So if you need a break from job applications and dissertation writing try watching The Original BET series Reed Between the Lines; it has me hooked.
I particularly like the progressive gender politics and the representation of a “blended” family. Kasi and Kenan are Carla’s teenage twins from a previous relationship and Alexis is the youngest child of Carla and Alex Reed. As co-producers, Tracee Ellis Ross and Malcolm-Jamal Warner are definitely modeling alternative gender roles. Carla is a working mother and initially Alex was a stay-at-home/working dad. For a minute I wanted to be like “Alex you ain’t got no job” (shout out to Martin) because he was home-schooling his daughter Alexis and not working as an NYU professor. To be clear, I know home schooling is work, but he was introduced as a professor, so I he must have been on sabbatical. But I digress.
For the first few weeks of watching I was perplexed because I’m so used to the male being the central person in family sitcoms I was shocked that his character seemed underdeveloped. The more I thought about it I realized I just wanted to know more about his work because I expected to see scenes of him at work. Alex being at home and not “working” outside of the home or explicitly working from home threw me off. In a world of formula television this depiction of black masculinity rarely never happens and it’s nice. The fact that the writers deliberately developed Carla and the children’s lives before actually delving into Alex suggests that the show is not about Alex and “his wife and kids” (still got love for Damon Wayans).
Now I’m clear this is A (Hetero)Black Feminist F(ordin)airytale, but I can’t remember seeing a television show this deliberate about promoting progressive gender politics and good communication between partners. Alex prepares all the meals including lunches for his wife and kids. He helps Alexis with homework, joins Kasi in a school protest against her principal, is active with the “mocha mom” crew, and supports his son doing rhythmic gymnastics. This is really pushing it for BET, they are really going there. I also love that Carla and Alex present a united front with their kids, but that they also have disagreements, miscommunications, hurt each other’s feelings, hold each other accountable, and throw in a few sexual innuendos to let you know they really like each other.
It is a twist for the family sitcom to follow a professional woman to work each episode. Carla, a psychiatrist, is the primary breadwinner in the family and usually the professional black women we see in the workplace on television do not have a supportive partner and children at home. Speaking of the workplace, there’s Gabby the Spanish-speaking acupuncturist who can switch from sweet to looking you up and down like she switches between languages (aka badass Afro-Latina who rocked in The Best Man). Then there is Ms. Helen, the administrative assistant who provides “old-school” wisdom to round out the all-black female workplace.
Reed Between the Lines is definitely corny but I love it because I’m corny and I feel like I show up because I see a bit of myself in Alex, Carla, and their oldest daughter, Kasi. It’s a refreshing break for a working feminist mommy such as myself.