona played by Samantha Logan, a kleptmaniac who seems to have tactile telepathy, allowing her to see the future of objects she steals from people. Nona is odd but not creepy, coming off as sweet but with all the knowledge of someone three times her age. The kid is a good actress, so look out for her even if 666 doesn’t last – which I have a feeling it won’t.
Starring Andre Braugher and Sahr Ngaujah. Co-starring Scott Speedman, Robert Patrick, Autumn Reeser
Finally, a show we can sink our teeth into! Starring the best actor on television, Andre Braugher as Capt. Marcus Chaplin commands the U.S. ballistic submarine Colorado which has been given orders to nuke Pakistan. When he questions these orders, and calls Washington to authenticate, he’s given the runaround, and with his XO Sam Kendal (Speedman) decides to not fire - and the Colorado is targeted, fired upon, and hit. Their submarine crippled, and their own nation against them, the crew of the Colorado fights to survive unprecedented odds and set up a base of operations on a nearby NATO friendly island. Armed with a cache of nuclear missiles and a team of Navy SEAL’s who know more than they’re letting on, the island is their new home and last resort against those trying to kill them and steal their nukes.
Braugher as Chaplin is convincingly commanding and intense, but sensitive to his crew’s concerns. He’s no punk though, and has to constantly put in place not only those defying his orders but also the government of the US who are making him appear like a traitor. Speedman, in the first role I’ve been able to take him seriously in, plays a great Riker to Chaplin’s Picard really well, jumping into action with little hesitation and standing up for himself when necessary. As island ‘mayor’ Julian Serrat, actor Sahr Ngaujah, who most know best as playing ‘Fela’ from the Broadway play of the same name, has the potential to be a pretty nefarious bad guy as he has secretly kidnapped two of the sailors from the submarine, most likely to use as a bargaining chip for the people that have overtaken ‘his’ island. He didn’t appear in last week’s episode, but should in tonight’s own.
Last Resort is only doing okay in the ratings…so we need you all to watch it and keep it on the air!!!
Co-starring Chandra Wilson, James Pickett Jr., Jesse Williams. Starring Ellen Pompeo and Sandra Oh
Though the show is past its prime, it is good enough to still be on the air. And it’s definitely more watchable than the mind-numbing Private Practice. I’m glad that all the Black characters escaped season 7’s plane crash unscathed – basically because none of them were on the plane – though at the must-be-haunted Seattle Grace hospital, that won’t last for long. Look for more from Jesse Williams’ Dr. Avery Jackson as he steps up to fill the shoes of his now deceased mentor Dr. Sloan (Eric Dane).
I have left some shows out, but Scandal’s been covered to death here on S&A, and others like Person of Interest and I just haven’t gotten into enough to give a proper critique – but a follow-up will be done. I will say check out Emily Owens MD, the real-life-is-just-like-high school drama which makes its premiere next Tuesday at 9pm on the CW. Aja Naomi King (FOUR) co-stars as the baddy on the show Dr. Cassandra Kopelson and Kelly McCreary also co-stars as Dr. Tyra Granger. Stop the presses - Two black people on one show!
In memorium of the end of Eureka last night, here’s a reprinting of my article in my ‘This Week In Black Television’ column on Shadow and Act from July 6, 2012. It touches more on Salli Richardson-Whitfield and Joe Morton and how well Eureka’s producers do color-blind casting.
Debuting in 2006 , SyFy Channel’s Eureka has been a fan favorite for five seasons strong. Now just two episodes away from the show’s final episode, a focus in this column is long past due.
Colin Ferguson stars as Sheriff Jack Carter, a man of average intelligence among a hidden Pacific Northwest town full of the world’s greatest geniuses. Carter uses his instincts, practicality, and ability to connect with others to help keep the peace and avert accidents and disasters in the town of scientists that’s founded and funded by the US government and has little to no cap for how crazy innovation can get, which is basically the setup for the majority of the episodes. In line with most science fiction programs, wholly accurate science does not stand in the way of storyline, but they do find ways to make crazy science in humorous and playful, as opposed the creepiness and seriosuness that shows like Fringe specialize in.
The great thing about Eureka is in its usual color-blind casting. Aside from Sheriff Carter, the two main leads are Salli Richardson-Whitfield (I Will Follow, Biker Boyz, Posse) as Allison Blake and the delightful Joe Morton as Henry Deacon. As long time inhabitants of Eureka, both are scientifically gifted in their own right.
Dr. Blake’s backstory started as Department of Defense agent and liaison between Eureka and the federal government, and in season two becomes the director of Global Dynamics, the science center of Eureka where the government projects take place. She primarily is an MD but also holds two PhDs. From the beginning, Dr. Blake is the one who enlists Carter’s help whenever there’s a problem in town – so all of the time. In Season 4, after a timeline switch affects the Eureka world, Blake is no longer head of GD and is instead head of their medical science division, which can be seen as a demotion but allows her to use her to be more engaged in the science aspects of the show more than before, as well as have more of a social life as she becomes involved with Sheriff Carter after multiple ‘will they or won’t they’ seasons.
In a odd way though, maybe having Dr. Blake as a mate is cursed. Her first husband, for who she has a child named Kevin (more on him later), died some time ago, then her second husband, who she divorced and later was set to remarry, former show cast member Dr. Nathan Stark played by actor Ed Quinn, gets killed helping Carter avert a scientific disaster, just minutes before their wedding. Hmmm… Still, it’s been reported that Richardson-Whitfield was the only woman of color to audition for the role of Allison Blake and that she won the role after having the best chemistry with Ferguson, and they do really have good chemistry together. And there’s no ‘bad Black women caricature’ with Richardson-Whitfield’s character: she’s attractive, stylish, and heavily pursued by many men without being a jezebel, strong-willed and savvy with no sista-gurl attitude, and a devoted mother to her two children.
One of Hollywood’s most endearing actors, Joe Morton (Brother From Another Planet, The Inkwell, Speed) plays the mysterious former NASA engineer Dr. Henry Deacon, who like many of the other residents is a multi-disciplined scientist, and in Henry’s case an expert in applied mechanics, time travel, memory-transfer, forensics and more. Unlike many of the residents, he has ethical objections to the research conducted at Global Dynamics and prefers to be employed as the town’s mechanic while he does his own scientific experiments. Henry is no team player, and to quote Morton often pushes “the envelope in terms of what he could create or what he could discover.” Yet his assistance is often counted on to defuse the situations the experiments in town create. He’s high-minded an unlike many of the residents chooses to do the humane thing over expected scientific achievement, quickly making him close friends with Carter. He’s so beloved in town that during Season 3, he was even elected Town Mayor as a write-in candidate.
Henry’s not always such a prince though, as this past Monday’s episode (NO SPOILERS, SO DON’T WORRY) revealed. Yet he has the conscience to always try and do what he feels is the right thing – which is perfect for an actor of Joe Morton’s sensitivity and steel. Not asexual in the least (see, no stereotyping!) Henry’s been involved with and old friend who eventually became his wife, Dr. Kim Yamazaki (the wonderful Tamilyn Tomita) but was killed in an explosion. He is now married to Dr. Grace Monroe, his intellectual equal, who was his wife in an alternate timeline and became so again in the new present yet altered timeline during the mind-bending Season 4, and she has just returned to the show this past episode albeit under horrible circumstances (see above spoiler warning). Grace Monroe is played by sci-fi veteran Tembi Locke, who came to that prominence during the final season of sci-fi TV show Sliders. She’s also one of the only Black people to ever appear on Friends.
So how did Morton get cast as Henry Deacon? He’s just fantastic, that’s how. Director Peter O’Fallon directed Morton on an episode of House and was doing the Eureka pilot soon thereafter. He like working with Morton so much he recommended him for the job.
The other recurring Black characters include Dr. Blake’s son Kevin, first played by Meshach Peters and presently by the engaging Trevor Jackson (A Beautiful Soul, Disney TV movie Let It Shine), a genius as well who was originally portrayed as autistic but that was removed with the new timeline, and Roger Cross (Curtis from 24) as Major Shaw. Dondre Whifield, husband of Salli recently (finally!) guest starred playing Marcus, Dr. Blake’s even more genius brother (season 5, episode 9). A great episode with one of the show’s best lines ever (on a series in which there are many): Kevin warns Carter that Marcus prejudiced. Jack goffs, “Against white people?” Kevin: “No, against dumb people.” So Kevin douses Jack’s drink with a formula to accelerate his brian functions which causes Jack to become both the smartest, and most recklessly dangerous, person in Eureka.
Seasons 1-4 are available on Netflix and seasons 1-3 on Hulu+ (most of season 5 is available on the regular Hulu online service. It should be noted that both Richardson-Whitfield and Morton have also directed multiple episodes of Eureka.
70’s actress Roseanne Katon as Princess Allegra on Jason of Star Command (Season 1, chapter 6)
Roseanne Katon (born February 5, 1954) also sometimes credited as Rosanne Katon, guest starred as the wily Princess Allegra in three episodes of late 1970’s sci-fi Saturday morning serial/show Jason of Star Command. An American model, actress, and activist, Katon is most known as Playboy magazine’s Playmate of the Month for its fantastic September 1978 issue.
Katon was born in New York City to a Jamaica-born father. Beginning in the mid-1970s, Katon worked steadily in Hollywood, including a stint on Grady, the short-lived Whitman Mayo spinoff of the hit sitcom, Sanford and Son and guest appearances on What’s Happening!!, The Facts of Life, and Good Times to name a few; she also had roles on Broadway in “Godspell,” and lead billing in the 1976 Cirio Santiago classic “Ebony, Ivory & Jade”. Yet because of her shapeliness, according to IMdB.com she was often typecast in sex kitten roles in R-Rated movies such as Chesty Anderson, U.S. Navy (1976), Lunch Wagon (1981) and Bachelor Party (1984). Naturally, appearing in Playboy cemented her as a exploitation film actress.
Notable exceptions to this rule were a recurring role opposite Denzel Washington on the medical drama St. Elsewhere and her appearance in Julie Dash’s award-winning UCLA student films, Illusions (1982) in which she played a singer who doubles for a white actress in 1940s Hollywood. Changing herself completely, at one point Katon segued into the world of stand-up comedy, even appearing in Playboy’s June 1991 pictorial “Funny Girls,” which covered female comedians.
Enjoy the clip. You can also find Katon in various online clips for What’s Happening!! and Good Times (just look up her credits HERE).
Next week I focus on the better-known Black actress on Jason of Star Command, the enduring Tamara Dobson!
Check out TheRoot.com’s posting of my article from my regular ‘This Week In Black Television’ column in last week’s Shadow and Act
Best Black TV Moments #07
“Damn. Damn! Damn!!” – Florida breaks down after James dies on Good Times
September 29, 1976 (Season 4, Episode 2)
Anyone worth their salt knows that because a phrase is heard on primetime television doesn’t mean that it came out of thin air or strictly from the minds of their creators. So when longtime television viewers, most notably those with a penchant for classic Black television, first heard Marlon Wayans on The Wayans Brothers television show from the 1990’s utter the famous, “Damn. Damn! Damn!!” phrase coined dramatically by Esther Rolle’s character Florida Evans on the 1970’s sitcom Good Times, they heard something on nationwide TV that’s been said in Black households – in both joking and non-joking fashions – for decades, and most likely in the Wayans household itself over the years.
Still, “Damn. Damn! Damn!!” being a famous phrase is both a good and bad thing. Starting with the bad, Florida utters the phrase after the wake for her husband James (played confidently by John Amos) who was killed in a car accident in Mississippi after landing a dream job that would allow the family to move down there for a better life and opportunity. In reality, show producers killed Amos’ character after he refused to come back to the show for creative differences as Amos wanted less ghetto themed episodes and more positivity in the characters lives. The phrase was striking because during the majority of the episode everyone marvels at how well Florida is holding up after the love of her life and father of her children has been taken away from her. But in the last two minutes of the show (see above), when all the grievers are gone and the children are in another room, Florida finally breaks her cool, smashes a big punch bowl on the floor and utters the phrase right before physically breaking down.
Whether it was ad-libbed or she just put a stronger spin on it is unknown, but it was without a doubt one of the most, if not the most, wrenchingly emotional and pure moments ever seen on a Black sitcom, which is why it makes this list. Without the phrase Esther Rolle would already have a solid place among Black sitcom leading ladies, but with it she’s undisputedly one of the queens of Black television.
In the clips look for a special appearance from Matthew ‘Stymie’ Beard, THE Stymie from The Little Rascals, as James’ bald co-worker as well as for Helen Martin, that 70’s TV mainstay actually best known for playing Pearl - the neighbor who always sits in her window - on 1980’s sticom 227.
Pt. 4 – Back From the funeral — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b19ije78HEo
Pt. 5- the repast — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nseE7tRuji0
Esther Rolle … Florida Evans
Ja’net DuBois … Willona Woods
Ralph Carter … Michael Evans
Bern Nadette Stanis … Thelma Evans
Jimmie Walker … James ‘J.J.’ Evans, Jr
Johnny Brown … Nathan Bookman
Helen Martin … Wanda
Raymond G. Allen … Ned the Wino
Stymie Beard … Monty
Henry Harris … James’ co-worker #1
Lee Weaver … James’ co-worker #2
Great Black TV Moments #8 – The Richard Pryor Show debuts
Though only existing for four episodes, The Richard Pryor Show debuted on September 13, 1977 and changed Black variety and sketch shows from their past display of mostly weak performances and cornball skits into satirical, hip & relevant, and even at times dramatic comedy that lead to the birth of such shows as In Living Color and Pryor’s love-child show Chappelle’s Show, which had obvious nods to its predecessor.
Starring mega-comedian Pryor, who ruled the 1970’s with his trademark honest and sometimes subjectively vulgar humor, all of which lead to varied movie performances in fare like Lady Sings The Blues, Car Wash and Silver Streak, among the most popular, The Richard Pryor Show would not be complimentary to his non-television successes.
From the beginning NBC guaranteed that this show would not be a success. Born out of a highly successful special that Pryor did for the network in May 1977, they knew what to expect but perhaps felt Pryor could not top himself and would revert to variety shows of the past. So one can imagine that once they saw the first crop of episodes they knew that the controversial comedian had something for them that would change the face of television – if they allowed it to. His contact stated that The Richard Pryor Show would air at 9pm, well clear of family hour. Yet NBC moved it to 8pm, opposite bonafide family hits Laverne & Shirley and Happy Days, both mega hits on ABC, know that very little of the Nielsen houses would watch a ‘potty-mouth’ artist at that time and around their children even if they wanted to.
According to multiple sources, including Donald Bogle and the show’s WikiPedia page, the sensors at NBC were on to Pryor from the beginning. In what was to be the opening of the original episode, Pryor showed himself full-body in a nude body stocking without genitals - which was to make him appear naked – in order to show that the network could only deal with him if he was emasculated – they threw a blurred out circle on top of his groin. The removed it from the episode.
Also according to WikiPedia” “Pryor was ready to quit before production even began because of network intervention, indifference, and incompetence during the development stage. He was eventually wooed back, agreeing to do four episodes of the show instead of the ten originally required by his contract. The four episodes were produced, and they aired in consecutive weeks, but the network interference that almost canceled the show before it began returned when the first episode’s introductory bit was cut just before air. The Richard Pryor Show did not do well in the ratings while the programs that preceded it and followed it were highly rated. After Pryor fulfilled his contractual obligations, neither he nor the network pursued any further episodes or specials.”
There were other controversies as well. A skit in which Pryor appeared as a machine gun-toting rocker who kills all of his white fans also caused a stir. The second episode also featured a controversial skit that showed a woman in a park describing what her first lesbian experience was like. The most revealing moments of the show came during the final episode of the show in which a roast sketch was given similar to the popular Friars Club roasts hosted by Dean Martin at the time. The cast roasted Pryor, who sat with his head down laughing mildly while regulars on the show either had kind remarks or very scornful ones until his moment came at the end to tell people about themselves, including the network.
But as mentioned, the show left its mark on comedy on a whole. While Pryor was in every skit his cast members that helped the comedy along…and what a cast they were. Though he was the competition, Happy Days creator Garry Marshall must have been watching Pryor’s show because he hired cast member Robin Williams later that year to appear on his show and then cast Williams in his own vehicle, Mork & Mindy, which lead to mega-stardom for Williams, to say the least.
The next year Tim Reid would also gain success as DJ Venus Flytrap on WKRP in Cincinatti, the popularity of which lead to Reid starring in TV dramas and sitcoms like Simon & Simon and Sister, Sister as well as devising and executive producing original shows like Frank’s Place and Lincs. Reid had a talent of portraying smart characters with an urban understanding and relevance that he also brought to his producing projects.
Paul Mooney would take his comedy to high success being the most honest comedian to talk about race for decades to come, as well as being a writer for In Living Color and Chappelle’s Show, natural fits for his brand of humor.
Sandra Bernhard’s comedy style would put her even higher on the comedy circuit, as well as to co-star in movies like The King of Comedy and television shows like Rosanne.
Though it took him longer to be a household name, comedian John Witherspoon would always be seen in television in one guest spot or another, most memorably on Robert Townsend’s HBO sketch comedy specials, but was more recognized for hilarious cameos in films like House Party (‘Who would want a Public Enema?’) and Boomerang, the latter of which propelled him to stardom. This lead to him co-starring in The Wayans Brothers show on the WB Network in January 1995, christening him as ‘Pops,’ as he played their father on the show and making him the go-to goofy dad/old man type, cemented in April of that year as he played Ice Cube’s dad in the hit comedy film Friday.
And of course Marsha Warfield would become a well-known comedian in her own right and into the 1980’s would co-star on Night Court as tough-as-nails bailiff Roz from 1986-1992, and Edie McClurg would go onto be a character actor and voice-over artist of note as well as co-star of Valerie’s Family.
So despite being in such disarray, The Richard Pryor Show did indeed cement a legacy for the comedian, his players, and American comedy itself. Watch the first episode in its entirety above. Special thanks to handhanh for loading up various episodes on YouTube!
Best Black TV Moments #21
Chappelle’s Show begins
episode 1, season 1
(January 2, 2003)
It started heavy, but slow. One person would tell another, and then the next, and then by week 4 it was must see TV. I recall only catching the end of the first episode of Chappelle’s Show as I got home really late from work that night – but I caught the best and most talked about segment featuring Clayton Bigsby, the Black man who was in the Ku Klux Klan and thought he was white (see above). Already a fan of Dave Chappelle, this put my adoration over the top and sealed this show as a potential – and now verified – classic.
What can I say here that hasn’t been said repeatedly about such a fantastic show, a relative game-changer for comedy, Black folks, and the Comedy Central network? So instead I’ll take a personal turn. Not to sound like an a-hole, but I said early on that the show wouldn’t last long, that it couldn’t. For those who are unaware, between having creative issues with the network and his writing partner Neal Brennan, as well as being unaccustomed to his meteoric rise in fame, Dave Chappelle walked away from his show. Being a self-described historian of television, I felt that the high-quality and self-aware work that Chappelle and his writers were putting out had a relatively short shelf life on television, much like The Richard Pryor Show and the good seasons of Keenen Ivory Wayans’ In Living Color (see future write-ups for both these shows); much like Wayans, Chappelle crafted now timeless characters (homeless man Tyrone Biggums, hater Andy “Silky” Johnston and the aforementioned Bigsby) and celebrity parodies (Rick James, Prince) as well as catch-phrases that remain too good for a big or small network to appreciate and not exploit until it’s tired. I told the girl I was seeing at the time this (though not in such detail) and she railed into me saying I had a ‘crabs-in-the-barrel’ mentality. She didn’t really know me (and frankly she was kind of nuts) and never did eventually acknowledge how right I was about everything.
Being a Black man in America always has consequences, even more so when you’re famous and possess and independent (see: free) mindset. Dave Chappelle I surmise was already aware of this, and still quite clearly chose to do things his own way and by his terms (incorporating non-pop and somewhat ‘conscious’ hip-hop artists to close his show was a grand example of this) and was called every synonym for crazy under the sun for leaving the show when people that didn’t have his best interest in mind tried to get him to stay.
Though virtually out of the spotlight after the completion of his show, Dave Chappelle’s legacy is secure as Chappelle’s Show remains an shining example of great Black television and entertainment on a whole.
Clayton Bigsby pt. 2 (video)
All videos are linked and are the courtesy of Comedy Central