Tonight was the premiere of Season 4 of The Game, now airing on BET after having been cancelled by The CW. The following review discusses the entire plot of the show so if you haven't seen it, go on 'head and bookmark my shit, watch, and come back.
Quick recap just to get us into the show:
- Derwin and Melanie got married. Derwin's ex, Janay, had his baby.
- Kelly and Jason divorced. Jason was dating Camille (played by the ageless Stacey Dash)
- Tasha was dating Rick Fox, and got knocked the FUCK OUT by Kelly for setting up Jason and Camille.
- Malik met his father, Chauncey, and bonded with his sister, Pucci.
The show picks up two years later and, let's be honest, it is rough.
Mara Brock Akil has clearly wanted to do a drama. And that's not, in and of itself, a bad thing. Girlfriends succeeded largely because she expertly blended comedy and drama and the same was true for The Game when it was on The CW. So it makes some sense that The Game is now a one-hour dramedy shot with one camera. Such a move gives Akil more room to develop the characters and the show's directors the ability to shoot a more visually interesting show.
But it is clear that Mara Brock Akil is still figuring out the rhythms of a one-hour dramedy. She's spending way too much time on the melodramatic elements and not nearly enough time on the jokes or the characters. And Salim Akil's uninspiring directing – a lot of camera sweeps in to grab emotional moments and then really boring, static two-shots – is not helping.
This first episode is largely a disaster that destroys much of what was great about the show when it was on The CW. And the show itself felt inert. The former problem is worse because had the characters we loved been onscreen we could watch a few dramatically inert episodes with the hope that the show would eventually find its rhythms in the new format.
But Melanie's the only character who is exactly the same as the CW version. Melanie is still incredibly self-centered and everything she does flows from that*, which is refreshing given all that happens in this episode. It makes complete sense that Melanie would give DJ a paternity test. She never believed he was Derwin's, and more importantly, she simply did not want him to have a child with Janay.
The thing is though – the "he's not Derwin's baby" fake-out is just lazy writing. And worse, it undercut the character of Janay, who was always a mature career woman who didn't want or need Derwin for his money. She was in a lot of ways who Melanie would be if she grew the hell up. That was what made the love triangle so dramatically compelling. You could really see Derwin staying with a woman like Janay.
While tonight's episode does Janay no favors, it treats the other characters with such contempt you wonder what the hell was going on in the writers' room.
Jason and Kelly Pitts were never the best couple, but the CW version spent a lot of time exploring the fact that, though they did not marry for love, they grew to love one another. The BET versions are spiteful, hateful, and completely without redeeming qualities. The scene with Kelly and Melanie was so out of character it was painful and Kelly's anger at Tasha, still going strong after two years, felt forced (or driven by the fact that Brittany Daniel and Coby Bell are only recurring stars and clearly can only be in a few scenes due to a much smaller budget).
Jason was always rooted in a very realistic and well-rendered self-hatred, played beautifully by Coby Bell both for drama and laughs in the CW version, but here's it's almost pathological. That "eskimo" scene was offensive in the extreme. And it doesn't help that Salim Akil is directing both actors, who are naturally warm performers, to play their characters stridently. Coby Bell's natural comic gifts are wasted.
And then there's Malik, who has been touted as having the best storyline this season. Too bad we don't know what that storyline is. When we last saw Malik, he had divorced Robin Givens, reunited with his father, and met his wants-to-be-a-singer younger sister, Pucci. None of those developments are even mentioned in passing here. Malik just runs around being an asshole and Hosea Chanchez is given no motivation for such behavior so he is forced to play it straight. He's always been an asshole, but it was always played for laughs and with heart. His treatment of Tee-Tee in the episode was just mean-spirited and ridiculous. Clearly, there must be a reason for Malik's behavior but the show doesn't even bother to hint at it so we can connect with him.
(Aside – that scene where he walks right past Tasha Mack without speaking was just weird as fuck. That's his damn mama!)
Wendy Raquel Robinson – pro she is – works every scene she's in, but Tasha Mack has absolutely nothing to do. And they recast Jason and Kelly's daughter with an actress who looks 25 for reasons that escape me.
If Mara Brock Akil thought we watched The Game for the melodrama, then she fundamentally misread the show's audience. Turning the show into a late-night soap opera is a monumental mistake. It doesn't play to the strengths of the actors or make for an interesting show.
There is a lot to fix here, but I'm hoping that Akil works it all out. I'll stick around for a few more episodes, hoping she does.
*Yes, she gave up Johns Hopkins, but that was a selfish act in that Melanie wanted credit for it in a way that would give her carte blanche to behave however she wanted to behave.