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Somebodies: A Show About (Black) Nothing

10 September 2008 4 Comments

If I were a space alien who just landed on earth I’d expect a network with the name “Black Entertainment Television” to take responsibility for rejuvenating our fractured culture and blessing our people with as much black artistic expression as resources allowed. But then there’s reality, and as much I didn’t have high expectations for the next black sitcom to hit the airwaves, BET’s Somebodies is somewhere between a step in the wrong direction and thirty tedious minutes on the sitcom treadmill.

The premise and style of Somebodies is sort of black Seinfeldian: Scottie, a hapless college boy in Athens, Georgia, is trying to brave this Negroidian world with support from his Uncle Skeeter and Aunt Agnes, ex-girlfriend Diva, and a host of homies. The recurring cast is supplemented by a bunch of stereotypical black characters. You got the next door neighbor baby daddy and momma arguing well into the night (the BM, by the way, is the only women out of two episodes that had natural hair, just a pet peeve of mine). You got the old man with a white wife that he’s pet named “snow angel.” You got a back-to-Africa type with a nasty, sickly mohawk and a jacket with red, black, and green patches. You got words and phrases like “activator” “Church’s Chicken,” and “behind every good man is a good woman,” thrown in every once in a while for extra colored authenticity. Add all of that together and you basically have Somebodies, a show about black nothing.

I’m not saying that it was terrible. The double feature consisting of the premiere and second episode had a few jokes that I could tell were supposed to be funny and why, I just didn’t actually laugh at any of them. For example, our protagonist was lucky enough to move into an apartment complex next door to a pair of porn stars. One of his homies remarked that it’s worth going without a few amenities to live in that kind of situation and another snapped “ameni-tig-ol-bittays!” That was the knee-slapper of my evening. Really. Not only that, from an artistic standpoint, the acting walked the line between Comicview outtakes and the Tyler Perry tradition of trying not to act for the camera and blatantly anticipating the lines of other actors. Still, I saw what Somebodies was going for, which is more than I can say for any other programming on BET.
Scottie is played by Hadjii, the writer-director of the acclaimed full-length movie Somebodies that inspired the sitcom. He’s got a regular-guy cuteness about him that I like and actually seems to be aware that he’s on television, delivering well-punctuated zingers and enunciating his speech without coonin’. The majority of the cast, however, seems to have auditioned for every gospel play that came to town but just never got a part in any of them, so they landed on Somebodies. To Hadjii’s credit, the lack of a laugh track makes it hard for the viewer to figure out what is and isn’t supposed to be funny (most of the time we need a little encouragement) and the dialogue itself is authentically black English (po-lice instead of police, that sort of thing). The tone of the show reject those messy bits of life that lie in the bowels of blackness – gold teeth, tacky pan-Africanism, babydaddyhood, and overzealous preachers. Although the jokes surrounding these topics are many years past tired, and the “message” was often a little heavyhanded, Somebodies attempts to guide us away from colored mess by drawing a line between the properly Afro-American and the tragically niggerish. But there’s something unsettling about the attempt to make light of that divide that alienates the have-nots while doing little to reassure the haves. Maybe I’m high siditty and therefore can’t identify with Somebodies in the same way that a lot of people didn’t “get” Seinfeld, but frankly my “nothing” feels more like Jerry and Elaine than Scotte and Diva.

In BET’s first effort at an original scripted series there are bound to be some growing pains, and when dealing with the Negro Channel I also try to maintain low expectations. Perhaps its because I don’t watch gospel plays, didn’t go to an HBCU, or because I consider writing, directing, and acting to all be arts and not just somethin’ to do, but Somebodies kind of made me feel like a nobody; I just wanted to melt into a little puddle with two googly eyes and an afro puff like people do in cartoons when they’re too embarrassed and exhausted to remain in human form. I’m tempted to just say, well, at least we got somethin’ to look at, and if we support this show then maybe more new black sitcoms are in our future. But if, like me, you fear that the Golden Age of the black sitcom has passed, Somebodies will not be the show to reassure you that better days are to come.

Check out the trailer below and if you like it, Somebodies is available on iTunes and BET.com. I encourage you to give it a good try and show as much support as you can bear.

4 Comments »

  • Reginald Dorsey said:

    I actually liked it. The first episode was guffaw-funnier than the second. I think the southerness of it was very, very apparent, and that makes it sort of unique in terms of the history of black sitcoms. Black southern humor tends to be more emotional and raw than black northern humor, which I find somewhat more subtle and kind of urbane.

    Interestingly, Hadji’s comedic acting is more in line with the latter, while pretty much everyone else on the show is in the camp of the former.

    My guess is that the first couple of episodes are basically going to be retellings of the funniest moments he experienced while in school in Georgia. Then after that he’ll have to start trying to flip things (the tired comico-criticsims of the benighted masses) and come up with new ideas.

  • Hampton06 said:

    i saw the film the show is based on and it killed at the afi film festival. it was just a slice of life comedy. we don’t get many of those. i was impressed.

    i did not watch the show and now i am scared.

  • POH said:

    I liked the second ep more than the 1st. Thembi you are dead on with the stereotype characters. I hope they get more into stories of his college friends and those kind of hi jinx.

    His girlfriend cracks me up. I just saw her in Family That Preys.

    There has got to be more development in the characters beyond stand up comedy one liners. I always give a new show 4 times to be funny; so far they are 1-1

  • Deen said:

    Allow me to respectfully disagree with your blog please.

    I think anyone with two eyes can recognize the stereotype characters, i.e. the Black Power dude with the Mohawk, the Loud Next Door Neighbor (which is true by the way, maybe not for you but for many of us), and others.

    But you also notice how the brothers are combating the stereotypes and confronting them head on.

    Very much in a “hey we’re regular everyday people who work and bull@#!% like everybody” and not an all black people can fit into a certain category type of way.

    The show has been cracking me up like crazy anyway, I hope you can find a way to enjoy it. Who would you rather support, bland tasteless tyler perry or some fresh thoughtful everyman comedy from a young upstart?

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