I wanted to like Single Ladies, VH1’s first scripted show, a theoretical African-American Sex and the City set in Atlanta, created by Queen Latifah and Stacy Littlejohn, and starring Stacey Dash, as gorgeous as she was when she played Dionne on Clueless all those years ago:
After seeing both last night’s pilot movie and the first episode, the show has some potential as enjoyable late-night summer trash television. But there’s something truly weird about the show’s setup and, in particular, the way it sets up discussions of interracial relationships, only to run away from them as fast as possible.
It would be interesting, for example, if Dash’s Val, fresh out of a long-term relationship with a flaky basketball player, made a conscious decision to date a white guy. Instead, the show has her sleep with said white guy and get scared she’s pregnant, making her thought process about whether or not to keep the baby (Which of course she says she’s going to. God forbid any woman have an abortion on television.) than what it would be like to date a white man. Similarly, there might be a nuanced story to tell about Christina (Kassandra Clementi), a white woman married to a fairly dark-skinned African-American man who starts cheating on him with a lighter-skinned African-American man. But since the object of her infidelity is not just any other African-American man, but Common doing a turn as the mayor of Atlanta, it’s a shallow political scandal story, rather than a story about people and relationships. There’s something discomfiting about the lip service the show gives to these and other issues it hopes will serve as hooks to viewers, but that it doesn’t actually want to engage with.
The thing that worked about Sex and the City was that the talk was actually frank. Whether it was Carrie walking out of a game of spin the bottle gone bisexual; one of Samantha’s flings coming back to bite her; Charlotte wanting the benefits if not the identity change of hanging out with a bunch of powerful lesbians; or Miranda flashing her neighbor only to find out he’s playing peek-a-boo with someone else in her building, the characters bumped up against their limits, embarrassed themselves, learned from those experiences, and generally marched on with their lives. Single Ladies, by contrast, is importing a lot of drama but making it consequence-free. A show that packs a political sex scandals, video vixen-related blackmail activities, pregnancy scares, and a women’s small business initiative within the first two hours of programming is a show that doesn’t actually trust that the audience will be interested in its characters, their challenges, and their relationships.
There are nice moments, particularly when the characters use culture to talk about issues: an opening scene where three couples discuss the difference between the ways Prince and R. Kelly talk about sex; when Val and her white suitor, Casey, dicker over whether they’re going to watch UFC fighting or Love Jones; and when Val ribs Casey for quoting Outkast lyrics at her. And I’m glad that the show doesn’t act as if it’s impossible for any of the characters to get a date. There’s a difference between suggesting that black women can’t find good black men, or any men at all, and pointing out that you have to kiss a lot of frogs, and Single Ladies is solidly in the latter camp.
But the show needs to take a deep breath, figure out something for the characters to do other than hang out at Val’s dress shop all day, and explain why the characters actually like each other. Those things are actually more important in determining whether I’ll come back than the suspense over whetherPrincipal Wood is going to find out that his gal on the side nicked a watch he designed from the set of a Cam’ron video.