Now, several weeks after the huge premiere of The Game, ratings for the show have fallen. While the numbers still look good, BET executives might be a little concerned viewers aren’t sticking with the show.
Do I like The Game? I think it’s okay. As the leading black sitcom on television, though, I think it should probably be better. The show is an interesting spin on the single camera sitcom, blending slapstick, soap opera and melodrama. It’s a bit odd, which would be fine, except it’s missing some verve.
I’ve seen series of similar quality on the web, and these shows are made with a fraction of the budget — sometimes no budget at all — in a short amount of time. There are a number of black-led and produced web series that, with the help of a BET-sized budget, could out do The Game. And there are more potentially solid series that have yet to premiere, including Milk and Honey (from Idris Elba), Booster Club (with Rashad McCants, Traci Lords), and Lenox Avenue (from Al Thompson of Johnny B. Homeless and a number of other shows).
Below are a few I think might benefit from an upgrade from the web to TV. I’ve embedded either the first episode, trailer or screener for each (may not be visible on mobile devices).
Note: These are just a handful of shows that I’ve seen, are popular or I think might appeal to the Game audience. Please consult my black web series list (or the Facebook group, or Shadow and Act) to check out all the shows, as there are many gems to be found. As I’ve covered this I’ve tried not to claim some series are “better” than others. I merely want to spotlight a few, random standouts.
12 Steps to Recovery
Tony Clomax’s professional series focuses on a man who’s recently broken up with his girlfriend and is trying to recover by dating a series of other women. The series looks great, often better than most of the black shows on TV, and the supporting cast is quite strong. 12 Steps is distributed on YouTube and on a new network, VisionTube, a site I profiled for Black Web 2.0.
Julian Breece’s series has already been on BET — online. Produced and starring Tatyana Ali, the series has everything BET seems to want out of The Game: glamor, hip hop, soap opera and comedy. But Buppies, much cheaper than The Game, I would argue is better written, more bang for the buck. Why doesn’t BET pick it up? See my full review here and interview with Ali here.
As a drama, Celeste Bright is a well-written series. From TV writer Sonya Steele, the story revolves around a financier (Celeste Bright), who becomes embroiled in a financial scandal. With a slightly bigger budget — more time to flesh out its story, additional subplots and more characters — Celeste Bright could be the kind of drama black audiences have been looking for. For more about the series, see my story here.
Johnny B. Homeless
Hip hop dramas are a small niche in the web series world. Rhyme Animal, nominated for awards from Clicker to Indie Intertube, has enough glamor to bring in an audience but retains its underground feel. The story revolves around a DJ and a rapper, one of whom is a serial killer.
Chick, a series by Kai Soremekun, is a campy sci-fi tale about finding strength after a difficult relationship. With a lot of heart and pretty cool look, Chick has the fundamentals for an avant-garde half-hour sitcom, certainly more original than most of what’s out there already.
Diary of a Single Mom
Robert Townsend and Cheryl West’s Diary of a Single Mom has developed a cult following for its portrayal of a woman dealing with raising kids in an urban apartment building she manages. Ocean (Monica Calhoun) has numerous obstacles to deal with — including maintaining her home and getting a degree — and she’s supported by a strong, diverse cast of industry veterans and newcomers.
Perry Lang’s series about school teacher who works as a prostitute may be a bit controversial, but the series is nonetheless an interesting and thoughtful rumination on what it means for a woman to lead a double life. Led by Tessa Thompson (For Colored Girls), Blue is both assertive and vulnerable, a character which may appeal to black women. Blue Belle is beautifully composed, sophisticated and intriguing.
Wed-Locked is the same concept as Let’s Stay Together, and is just as interesting. The series follows newlyweds as the grapple with issues of living together — from “backwash” from the juice carton to baby talk in bed. The lesson? Perhaps a good way to get a relationship comedy is to get a script from a homegrown acting/writing duo like these two.
Like Wed-Locked, Truth could benefit from tighter editing and script, but the series is still well-shot and has a lot of spirit. Like The Game, the drama is personal drama — he said, she said, he slept, she slept — but that stuff is fun, isn’t it?