TV blackout: … Robert F. Moss breaks down America’s must-flee TV.
A RECENT episode of “The P.J.’s,” the foam-animated WB series set in the projects, ended with two boys reflecting on the duplicitous ways of their elders. “Promise me we’ll never grow old,” implores the first. The other replies, “The statistics are in our favor.” This acerbic observation on the mortality rate among ghetto youth might just as well be a projection of the life expectancy of the black sitcom. As television celebrates Black History Month with tributes blaring from every channel, any weekly comedy series devoted to black subject matter seems imperiled by cultural Darwinism. (No black dramatic series has ever succeeded, though Showtime’s “Soul Food,” renewed for a second season, is off to a strong start.) …
You can’t really travel from the Hilton-Jacobs Projects of “The P.J.’s” to the chic, affluent Los Angeles of “Girlfriends” without culture shock. Sometimes dismissed as a black “Sex and the City,” the show has a creative metabolism all its own. The lead character, Joan, is a high-powered lawyer who spends most of her kick-back time with her pals: Maya, her secretary; Toni, a real estate broker; and Lynn, an intellectual who is perpetually adrift. The characters are varied and well defined, the scripts are witty and the stories unapologetically embrace an elite black lifestyle.
“I wanted to show African-American women who are dynamic and multilayered,” said the creator of “Girlfriends,” Mara Brock Akil, “and that women of today want it all.” A second goal is to broach racial subtopics “in a funny way that can also create water cooler discussion or debate.” One episode has Lynn, who is half white, conclude that this mix makes her a “complex woman.” Toni, who normally speaks only the crispest standard English, retorts, “I hate to break it to you, complex woman, but in America, you black.”