Is “Think Like a Man” Franchise A Sign Of Things To Come?

Kevin Hart headlines the sequel to the hit comedy Think Like a Man Too. You may wish he didn't.

Kevin Hart headlines the sequel to the hit comedy Think Like a Man Too. You may wish he didn’t.

I was recently able to watch both Warner Brothers’ new musical Jersey Boys and Sony Picture’s new comedy sequel Think Like A Man Too starring comedian Kevin Hart on consecutive days. To my amazement I found myself liking the sequel directed by a relative unknown by the name of Tim Story than the adaptation of the Tony Award® winning Broadway hit musical directed by four time Academy Award winner Clint Eastwood.

Make no mistake neither film is going to win any Academy Awards® next February. But if found myself falling more for the wacky Vegas adventures on a wedding weekend among a diverse group of characters that made up another adaption based loosely on the premise of comedian’s Steve Harvey’s hit book “Think Like a Man.” Both movies certainly had their flaws. Jersey Boys was a too strictly by-the-book adaptation while Think Like a Man ironically veered too far away from the original source material. This version of “Think” came across like a poor man’s “The Hangover” with considerable less sex and debauchery, but more heart and sentimentality, clearly to appeal to the female viewers no doubt. And this is not a bad thing.

So What’s the Big Deal?

“Think” came across a funny take on sentimentality and heart when a couple enjoys dueling bachelor and bachelorette parties and an eventual wedding during a weekend in Vegas. Long story short, as usual with any Vegas movie, signals get crossed, hijinks occur, people get crude and nude and in the end the wedding actually takes place with a lot of aw shucks earnestness you would actually expect out of a Steve Harvey self-help book. Lots of happy endings abound and your left wondering how the story is supposed to advance for the inevitable third sequel of this comedy showcase which revolves around a group of predominately African American friends.

The one well intentioned caveat was the not so common story this movie was trying to tell. That of the wild adventures of a diverse group of friends who are upper middle class to upper class enjoying their lives. That’s it period. No other stereotypes were being exploited. Sure Kevin Hart laid out his traditional “if I’m loud enough, you’ll think I’m funny” routine. And since his star is on the rise since the original Think Like Man movie came out I was not surprised to see his character basically take the lead and help bring all of the other storylines together. Thanks to Think Like a Man Too I was reminded how rarely this kind of story is told. This point was especially brought home when I recently caught a showing of movie The Best Man Holiday on HBO.

The cast of "The Best Man Holiday" live up a life in luxury in their latest sequel. But why don't we see more of this in movies?

The cast of “The Best Man Holiday” live up a life in luxury in their latest sequel. But why don’t we see more of this in movies?

It Pays To Be Rich

One caveat I noticed in both “Think” and “Holiday” is that they both showcase financially well off African Americans. For example, Hart’s character Cedric spends a huge amount of money on a lavish suite a Caeser’s Palace, and Taraji P. Henson’s character of Lauren is promoted to the COO position of her company. Over at “Holiday” Morris Chestnut’s character is living in the lap of luxury thanks to his high profile football player Lance Sullivan enjoying success on the field. At the same time, all of the other characters in both films are enjoying their peak working professional lives successfully coexisting with their personal lives.

So What’s The Problem?

I began thinking why aren’t these stories told more often? Where financially well-off people of color are burning the candle, so to speak, at both ends. This is where our main source of story, at least in the two movies I just watched, come from. For one, I question why directors like Tim Story and “Holiday’s” Malcolm D. Lee aren’t given more opportunities to work with more actors of color and not just their niche African American repertoires they tend to work with? Why aren’t more screenwriters allowed to tell more stories about well off characters of color? Is it because studio heads aren’t of color and don’t think a majority of audiences will relate?

Fiction vs. Reality

The Best Man Holiday had a lot of hijinks this time around but it also had a considerable amount of sorrow. This rollercoaster of emotions allowed director Malcolm D. Lee to tell a fully realized story with actual characters with real emotions no matter how maudlin it really got towards the end of his film. On the other end of the spectrum, director Tim Story showcased through Think Like a Man Too as a wacky PG-13 rated adventure movie  while ending the movie with a romanticized story that left many of our couples with happy endings with fully accomplished dreams still to come.

These stories aren’t being told enough, and that’s a real shame. For once I’d love to see biracial couple’s experience life’s adventures beyond their race or ethnicity. Hopefully this can be possible with a more diverse group of writers, directors and producers in Hollywood. But in reality it will only happen if more open-minded studio heads will consider this a reliable option. Because in the end, if a movie makes money, sequel can’t be too far off. That’s not a bad thing for me it just needs to have purpose.

Why I’m Both Anticipating & Dredding the New Television Season That’s Full of Diversity

This week was the annual week that every year the inner TV geek is always eagerly anticipating with both hope and anxiety. That’s right it’s the annual Up-Front presentations where the four big broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) and smaller networks on both cable and broadcast (The CW, TNT, TBS, USA et. al.) all make their upcoming fall schedule announcements and their big pitches on their new shows for advertisers and in essence the viewing public.

What fascinated me about this year’s crop of new shows was not the umpteenth spinoff of either CSI or NCIS on CBS (or in this case this year we get both, uh yeah?!?) But it was the surprising amount of diversity being offered in this year’s new crop of shows that has me both hopeful and nervous with anticipation.

ABC's new midseason series "Fresh Off the Boat" is the first series to focus on an Asian American family since "All-American Girl" starred comedian Margaret Cho.

ABC’s new midseason series “Fresh Off the Boat” is the first series to focus on an Asian American family since “All-American Girl” starred comedian Margaret Cho.

Looking Back, It Wasn’t Too Long Ago…

Forget the cheese-tastic titles such as Black-ish and Fresh off the Boat. It’s the substance of the show of what’s behind those titles that both excites me and worries me. They have a lot to look up to. Could it have been already thirty years ago this year that The Cosby Show lit up our screens and introduced us to the way a whole new family managed to live their lives with humor and dignity? But Cosby and the Huxtables weren’t the first. In the seventies we got a wide variety of families of a multicultural and economic backgrounds. There was Sanford and SonGood Times and The Jeffersons, just to name a few. All of these shows including the Cosby Show are still being shown in repeats on cable which means to me they still have a long and successful following to this day.

So the question remains what happened since the Cosby Show went off the air in 1992? Why hasn’t there been a truly breakthrough successful sitcom to star a person of color? Sure there’s been multiple attempts and decent runs of shows featuring comedians Margaret Cho, Damon Wayons, Bernie Mac and George Lopez. Not to mention a variety of smaller shows that managed to survive on niche networks like UPN and the WB back in the day. One would probably need a sociologist to give detailed research into why sitcoms and dramas for that matter with people of color as leads have failed to truly catch fire these past two decades and counting.

Comedian Cristela Alonzo will star in her own eponymous sitcom on ABC this fall.

Comedian Cristela Alonzo will star in her own eponymous sitcom on ABC this fall.

What happened? We’re all of the shows attempted just not interesting or funny or popular with a broad spectrum of the American viewing audience? Or did real life just get in the way which forced us all to reexamine our lives and just not watch shows that were not about topics or people that were similar to us? In the early part of this century, I remember the television critics taking over various minority groups that collectively previously bemoaned why there wasn’t a more diversity in the broadcast network’s fall shows. Now the networks are taking the initiative to diversify their own programming without any prompting. It has helped that shows like Scandal and The Mindy Project are taking off both commercially and creatively with female leads of color.

Viola Davis stars in the upcoming drama "How to Get Away with Murder" on ABC.

Viola Davis stars in the upcoming drama “How to Get Away with Murder” on ABC.

Dramas Are a Step Ahead of the Curve

And it’s not just comedies that are taking shape of a more multicultural world. Sure for the past few decades we’ve seen a ton of diverse workplace dramas from L.A. Law to ER showcase a more accurate portrayal of a diverse workforce in America, but very few of the most successful dramas were actually driven by a person of color. That was until Scandal really broke out in its second season for ABC. Now the trend for network television is to feature a number of high profile women in lead roles that are driving storylines like the new drama How to Get Away with Murder featuring two time Oscar® nominee Viola Davis which will air right after Scandal on Thursday nights. Coincidentally Fox has new drama featuring Davis’s Oscar® winning costar in The Help, Octavia Spencer in Red Band Society. CW gets on board with Jane the Virgin starring newcomer Christina Rodriguez about a Latina women who gets accidentally artificially inseminated. I guess there really is a story for everyone. Don’t forget there’s also Fox’s midseason Empire starring Oscar® nominees Terrance Howard and Taraji P. Henson and CBS has Stalker in its bullpen starring Maggie Q.

"Grey's Anatomy" & "Scandal" creator Shonda Rhimes will have a third drama on ABC's Thursday night lineup. This one stars another African American actress, Viola Davis takes the lead in "How to Get Away with Murder."

“Grey’s Anatomy” & “Scandal” creator Shonda Rhimes will have a third drama on ABC’s Thursday night lineup. This one stars another African American actress, Viola Davis takes the lead in “How to Get Away with Murder.”

What I’m Hopeful For This Year

Maybe dramas just are able to easier reflect a broader spectrum of this country’s cultures than comedies can. Perhaps executives became so afraid of becoming too politically incorrect by exploiting our cultural biases and stereotypes when it comes to creating laughs for comedies. Nevertheless I am thankful that networks are putting out shows like Cristela starring Latina comedian Cristela Alzono and Selfie starring actor John Cho. I hope all of these shows succeed, but I fully realize that this is probably not going to happen. Now that the broadcast networks are taking a chance on more people of color in starring roles, I fully believe that there’s nowhere to go but up. I’m filled with anxiety because I fear that all of these shows either tank or actually be successful by following too many stereotypes. I sincerely hope that these shows are filled with plenty of laughs or a lot of high drama in which the actor’s cultural identities aren’t completely put aside but hopefully they can actually enhance the shows and storylines they happen to be in. Hey, when watching television one can live in a fantasy world, why can’t we dream while were there?