Earlier this week, I was talking to G.D. about something I’d watched on television. “But I don’t want to write about it for PostBourgie,” I quickly added, “because a.) I really get sick of reading and writing about Tyler Perry and b.) I’d have to out myself as a Meet the Browns viewer.”
But here I am, anyway. Hello, my name is Stacia. And I’ve watched Meet the Browns.
If you’re one of those people who sees Tyler Perry’s name and has a knee-jerk “Buffoonery!” battle cry at the ready, stop reading (if you haven’t already).
This isn’t a write-up about the ashy, sartorially-challenged sight gag that is Mr. Brown. And it certainly isn’t an endorsement for the sitcom as a whole. Instead, consider this a random musing about one particular subplot that’s been, to my extreme surprise, really deftly handled.
The television program, Meet the Browns, is very different than the stage play and film that bear its name. In fact, all they seem to have in common are the real life husband-wife duo, David and Tamela Mann as Mr. Brown and his daughter, Cora. The TBS version of the Meet the Browns brand tends to center on a couple, Will and Sasha Brown, who’ve recently taken in two foster children, teenage Brianna and pre-adolescent Joaquin.
The show is typically convoluted. Perry is famous for his unsuccessful attempts at blending slapstick comedy and melodrama, as well as for recycling the same warmed over plots and actors. Meet the Browns is no exception. Here, he uses one of his stalwarts, Tasha Smith, as the brazenly abusive mother of the foster kids. She’s a caricature, of course–the kind who monologues her ill-intent for the kids in heavy-handed detail.
A cursory glance at the series definitely leads you to assume there’s nothing there worth watching. (You might be right.) But one of the episodes this week piqued my interest. Earlier in the series, we discover that Brianna was sexually assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend. This happens via a showdown where her mother, unsurprisingly, accuses her of lying. It’s all very over-the-top.
But this week’s episode dealt with some of the fallout of that assault, as Brianna’s platonic male friend declares romantic interest, while taking her hand. She recoils and kicks the bewildered boy out of the house, in a realistic display of panic, confusion, and embarrassment. Later, Sasha, her foster mother, gently suggests that they schedule counseling sessions, to work through the long-term emotional fallout of Brianna’s rape. Brianna initially resists, then learns from her ousted guy-friend that he, too, went to counseling after his parents’ divorce, so she decides she won’t be stigmatized by psych counseling, after all.
Sexual abuse plots aren’t uncommon to Tyler Perry projects. In fact, they aren’t uncommon to the Black Church Film genre at all. Madea’s Family Reunion (the film) and Madea Goes to Jail (the play) immediately spring to mind, as does Woman, Thou Art Loosed.
The difference here was that Brianna’s abuse wasn’t introduced for shock value, then dropped, as is typical of Very Special Episodes in sitcoms. Instead, it’s been threaded through the series as a whole and used to inform her character’s motivations and development in a way that has previously eluded other attempts at addressing similar subject matter in shows and films of its type.
In the span of a half hour, we see a young girl realize the insidious nature of sexual abuse, a Black family advocate for counseling, and a teenage Black male encouraging his friend to go, because he’s not only attended but found it helpful. Feel however you want about Meet the Browns. But I think we can all agree that these aren’t representations of ourselves that we get to see in prime-time very often.
Admittedly, Meet the Browns is mostly farcical. But on occasion, even farces have their meaningful moments. Perhaps that’s why they get greenlighted in the first place.