DAR TV: Girlfriends

Introduction By @TrueGodImmortal
-Black television has always been traditionally dominated by male lead actors. Whether it was Martin, The Jamie Foxx Show, Fresh Prince, The Cosby Show (Claire was vital, but Heathcliff was the lead), New York Undercover (word to Malik Yoba), The Steve Harvey Show, even something like My Wife and Kids (a show centered around Damon Wayans and his family) was usually rooted in the male perspective of life and driven by the male actor. While there were a few shows that also bucked this trend, like 227 and of course Living Single, none of those shows seemed to embody the type of empowerment that a show with black female leads could have. That was until Girlfriends came along.

Armed with four beautiful and strong black female leads, the show was truly special. Whether it showcased the insecurity, the success, the sisterhood, the emotional complexity, the struggles, or the many other facets of these women, it provided more of a multi layered look at black women in the new millennium, all from different walks of life, who managed to keep long term friendships in tact through the good and bad. What set this show apart was the way the humor was placed and the way each character had their own story. For Tracee Ellis Ross as Joan, it was her dating struggles combined with the heavy weight her career choice had on her mentally. For Jill Marie Jones as Toni, it was her personal insecurities that came from her upbringing and life that led her to become successful, but those issues never left. While on the surface she was shallow and superficial, Toni is probably the character that has the most depth on the entire show, even if it is underlying. Joan and Toni were childhood best friends who utilized their energy into seeking success, and they would go through ups and downs as a result. For the other two friends, they lived very different lives.

Persia White, who played Lynn, is the earthly drifter of sorts, who doesn't believe in keeping a job and is always about the arts or just going with something that fulfills her soul. She met Joan and Toni in college, and of course, their paths would be much different. From the constant casual sex she has to the various jobs she tends to jump to, Lynn is mainly on a search to find herself, just like the rest of the women. Her journey is a funny one, but it is a familiar one for many women and recognizable for many of us who know someone like Lynn. For Golden Brooks who played Maya, her journey consisted of being a mother and a wife to a husband who could be a bit closed minded, and her religious beliefs. Working as an assistant in the law firm that Joan is a lawyer at, Maya is different from the other women. She's from Compton, has been with her high school sweetheart for years, and has a child to care for. She isn't afforded the same luxuries that perhaps Joan or Toni are, and that becomes a clash between the friends at times. However, this isn't a bad dynamic, but rather one of balance. While Joan and Toni were perhaps a bit more spoiled and slightly privileged, Maya came from a different background and she provides the alternative for the friends and some reality checks for Lynn too. Though Joan is the glue of the group of friends essentially, Maya is the balancing piece for the foursome.

And finally, the last main character would be the biggest male with central stories to the show, is William, played by Reggie Hayes. In many ways, William was the comic relief, struggling with his own issues while bringing a different side to the show for the ladies. William was really the funniest part of the show and while his character didn't quite have the same dimensions that the women had, he was still vital to the show. The same could possibly be said for Darnell, mostly played by Khalil Kain in season 2-8, after being played by Flex Alexander in season 1 (yes, Flex who played MJ in the worst biopic ever). With these characters and their depth, Girlfriends was a very solid show. Today, we gather to discuss the best episodes, favorite characters, and what the ultimate legacy of the show is. Let's get into it.

Well, I have to admit, I was late on the Girlfriends train, as I saw some of my first episodes of the series when they did the backdoor pilot for The Game (Tia Mowry FTW). Though I had a late start, I was still intrigued as to what led up or set the tone for The Game, and I would not be disappointed. From the moment I started catching the series in reruns, I knew it was special.

The comedy was there, the characters felt real, it's a classic series that I can watch to this day and still find myself laughing along with the situations and learning right along with the characters. Kelsey Grammer's team scored a hit with this one and rightfully so. Mara Brock Akil is a dope creative mind (even if her most recent show "Being Mary Jane" borders on ridiculous at times) and Girlfriends is the pinnacle of her creativity brought alive by beautiful black women of all shapes and colors. No one was excluded from the Black Girl Magic the show exudes.

It’s clear that most of the black sitcoms in the 90’s were great. They were entertaining, funny and had a cast dynamic which drew audiences in one way or another. We related to many of the characters and thus created our line up of shows. The year 2000 would introduce viewers to a new show, and while it wasn’t much different from many of the already popular sitcoms, it had a component that drew us in and kept us interested. That show was Girlfriends. With an all female lead cast who were co-workers, roommates, and close friends rather than actual family, the show had an entirely different “feel” than what we had seen in other family rooted sitcoms. Needless to say, Girlfriends became a favorite almost immediately and stayed one for its entire eight season run. Here are the reasons why I appreciated this show so much.

Firstly and most importantly, the cast! Tracee Ellis Ross(Joan) , Persia White(Lynn), Golden Brooks(Maya) and Jill Marie Jones (Toni, who left in season 6) make up the main characters in this all black cast. The dynamic of the women is incredibly relatable because the women are depicted as average every day women with every day conversations, issues and very believable friendships and relationships. From the erratic Joan to the excessively vain Toni, the girls maintain a level of independence, vulnerability and have an attitude and humor about them that just worked for each episode. The men who were casted to play the friends, love interests and bosses added a much needed balance. Overall, casting was done very well.

Over the course of its eight season “life span”, each episode had its place and helped in character development and our attachment to them. I can’t say anything bad about any of them, but there were some that stood out more than others.

I have to mention the the very first episode (“Toe Sucking” haha) as a notable one. It’s our first exposure and introduction to the show. Not only do we get to meet each of the ladies, but it wastes no time in getting to the drama. Of course it starts with the most relatable issues from Joan’s ex becoming Toni’s current despite them being best friends to having the girls be forced to take sides. In the end, they manage to remain loyal and not allow a man to come between friendship. It’s predictable but incredibly relatable to all female demographics.

One of the funniest scenes and a perfect display of the flawless dynamic between the girls is the episode where Toni gets botox (Season 3 Episode 3 "Secrets & Eyes") and comes back with one eyebrow heavily arched, and while Joan and Lynn try to make her feel better, Maya walks in. Her reaction is priceless and the moment she says “Aww Hellll no” and “d-d-did you have a stroke” is absolutely hilarious. The reactions are the definition of “over the top”, but that’s exactly how any female would react if their best friend looked like they were imitating the “people’s eyebrow”, I think this episode and specifically this scene is a great indication of the personalities and was very well acted.

Another great episodes is in Season 6 Episode 18 “The Game” where Joan’s cousin is willing to drop out of med school and rearrange her life for her football player boyfriend. While this may seem far fetched, it was depicted in such a believable way, and it wasn’t done without conflict or in an easy way. The writers made sure to make it somewhat realistically. Melanie gets a ton of backlash not only from Joan, but she also mentions her parents being against the relationship also. I particularly liked this episode because it became the pilot episode to the show “The Game”, which was the spin off. Since there were only two seasons of “Girlfriends” left at this time, it was nice to know (a slight) continuation was in the works.

Compared to many black sitcoms from the 90’s, it would seem like “Girlfriends” had a short run, though the show would grace us for about 8 total seasons. There wasn’t a show quite like this and once it ended nothing really took its place. The writers, the main characters and all of the supporting roles managed to create a show that made us feel like we were part of their circle. The corniness was kept to a minimum and the humor and relatability was maintained throughout each season. “Girlfriends” was one of the only shows you never realized you loved so much until it ended. This was a TV highlight of the '00's for sure!

Outro By @TrueGodImmortal
-While this show wasn't my personal favorite and I didn't necessarily watch on my own accord, I still appreciate the imagery shown and the sensibilities displayed throughout the series. For me, I liked the concept of the struggling actor Ellis and Joan's relationship, the constant Toni struggle with seeing herself as beautiful and her rejection of dating men that were darker than her. If anything, that showed a side of her that was more vulnerable than usual, one that the facade Toni showcased hid very well. There was also the dynamic of Joan and her sometimes overbearing mother, and her lackluster relationship with her father, another hidden dynamic with a show that was known as a true sitcom. From the embarrassing moment when William tries to hide how his middle name is spelled and seemed ashamed of his family to the issues between Maya, Darnell, and cheating, there were so many things that drew you in with this show that you almost couldn't stop watching (even if you watched against your will). Every character was executed properly, every episode had a good element to it, and if you're a fan of drama, this show definitely had that and more.



Popular Posts