For Better or Worse, Tyler Perry’s latest sitcom offering debuted on TBS, (a channel I’m beginning to believe Perry partly owns.) Though I applaud Perry’s hustle to have become one of the most powerful black men in Hollywood, I wish he would wield that power more wisely, as so far, the first two episodes feel like an assault on the black community.
Though I have enjoyed some of Perry’s films, I don’t like any of his TV shows. I watched For Better or Worse hoping it wouldn’t be the same poorly written, stereotyped perspective of the black experience, but I had a feeling it would be wack, and I was right.
The situation comedy that lacks engaging situations and humor centers around the characters, Angela and Marcus, the married couple from the Why Did I Get Married films. Tasha Smith plays this stereotyped, angry black woman and hollers throughout the show like Samuel L. Jackson in most of his roles. And Michael Jai White resumes his part as the browbeaten husband, though there’s an attempt to make him a stronger adversary to Angela. But that’s only one of the many problems with this show. I really don’t want to see a black couple portrayed as adversaries.
And of course, as in the film, Marcus has a “baby momma” who starts out as Angela’s mortal enemy. And Marcus’ daughter from this relationship refers to Angela as a hoe in the very beginning of the first episode. (Sigh) Really? And then we witness the tensions between Angela and Marcus’ ex culminate into, yep, you guessed it-a knock-down, drag-out fight! Yeah, yeah, they reconcile in the end, but we had to see them fight first? I could go on, but there’s really no need because it’s the same kind of Tyler Perry low brow fare we get in all of his television shows.
Now you can’t be an African American writer/popculturalist without periodically engaging in the Tyler Perry debate-the conversation that always points out the pros and cons of his work. And I always maintain that Perry writes from his level of talent and perspective. And he can’t really be faulted for that. But on the flip side of that, Perry has an incredible platform that needs to be utilized more effectively, allowing a range of black experiences to make it into media, not just the stereotyped, slapstick portrayals. Black comedy can be smart and funny, and it doesn’t have to consistently attack viewers with the most unfortunate aspects of the black experience.
From my point of view, there is a responsibility when you are a person of color who is crafting the image of other people of color. That process should be handled with care. And that doesn't mean that all portrayals of black people and other cultures are positive, but at least well-rounded. Give us dimension; characters, not caricatures. And if you don’t have the talent to do better work, hire those who do. After all, with much power, comes much responsibility. But Perry is not the only problem.
The larger issue here is that if there were more offerings featuring the experiences of the African Diaspora, Perry probably wouldn’t be scrutinized as critically. Black viewers looking for varied depictions of themselves would have more to chose from. Hollywood needs to grant more opportunities to create more diverse projects. (Does TBS think Tyler Perry is the ONLY black writer/producer?) And we can argue that independent artists should take their power and create their own work, (and I agree), but we all know that Hollywood is the biggest machine for distribution. Even Perry admits that.
So yes, For Better or Worse is horrid. It might get better but I doubt it. But if people continue to watch, we will get more of the same. I for one can’t stomach it. I’m tired of this kind of show, this nonsense, this sheer buffoonery. And I get that black people can’t be portrayed as “perfect” all the time. But it’s not about perfection, it’s about balance. It’s about better. And I actually believe that Perry can do better, but is he willing to take that risk? He’s attempted to grow in film. Will we ever get that same level of effort from him on TV?
Did you see For Better or Worse? If so what did you think?
photo courtesy of The Grio