Two weeks ago, I was counted among the 7.7 million viewers who tuned in to BET to watch The Game. I will admit that I must have been living under a rock because I thought The Game was an actual football game. I didn’t realize it was a real show until I started seeing a slew of social network statuses and tweets, counting down to 1/11/11, and tons of advertisements posted on buses and billboards. I was curious to see what was this great show that everyone was raving about?
For the clueless, like myself, The Game is a dramedy that follows the lives of three African American pro football players and the complex relationships they have with the women in their lives. This season opened with the characters experiencing an array of issues, from “baby mama” drama to sleeping with the boss’ wife … I was not impressed, and the show did not gain a new fan. Passionate fans suggested that my “not getting it” was a result of me not seeing any of the previous seasons, which was necessary to fully appreciate the show and each character’s story. They advised I watch the reruns.
The creators of The Game attribute its popularity to the fact that it’s relatable and represents a down-to-earth, Black woman’s perspective. And the viewers seem to agree. With a major public outcry, the show’s fans were able to resurrect it from the TV graveyard two years after it was canceled by the CW. Now the show’s ratings are higher than ever, and BET’s gamble has apparently paid off. There is something to be said about this show’s ability to harness such viewing power. Meanwhile, it’s also opening doors in Hollywood by putting talented Black actors to work who might not otherwise be as competitive in the majority market.
Though the show serves up a platter of stereotypes, at times it’s clear that the writers intend for us to laugh at the characters rather than with them. The opening dialogue in the second episode of this new season began with the character Tasha (played by Wendy Raquel Robinson) apologizing to her white friend, Kelly (Brittany Daniel), for hooking up her ex-husband with his new girlfriend. “I don’t know what I was thinking interfering with a strong intelligent, beautiful, white woman, and the love that she found with her light-skinned Black man,” Tasha says. “I guess it was just another case of a Black woman hating on a white woman.” “Well, your people are very emotional,” Kelly responds, as the camera pulls back to reveal that this “real” moment was actually part of the taping for a reality show starring Kelly. It’s clear that Kelly is still fame hungry after racking up a fortune from divorcing her NFL husband, and we’re meant to take her show as a commentary on — or perhaps even a mockery of — programs like Basketball Wives.
I recognize that any sitcom featuring a majority Black cast that has ratings that can contend with the “big boys” like The Office (which draws about 8 million viewers) is an important feat worth celebrating. Yet the celebration of this milestone is somewhat bittersweet, as it comes for a show that’s a carbon copy of every Black stereotype and one-dimensional character we’ve seen before — better executed, perhaps, but still more of the same.
Although I may be late to The Game, I’ve discovered that I’m not alone in my disenchantment with it. Despite the show’s hardcore following, it has drawn criticism from some who believe it reinforces negative images of African Americans. Ironically, the show’s lead actress, Tia Mowry, is best known for her 1990s TV series, Sister, Sister, and roles in Disney films that project a more positive and wholesome image, which is probably another reason why viewers like me find it hard to embrace The Game.
In an interview with BET.com, Mowry complimented The Game‘s creator, Mara Brock Akil, stating that she felt blessed to be able to play real down-to-earth characters. “That’s one of the main reasons why people love Mara and her writing. She writes these characters that are grounded, who are real, who are not perfect….”
Controversy is nothing new to Akil, who prior to The Game created Girlfriends, which also received some heat for its negative portrayals of Black people.
But don’t get me wrong. I understand that these shows represent a slice of Black life that many people find appealing, and it would be unfair to hold them up to the standard of a family series like The Cosby Show. The Game is more comparable to Desperate Housewives. Both shows feature wealthy women, with loose moral values, who have more secrets than truths.
Ultimately, The Game is a soap opera, and if you try to see it for anything more than that, you’re likely to be disappointed like me. For all its success, the show feels shallow, with predictable plots centered on catfights, sex, and paternity scandals. And while it may be giving “the people” what they want, I think it’s another example of how television thrives on the crudest aspects of Black American life.