Sex, Scripts, & Single Ladies

23 Jun

I’ll admit it.  When VH1’s scripted dramedy Single Ladies premiered a few weeks ago I had very low expectations–so low, in fact, that I forgot it was even coming on that night. It wasn’t  until I logged on to my Facebook and saw a bunch of statements like, “OMG!” “He said what?” “Stacey Dash is how old?” “Why does LisaRaye always play herself?” that I realized the show was on. So, I flipped the channel to VH1 to see what all the buzz was about. To tell the truth, it took me a minute to even find VH1 because a channel whose claim to fame is messy-ass shows like Basketball Wives and Love and Hip Hop is generally not on my radar.

Anyway, my first impression of Single Ladies was that it was an over-the-top soap opera in the vein of Dynasty and Melrose Place, replete with rich, beautiful people and sudsy, paper-thin plot lines. And while I thought it had the potential to be some escapist fun, the raggedy acting, flat characters, and reliance on tired stereotypes had me giving the show the side eye. I will say I had great fun Facebook-critiquing it and decided to keep watching the show for the moment, if only for sociological interest…okay, and the eye candy, too, let me not front.

April, Val, and Keisha out on the town. Is it wrong for me to wonder if April shops at the same wig shop as Kim Zolciak?

My Facebook friends ran the gamut of reactions to the pilot episode. Some vowed that Single Ladies took two hours of their lives that they can never get back. Others decided that they would stick it out, at least for a few more episodes.

In thinking of my own mixed reaction to show, I decided to check out what critics had to say. Let’s just say that reviews have been less than kind, to say the least.

Hank Stuever at The Washington Post wrote:

This is a series for people who found “Sex and the City” too quick-witted and “The Wendy Williams Show” too intellectually stimulating.  It’s the TV equivalent of a beach read with no words.

I’ll admit it. I died and was later resurrected when I read that. Ooop!

Brian Lowry at Variety wrote:

Although VH1 bills “Single Ladies” as a romantic comedy, this hourlong show is really a soap–basically a scripted version of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” seeking to fill a niche among African-American women largely abandoned by broadcasters since “Girlfriends” went off the air. Still, it’s not a particularly inspired serial, replete with tired situations, stiff dialogue and male characters possessing less dimension than those populating “Sex and the City,” if that’s possible. It’s not easy for a series featuring beautiful women to harbor zero appeal among men, but these “Ladies” thread that needle.

Hmm. I can get with the first part of the comment, but I must admit that one-dimensional male characters were the least of our concerns in Sex and the City. You mean to tell me that those women went all around NYC and they couldn’t find more than like three people of color to put in the whole series (Sonia Braga, Blair Underwood…who was the third, y’all? Help me out…). So, no, the fact that we did not learn Big’s first name until the last episode of the series has not kept me awake at night.

By the same token, of all the critiques to make about Single Ladies, and there are plenty to make, the lack of fully realized male characters is not at the top of my list.  Because the show is a soap, the scenarios are definitely over the top.  Still, having lived in Atlanta for five years, I know that the dating scene there is often off the chain, with folks doing the most and achieving the least, much to  many sisters’ chagrin. Case in point: I dated a beautiful, smart, and gainfully-employed brother who thought the same stupid shit as Val’s sexy chef did in episode two: giving head is just not “manly” but receiving head is “natural.”  It’s true, folks, there are still people out there in the twenty-first century who think black men shouldn’t do cranial maneuvers! It is not a myth like unicorns and leprechauns; they actually exist. (Yes, I know there are brothers who do it and do it well, but y’all might want to take your fallen brethren under your wings, ’cause they are tripping).  So, seriously, I’m not hating on the show because some men (read: some straight men) ages 18-45 don’t like it. #kanyeshrug

How about the fact that the show only has one token gay male character, when we know good and hell well that Atlanta has a vibrant and diverse queer community? How about the fact that almost all the women on the show can pass the paper bag test? Riddle me that. Now, I’m not suggesting that a soap opera on VH1 has to be all things to all people. But with Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit productions at the helm, I think it’s fair to ask for a bit more. C’mon, Khadijah, we need ya!

At the end of the day, I do find the show interesting on a few levels. Real talk, sometimes after teaching and writing all day all I want to watch is something that doesn’t require a lot of brainpower. I also do enjoy seeing a city I love represented, especially as I toil in the confederate wilderness of Alabama. Looking at Stacey Dash and LisaRaye McCoy makes me vow to drink more water and get more sleep because they make 45 look really, really good.  Some of the situations that the women have encountered around men and dominance have been surprisingly interesting. In fact, I had a great conversation the other day with my girl Crunktastic about the whole dinner scene with the pompous professors, which tickled me especially as a sister with working class roots who went to Emory for graduate school.  Despite the fact that all the profs were caricatures, I did think the class dynamics of the scene was fascinating and I definitely laughed out loud when the words “hypersexualization” and “objectification” made it onto the show.  Let me mess around and find out that some folks at VH1 have taken women’s studies…

Bottom line for me: the show is not great, but it does prompt some interesting questions about race, class, gender, and sisterhood, in addition to having a slew of foine—yes, foine—guest stars and an easy, breezy plot. I’ll be watching, with a crunk feminist critical lens of course, for now.

What is your take on Single Ladies?

17 Responses to “Sex, Scripts, & Single Ladies”

  1. damidwif June 23, 2011 at 9:41 AM #

    i liked it. i dont see what the big deal is and all the academic and screen play critiquing…it is what it is. besides, i like beautiful looking people. yes, i can be superficial like that. so, i can overlook the “bad” acting and “ghettosistahoodrat” roles or whatever else everyone else is saying. what else am i gonna watch on monday before i fall asleep after a long day’s work?

  2. CGE June 23, 2011 at 10:47 AM #

    The word that comes to mind is: dangerous. The show dangerously plays with straight black women’s vulnerability around dating. Popular culture has sold black women this idea that if you are single, straight, successful (code for middle to upper middle class) you have no chance of finding your “counterpart.” He’s gay, he’s in jail, he’s a womanizer, he only wants white/latina/asian women – anyone but you. Oh its even worse for the RBG’s of the world. Itsn ridiculous the amount of sexism, classism and internalized racism that is depicted in the show. It simply is without thinking. And this is not a swipe at the show’s creator – I get the impression that she’s not aware of the issues that the show presents. Which goes back to my first thought on the danger of such shows. We live in a society where people, both the creators and (some) of its audience, are confused. Folks really seem to not understand how oppression works and if you don’t understand, than its a lot easier to become a vehicle of that oppression.
    Simply put, the one-dimensional characters, stereotypes and flat plots, leave us hanging. Stronger writing and an understanding of the oppressions that exist in society is what’s needed.

  3. tdixon June 23, 2011 at 11:34 AM #

    Loved your critique – makes me wish I had cable!

  4. boot-cheese-3000 June 23, 2011 at 12:42 PM #

    i don’t watch much t.v. but when “sex & the city” was around someone had a box set of the 1st season. i wanted to see what the hype was about and that’s all it was to me–hype. i wasn’t impressed at all with this stupid show. “sex & the city” started the precedent of alot of what i and my brothers call “practical feminists”, which is basically female chauvinism. you know what i mean–women who say stupid shit like “well men have been playing games with women so now it’s our turn”. 2 wrongs DON’T make things right at all and in the end you’re left with angry bitter hurt people who run around looking for someone to treat like shit. you can tell the “sex & the city” show was written by a gay man, the 1st episode was about 1 of the characters dating a guy who wanted to have anal sex with her! i find it hard to believe that you women gather around and discuss how enjoyable and fun anal sex is, that’s what GAY MEN do. completely ludicrous.

    to the individual who stated the show is “dangerous” i agree. it’s imagery and subject matter like these shows that have left alot of women feeling insecure and desperate these days. the dating scene has gotten watered down and difficult to deal with due to the fact that people watch entirely TOO MUCH television and trying to mimic a character they saw on a reality T.V. show or a movie or music video. alot of females are attracted to these kinds of losers and chase after them because they remind them of said trap rapper. this is where the desperation and insecurity comes in. it’s like their philosophy is “i’m not looking for mr. right, i’m looking for mr. right now!” you can’t find mr. right when you’re constantly fuckin’ mr. wrong remember that.

    • crunktastic June 23, 2011 at 1:28 PM #

      @boot-cheese-3000, thank you for your comments and for what seems like an otherwise earnest engagement with the topics on this site. However, we do not allow comments of a homophobic nature in this space, as we are a queer inclusive community. The comments about anal sex are inappropriate and erroneous. Plenty of straight folks have anal sex. Furthermore, it is not in any way clear that the show was written by a gay man just because anal sex is being discussed. And finally, we do not find the various kinds of sex that gay ppl (any person) have to be offensive, grotesque, ludicrous or unworthy of acknowledgement. Future comments of this nature will be deleted.

      • boot-cheese-3000 June 23, 2011 at 3:08 PM #

        sorry if i offended but i was just giving my opinion. i didn’t think that saying something about a scene in that God-awful show was gonna be misconstrued as homophobic. and for the record the series was written by a gay dude, it’s a known fact in hollywood. either way i’ll keep my more provocative opinions to myself. apparently the point i made was missed due to something else i said.

  5. Trudy June 24, 2011 at 6:19 AM #

    I didn’t watch the show. I just don’t enjoy shows like this anymore. I prefer forensic and medical dramas with intellectual complexity and strong character development. I’m very picky about TV because again, you cannot get that time back. Time is the most valuable thing that we have.

    Um…as far as male character development and what that guy mentioned, I agree with you in the case of shows like this. WHO CARES? I did not watch Sex In The City For that and even so, I thought they did well with BIG and with Aidan. Exceptional actually. The reason why Sex and The City and Girlfriends worked because they had genuine complex friendships and that was the core of the show. Without that, whether drama or reality, the shows will be weak because at the end of the day, every other type of relationship in such dramas/sitcoms springboard off the of the friendships. Look at Living Single, or even “Whitley” and “Kim” in A Different World?

    TV seems hell bent on portraying Black women of any class or educational level as trash. This is why most sitcoms and dramas like this I avoid. If I have to read articles on Psych Today all the way to seeing tweets hating Black women, I rather watch something else, or shows from the 90s.

    One day the new shows will realize what made the old shows last and why theirs get cancelled so quick. Maybe they will realize…in the meanwhile I will be watching Fringe, House, Dexter, SVU, HawthoRNe or something….

    • boot-cheese-3000 June 24, 2011 at 2:23 PM #

      i forgot to mention “living single” in my diatribe/rant, shows like that portrayed black women in a positive light along with shows like “the cosby show”, “a different world”, and to a lesser extent “family matters”. black women wern’t loudmouthed hoochie mammas or neck-twirling ‘hood rats that you see on these garbage reality t.v. shows or on random and rampant worldstar hip-hop links beating the crap out of each other on public transit or fast-food restaurants. you have to ask when did the imagery of black women get to this point that the sistas think this is how they’re supposed to behave and that it’s cool. in brokeland (oakland) the young females behave like men (as i’m sure is true elsewhere) in the sense that they’re constantly fighting with other young ladies and hopping in and out of jail. what’s wrong with this dynamic here?

  6. itzadundeal June 24, 2011 at 8:40 PM #

    “This is a series for people who found “Sex and the City” too quick-witted and “The Wendy Williams Show” too intellectually stimulating. It’s the TV equivalent of a beach read with no words. I’ll admit it. I died and was later resurrected when I read that. Ooop!” **round of applause**
    And to answer your question ‘Crunktastic’- I think Jennifer Hudson completed the grand trilogy of Blacks appearing somewhere along the “S.I.T.C.” continuum [I can be corrected if wrong here]. Even though she did not appear in the series, she was portrayed to be the token sistah from the Midwest who came to NYC lookin’ for one [if not all] of the three ‘L’s [one of which she eventually found upon visiting the Midwest AFTER movin’ to the Big Apple-go figure].

    I hear and can see with most of what you have expressed, even though I only took in one episode of the show. Honestly, I tossed it, B-ball Wives and the other “faulty” cable programming with too much head-rollin’, finga poppin’ and other stereotypical body movements/attitude attributes given to Black women into one heaping pile of things to disregard.

    Here’s to watching quality reruns and CSI: MIA [cheers to Trudy] and hoping that contemporary portrayal of Black women via drama [scripted or otherwise] can and will improve. Soon.

  7. allegro June 28, 2011 at 10:44 AM #

    The comments about Oakland women are down right ridiculous. To place your analysis of women and men into finite categories “women behave like men” “like men” meaning “constantly fighting and going in and out of jail” is absurd. The definition of male is not one who fights and goes to jail. The experience and behavior of people in Oakland is diverse and for those that are arrested (in terms of your reference to jail), in the context of a racist prison industrial complex that feeds off of forcing people of color, young people, and poor people into the prison pipeline.

    • boot-cheese-3000 June 28, 2011 at 11:27 AM #

      oh i’m sorry, you MUST be from brokeland for me to offend you so badly. i lived out there for a few years not too long ago so i know of what i speak. the females are worse than the thugs they chase and fight after, therefore i feel my point is apt. they’re adapting the same attitude as their male constituents which was the point i was making about that “sex & the city” trash but apparently someone got something else out of it. the point i made about that show is that you have a gay dude writing the tv series and have the actresses behaving and speaking like a bunch of oversexed gay men, therefore women see this trash and try to mimic what they see on television much like men do the same when they see something like a ball game or a gangsta rap video. with this type of stimuli running rampant no wonder we have so many irresponsible people. now that i’ve made my point you can go back and stick your head in the sand lil’ girl.

    • boot-cheese-3000 June 28, 2011 at 11:30 AM #

      and for the record i’m black so you miss me with the racist bullshit. i’m speaking facts from my experience. nothing irritates me MORE than black people who behave like stereotypes that were shoved down their throats and mushed in their faces by the media, but then again the entire bay area let alone amerikkka lives their lives and base their images based on bullshit stereotypes force fed to them via the idiot box and i’m talking about ALL races. i’m cut from a different cloth so i don’t get down like that nor subject myself to do so. maybe that’s why i had a difficult time making friends out there, because i didn’t go with the flow of ignorance and bullshit.

  8. DD June 30, 2011 at 5:13 PM #

    Boot Cheese I live in Berkeley and am in Oakland all the time and the whole Bay Area definately has issues with gender, aggression, performance, criminality, communication, etc. I know exactly what you are talking about. Every time I leave the bay area and come back I have so much perspective with how totally distorted this region is. It’s a joke and even worse people are dying, getting diseases, and going broke all because people out here refuse to adhere to any semblance of a traditional social order and confess any responsibility in regards to their contributions to the chaos with the slightest degree of penitence.

    The social justice/non profit scene (led by middle class white women living out their liberal daydreams) compounds the matter and caters to dysfunction rather than standing for accountability and a return to order.

    The Bay Area is so out of touch with reality and the entire “social justice” scene out here is so out of touch and pandering to the basest paradigms and motives. We all know that people of color and low income people start out with the short end of the stick so I’m not trying to entertain a strict pathology of the oppressed here. At the same time we have to be realistic and not cater to what is most certainly nonsense and an all out release of social expectations that are the fabri c of a stable society.

    • boot-cheese-3000 June 30, 2011 at 5:40 PM #

      FINALLY someone who gets it! i’m originally from so. cali, los angeles to be specific. i never been to the B.A.C. up until 2007 when i moved there. i heard from so many people how beautiful and cool it was up there and how much fun but it was the worst place i’ve ever lived, and i lived in TEXAS for several years on and off (ok ONE of the worst, texas still is practically at the top). the 1st week i was there i was talking to a local over in fruitvale and i made a joke like “man where did all the white people come from?” you know, seeing that the town is chocolate city. this dude gave me this weak laugh with an expression on his face that said “man don’t say that out loud, THEY might hear you”. the new generation is so lost it makes me cry. they’re too busy “thizzin'” and killing people and hustling just so they can support their drug and alcohol habit if not trying to keep up appearances being a fuckin’ dope pusher and the ladies out there LOVE these kinda guys, they don’t even care if they’ve been hoppin’ in and out of jail and messing around raping guys in there too. and before someone on here gets all heated and hyphysensitive on some “you’re being homophobc, what did we talk about?” you have to be there to know what i’m talking about, if you haven’t then shut up and listen. all i HEARD from people was rumors and stories about the guys getting out of santa rita or san quentin and sneaking around messing with the queen daddies around town. even i’ve seen 1sthand the men talking to the gay men. when i was running around downtown looking for spots to bust some graffiti i would see the tranny hookers walking the stroll with the guys chopping it up with them seeing what they can get from them for whatever money they did or didn’t have and let’s remember, oakland is a SMAL TOWN with a big city reputation, it’s not like people didn’t know each other around there. if someone saw somebody talking to a male prostitute they more than likely would give a nod and/or stop and talk with them and the females saw this too but didn’t care, just as long as they got something out of it like material wealth and riding around with these guys that’s all that matters. no wonder the HIV/AIDS rate in oakland is so high, it’s not the heroine addicts passing that shit around, that’s just 1 part of the equation. like i said it’s not oakland but the bay period. every race i see up there is stuck on some stereotypical crap that just looks fuckin’ pathetic. it shows just how much television people watch these days.

      you live in jerktown? AW LAWD, how can you stand to live out there? i despise jerktown as much as brokeland!

  9. Justa Notha July 15, 2011 at 3:45 PM #

    I wrote a piece on the pilot @ mostly venting my frustration at the way the white woman, April (I think shes supposed to be Jewish too? She looks like a WASP) was treated by her so-called friends, who couldn’t seem to go a scene without throwing her and her husbands race in her face. Who would put up with all that sh@t?
    I’ve been happier with her treatment in the actual episodes. I also thought the scene in the first actual episode where Val was on a date with a guy who usually dates white women, and didn’t “even mind her hair.” was a good illustration of the types of interactions that lead to the above inter-racial prejudice.

    Yes it’s a little-ok a lot soap-operaish, and boughie, but I’m enjoying it so far. They definitely need to flesh out the token gay guy, who’s like crepe paper thin at this point, but I’m super-excited with the Dana-Val lesbian theme coming up!

    • jennifer williams July 28, 2011 at 9:34 AM #

      I like the show. it show black people with money, not running around shooting and killing each other. I have watch every episode. This world has not and probably will not enjoy love and romantic scenes with blacks involved. I am a successful and well educated black female, I see a lot of reality on the show. I knew from the beginning certainones would try to pan the show. Why hasn’t LisaRaye’s fine big ass caught on yet. All the mess about JLo and kim’s ass and no one has yet mentioned something thamost black women has always had. Come on wake up. We have sexy black people with money not made from drugs,

  10. filmfemme July 28, 2011 at 12:04 PM #

    I tried watching “Single Ladies” a few times. I just can’t anymore. I feel my IQ drop as I watch it. I’m not above enjoying camp, mindless entertainment (Hi “Real Housewives!”). But everything and everyone on this show is so one-dimensional that it makes my head hurt. And it’s so badly written, acted…just CONCEIVED… What’s tragic is that many Black women are hanging on to this series because there are no other scripted shows on TV (with the exception of “HawthoRNe”) that have Black women as lead characters. Also, this IMO makes it harder for an intelligent show (drama or comedy) about Black women to make it on the air; TV execs will point to SL as the standard for what Black folks will watch. Why? Because we WATCH IT!

    Stacy Littlejohn has definitely filled a void with Single Ladies, but she hasn’t done us any favors.

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