Nuance Where You’d Least Expect It.

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.

9 thoughts on “Nuance Where You’d Least Expect It.

  1. Mark July 10, 2009 at 4:03 pm Reply

    Okay. If YOU say that this show has some substance, then I will deign not to roll my eyes whenever I see it scroll by in the cable guide. I can’t promise much more yet. We’ll see.

    • slb July 10, 2009 at 4:23 pm Reply

      Far be it from me to keep you from eye-rolling. Carry on.

  2. Grump July 10, 2009 at 5:49 pm Reply

    Don’t worry, SLB, I won’t be one to “jurrdge” you for watching this show.

    • slb July 10, 2009 at 5:52 pm Reply

      i was gonna specify, somewhere in the body of the write-up, that i’ve only seen like 4-5 eps. but frankly, if you’ve sat through more than one, you might as well accept that you’re “viewer.”

      *shrug* i ain’t (that) ‘shamed.

  3. shani-o July 11, 2009 at 6:47 am Reply

    Oh, Stacia. So funny you should write about this. I was stuck in a hotel room with my Tyler Perry-addicted Jamaican aunt, and forced to watch “House of Payne.” I don’t have a visceral negative reaction to Perry or his work (except when he popped up in Star Trek) but I was surprised by how unfunny the show was. It deals with real issues often faced by working class black folk — the ep I watched was about a visit from Child Protective Services because someone had reported them for unsafe conditions — but when played for laughs, everything just seemed to fall flat.

    • slb July 11, 2009 at 8:26 am Reply

      yeah. i think that’s the most baffling thing about TP projects for me, how unfunny they all are. he’s slightly better at melodrama, but he recycles so much of it that even that doesn’t wash very well anymore.

  4. Kia July 13, 2009 at 8:09 am Reply

    Thank you for “outing” yourself and sharing this. My extended family watches the TP vehicles and I’m glad to know that there is an important story line being handled well.

    And on a side note, I didn’t know that a husband and wife team played father and daughter in the movie (and/or show/stage play the TP juggernaut is too big for me to even try keep straight) that just seems odd.

  5. R July 13, 2009 at 10:35 am Reply

    I may just check it out based on your review. Thanks for the reminder to keep my pompous buppie viewing habits in check. It is an important reminder that TP has some redeeming values instead of this constant knee jerk eye roll reaction to all things related to TP, not that they aren’t warranted of course… but at least the attempt to add some complexities to black characters is something to applaud, maybe applaud is too strong a word but y’all get me..

  6. bctw July 13, 2009 at 3:26 pm Reply

    *my hands are mysteriously gravitating to my hips while my neck rolls out of control*

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