Recently a friend recommended to me that I check out Being Mary Jane, which is currently available on Netflix. For everyone who doesn’t know, Mary Jane normally airs on BET and it stars Gabrielle Union as a popular daytime host on an MSNBC-esque channel. The show follows her ups and downs in the dating world as well as in her career field. My friend texted me about it and it sounded up my alley and I had some free time, so I plopped down on my couch and decided to watch. At first, the show appeared to be similar to many romantic comedies – girl wants guy, guy shows up unexpectedly, girl is surprised and has a comedic freakout while she readies herself for guy. I was prepared to flick it off at the first sign of cliched or hackneyed writing because, let’s be real, I probably should’ve been writing my own novels and not watching TV anyway.
As you can probably tell, I had some preconceived notions about the show. I thought it was going to be similar to Girlfriends which was created by the same producer. No offense to lovers of Girlfriends (including my boyfriend, who used to watch old reruns for shits), but I was never that into it (even though the theme song still gets stuck in my head randomly from time to time grrr) I also hadn’t heard much about Being Mary Jane in general. Everybody on Facebook or Twitter is always talking about Scandal or Empire but no one seems to be paying attention to this little show on BET. What a tragedy, though, because let me tell you – Being Mary Jane is great.
For starters, Mary Jane lives in Atlanta, Georgia in a ridiculously beautiful home. She dates ridiculously beautiful men and she herself is ridiculously beautiful (seriously, what kind of virgin-blood-infused youth elixir is Gabrielle taking? Gimme some!) So basically, it has a similar set-up to a lot of contemporary romance stories – MJ is a successful single woman who wants to settle down with the right man and have kids. And when I say ‘right man’ I mean educated, successful, and HOT. I could go on and on about the Hot Man Candy™ that is on this show but I won’t…
Yeah… pretty sure he knows he’s hot.
Mary Jane’s dating woes take up a good portion of the show and, as a romance writer, of course I’m interested in the way the writers tackle that subject. They do a great job, in my opinion. Mary Jane’s romantic entanglements feel fresh and are portrayed in funny and sometimes heartbreaking ways. Also, can I just mention that I LOVE that they portray female masturbation and female sexual appetite as a normal and regular thing? All the praises for that. However, what I really think stands out about Mary Jane as a show is the way she interacts with her colorful and dysfunctional family.
MJ has a well-known, once highly successful father, a manipulative mother with Lupus, an older brother who was once successful in his own right but now has drug problems, a younger brother in college who has a side job dealing weed, and – my favorite of all – a snarky nineteen year old niece who’s already the mother of one baby and is pregnant with another. Now, I’m not going to go into all the family drama or give away plot points but I love that the writers chose to give MJ such a rich and interesting family dynamic. The drama comes from the immediate situation – Mary Jane’s family is basically living off of her and she feels burdened and taken advantage of – but there’s so much more to it because the characters are extremely well fleshed-out and their relationships have a lot of layers. There’s no cliched or one-dimensional characters here. The writers have taken typical, cliched Black tropes – the drug addict, the unwed teen mother – and turned them into three-dimensional characters. They’re funny, flawed, hot messes who are all ultimately lovable and sympathetic characters.
As a lot of you might know from my books, I have a ‘thing’ for writing families. I enjoy writing about family dynamics. Not only biological families, but also the families that we create for ourselves with friends and people who we meet in life and choose to love. I really appreciate that the creators of Mary Jane took the time and made it a priority to focus on her family. They could’ve chosen to focus mostly on her friendships or her relationships but I think the show is better for going in the direction that they did. It makes it richer and more well-rounded. It’s not only a show about an extremely successful woman with a lot of money, but it’s also about how the people who know her best react to her success and come to terms with it and, at times, take advantage of it.
Also, the show is just really funny, daring and sexy. Seriously. Watch it.
Another show that I think does a great job of portraying another black family in a deeply layered and interesting way is Empire (although I’ll admit I’m not caught up on this latest season). The show is wacky and over the top, but the family relationships (almost) always feel based in reality. Giving them the backstory of the Cookie’s jail sentence and their prior life in poverty was really smart, in my opinion. It adds a layer of desperation and the feel that, even though they’re extremely successful and rich now, they could easily backslide into poverty. Anyway, I’m late in talking about Empire, but the family dynamics were what kept me tuning in every week, as well as the good music.
And of course, Cookie is one of the best characters ever.
So there you have it. I hope you’ll all give Being Mary Jane a shot, if you haven’t already. I think I’ve gushed enough about it, so now I’ll give you some updates although there’s not much to report. I’ve been busy writing lately, but it’s slow going. No surprise there, eh? 2016 is gonna be all about playing catch-up with my series so expect me to be more active in the coming months. I’ll be updating about the third book in the House of Pain series, Beautiful Beatdown, soon. So if you haven’t read the second book, Spitfire Suckerpunch, you might want to get on that 🙂
(all images credited to owners)