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"It's so crazy how these fans are so embedded and … attached to these story lines," Tia Mowry said. "They actually think Melanie and Derwin are real."
I was one of the 7.7 million viewers who tuned in to watch The Game's resurrection on BET last Tuesday. And I will also be in the number, along with most of Black America, who tunes in tomorrow to see what happens (Will Melanie tell Derwin that DJ is his child? Will Kelly and Jason have make up sex already and get back together? Will Titi blow up Malik's spot and tell the boss he is freaking his wife? Will Malik apologize for turning out Titi's girlfriend? Will Tasha keep up the friends with bennies relationship and risk her heart for good sex?).
I must admit that part of the appeal of The Game in the past was the relatability of the characters. I believed (in) them. I could see part of me or someone I knew in them. They made sense. I laughed with them, cried with them, felt for them. As a spin-off of Girlfriends, I felt like I already knew them. But the return of the show and the return of the characters left me feeling somewhat ambivalent and confused. I don't know who changed more in the two years since the show was cancelled on the CW, me or them?
The characters have become so exaggerated and embellished that they are hardly likeable anymore. Somehow the ambitious, independent, supportive women have been morphed into golddiggers, (potentially) trifling baby mamas, insecure damsels, and vengeful enemies.
Looking back, the original characterizations were woman-friendly.
Melanie was the privileged young woman who much to her parents chagrin fell in love with a college football star and later followed him to California to begin his career. She was determined, however, not to lose her identity in his and prioritized her own dreams of becoming a doctor, enrolling in medical school and postponing marriage until she achieved her goals.
Tasha Mack was the epitome of strongblackwoman. She too held on to her identity with tightly grasped fists, embracing both her pre-millionaire teen-mother-of-a-football-phenom-son- self with the go-getter-sports-agent-entrepreneur self. She pursued her own business in a male-dominated field and rarely held her tongue. She was proud of who she was and where she came from and negotiated womanly needs with her financial aspirations. Sometimes too Sapphire-like for long-term relationships, she was unapologetic for her sass and entered relationships heart first (head last).
Kelly was the quintessential white Barbie-doll trophy wife who rose from humble beginnings to marrying the black football player. She struggled with her identity as a woman, wife, and mother independent of her husband but played the supporting role of yes-woman. Towards the end of the last season she began to finally find and embrace an identity of her own, outside of her marriage.
The women were decidedly different but their friendship made sense. They made sense. They were all so very human—and their issues, tangible. But two years later, they are hardly recognizable.
I had high hopes for the season premiere. And clearly I was not alone. There were countdowns, watch parties, facebook conversations and Tivo recorders set in eager anticipation of catching up with the characters we had come so close to knowing, the characters that Tia Mowry says we find so "real."
I was, however, somewhat disappointed. I am not overly concerned with the storyline of the show (though that could clearly be talked about) because I realize that after a two year hiatus they had to do something to fill in the space and bridge what has been going on between then and now (though, admittedly, I wish the show would have picked up exactly where it left off, with Melanie and Derwin's makeshift wedding in the hospital chapel, welcoming his new namesake to their family, John Legend's soft, melodic voice whispering "this time I want it all" in the background…but I digress).
I feel like the characters became caricatures, empty shells of their former selves.
Perhaps the writers are taking their cues from reality shows about athletes and their girlfriends and wives (a la Real Housewives, Basketball Wives, Football Wives, etc.) where the more over-the-top the better, the more flamboyant, loud, and stereotypical the higher the ratings—but I am hopeful that things can/will turn around. These characters are redeemable.
Since when does Melanie decide that staying at home and posing for magazine covers will fulfill the drive and ambition that led to three years of medical training? Since when does Tasha Mack seek self-definition through a man? Since when does Kelly become so self-absorbed, money-obsessed and vengeful that I can hardly stand her? Since when do all of the women become defined by their relationships (or lack thereof) to men, without even the comfort of each other (friendship)? (At least in previous seasons they could rely on their sister-friends to help them through the breakups, disillusionment, identity crises, etc.)
Admittedly part of the appeal of The Game is what keeps me tuning in to reality television shows. I get invested in the characters and I care about what happens to them.
I am equally critical and curious.
As a feminist, I will keep watching The Game because I want to see if they will redeem the characters. As a consumer, I will keep watching The Game to see if Melanie keeps her dirty little secret. Either way, I have the DVR set and ready for tomorrow's episode.