Kevin Hart's "Real Husbands of Hollywood," which premieres tonight, January 15th, on BET at 10pm, began as a series of sketches at the 2011 BET Awards that you can watch at the bottom of this post -- a faux reality show spoof that, in its original short form, is actually a little sharper, tighter and more filled with bleeped profanity (and Bobby Brown) than the half-hour comedy series it's spawned. As parody of the likes of the "Real Housewives" franchise and "Basketball Wives," the semi-scripted "Real Husbands of Hollywood" is a tad lazy, using the form of reality shows in which the wealthy characters spend their days idly creating their own drama as a frame on which to hang loose comic bits in which Hart gets in fistfights with 8-year-olds and has spats with his friends over a poker game.
It's the flipping of genders that makes "Real Husbands of Hollywood" fun and sporadically relevant in a larger sense -- the understanding that most of its characters are leading their lush Los Angeles lives in the shadow of off-screen wives whose careers may have outshadowed their own, in an entertainment world in which the options for African American performers tend to be curtailed.
There's Nick Cannon, husband of Mariah Carey; Boris Kodjoe, husband of Nicole Ari Parker; Duane Martin, husband Tisha Campbell-Martin; and Robin Thicke, husband of Paula Patton, plus rapper Nelly, who's not married but whose career isn't what it used to be, plus comedian, former SNL writer and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" star J. B. Smoove, who doesn't quite fit the mold (his wife is singer Shahidah Omar) but who does the best bickering with Hart. The recently divorced Hart, who starts the show off with a segment in which he describes his recent real life success, including his selling out of arenas on tour as a stand-up and the box office victories of his film "Think Like a Man," is the newcomer to this scene -- "Mr. New Money," as he's introduced -- and burrows his way into this world like a man genuinely hoping to land himself a famous bride in the next year.
The title of the series leaves the characters as simply "husbands," not "househusbands" (maybe becuase there was actually an unscripted "Househusbands of Hollywood" show that ran on the Fox Reality Channel in 2009), but the premiere shows a day-to-day made up of parties, poker games, frivolous lawsuits and arguing about who has the biggest house or the most famous friends.
The husbands all have the relaxed, well-manicured air of men living the dream, with no crises of masculinity in sight, at least so far, as they don aprongs to man the grill or tout secondary business plans involving fashion lines. It's Hart, who in reality probably has plenty of offers on the table coming off of last year, who in the world of the show is the one who can't fit in, misunderstanding and bringing "his babies" (scantily clad arm candy) instead of his actual babies to what turns out to be a family barbecue at Cannon's house and scuffling with his host ("I bought this house before I got married to Mariah," Cannon snaps when Hart asks him when Carey got the place.) Later, he goes to visit his lawyer and reacts like he's discovered an infidelity when he learns that she has plenty of other clients beside him.
Hart, who's always quick to make fun of his own height and place as the fast-talking, abrasive comic relief (mistaken for a child at the party, he's enraged to be given a balloon hat), makes himself the brunt of the show's main joke by providing reminders of his unlikeliness as a potential househusband, as he waves after a departing Patton or asks why Carey always disappears when he comes over. But Hart is, of course, the show's big success, with his "Laugh At My Pain" grossing $15 million and a barrage of film roles lined up. Who's laughing now?
The original "Husbands" skits: