By Curtis Caesar John | Indiewire April 12, 2013 at 1:27PM
This week we focus on the BET Network sitcom Let's Stay Together and the return of NBC's Revolution after a long hiatus.
I've ragged a lot on the Jacque Edmonds Cofer (Living Single, Reed Between The Lines) executive produced Let's Stay Together in the past year plus of this column, about how the acting is often stiff, the situations flat-out silly and the comedy inconsistent and non-existent. All that said, there were also traces of quality within, something that the writers and cast seem to have taken a hold of in Season 3.
Last season ended with Charles (Burt Belasco) trying to prevent his still-newlywed wife Stacy, played by Nadine Ellis, from seeing the episode of the always-entertaining Cheaters that he appears on when they caught his childhood friend kissing him. The statuesque Kali Hawk plays the friend Connie, who began leaning on Charles after her separation from her husband. Needless to say, Charles sister Kita and cousin Crystal ensure she sees the show, really just because they like it, and by the next scene - weeks later - Charles remains in the dog house. Stacy actually could tell that it wasn't serious, but is more upset he even put himself in that situation as she never trusted Connie, and for embarrassing her to a high degree as she's a respected pediatrician in Atlanta, who for a doctor spends a lot of time at home.
Charles tries everything to make up for it, but Stacy doesn't feel redemption until her sister Tasha, played rambunctious actress Joyful Drake, Kita, and Crystal convince Stacy she needs to confront Connie, and they do so at their hangout spot - which apparently is the only place in Atlanta they all ever go. When the stiff and non-street credentialed Stacy attempts to curse, and maybe even try to beat up Connie, the cheater apologizes to her profusely and Connie's husband meets her there letting them all know 'Cheaters' made them get back together. Written this sounds pretty cheesy, it played out nicely, and amusingly, due to the heartbroken but sweet demeanor in which Nadine Ellis plays Stacy. Ellis herself is an underrated beauty, and even though its obvious her acting should be more important than her looks, her lack of acting during the first season was one of the low points of the show, and she's made a 180 degree turn in that as both she and Belasco as Charles play really well off of each other now, as they do off the others, being the true anchors of this ensemble show. I'm not saying the show is perfect, but it has gotten a lot better, and frankly, actually watchable. As far as the beauty part, unfortunately that's the point of shows like Let's Stay Together and the show that precedes it over the past three seasons The Game. The look of the characters, their well-fashioned and coiffed sartorial displays, is what makes certain people fans of the show. And let's be very real about it, no matter if it's Let's Stay Together, or 20 years ago on A Different World, or 40 years ago on That's My Mama - we enjoy when Black folks look good on screen! To finish this point, Ellis is a dark-skinned, phenotypically Black woman, and having her on-screen weekly when the unfortunate truth is that many dark-skinned actresses aren’t too often considered leading women is justice.
I should mention the significant subplots on LTS. Jamal, played by RonReaco Lee, was the best known of the show's leads as he made his debut years ago on ABC's Sister, Sister and has been a hard-working actor every since. He still remains the best actor on the show, as his lines and delivery are not usually as forced as his peers own are, a testament to his skill and demeanor. The aforementioned Tasha is Jamal's wife who previously was involved - and after their marriage was pursued on mercilessly by her hunky ex-boyfriend Troy (Christian Keyes), who at last season's finale was forced to drive back to Atlanta with Tasha after bad weather grounded all planes in Savannah (coincidentally, as I'm writing this I'm thinking I've never seen Drake in anything else, then of all the movies to turn to on TV I see her on Oxygen playing Mo’nique's sassy cousin in the farcical Phat Girlz). Thankfully nothing happened between them as she keeps her husband on the phone the entire time they're in the car, in a funny but that had Jamal keeping an eye on him using ‘Facetime’ (but dang Tasha's battery lasted a long time on that ride!). Nonetheless, the subplot with him is (mostly) resolved, leading the writers to focus on attorney Jamal, now in business for himself, swooning and eventually landing a new client that unbeknownst to him is a relocated gangster from Alabama, played by a now rotund and almost unrecognizable Reggie Hayes who played William Dent for eight seasons in the hit TV show Girlfriends. After working for him for weeks, in this past Tuesday’s episode Jamal extracts himself from the increasingly dangerous man’s employ, and hopefully for his family’s sake the now-imprisoned gangster will stay away – but we kind of know he won’t.
We also have Charles' cousin the college student Crystal, played by still baby-faced Kyla Pratt (One On One, Love and Basketball) who at first temporarily replaced series regular Kita, sister of Charles and loud-mouthed trouble-maker whose role was to cause dissension and distraction amongst the couples, played by Erica Hubbard who at that point was on maternity leave but returned partly into the previous season. In last season's finale Crystal discovered that her well-mannered football player boyfriend (no, not a musketeer) Darkainian is gay when his boyfriend comes to his apartment, where she was staying to study for school. Livid at him, she barely registers when Darkanian comes to explain to her that because of the atmosphere surrounding gay men in sports that he cannot 'come out of the closet. He asks Crystal to maintain the facade of their dating and after prodding from Kita, gets him to give her lifestyle of luxury - which in this week's episode Kita takes over-advantage of. Meanwhile Kita is hard-at-work on getting in shape to become a police office, and ends up getting at first unwanted, then very much desired, help from Troy at the local gym and despite protestations because of his pursuit of the married Tasha, begins dating him on the sly.
I maintain that the frustrating thing about this show is that I feel the actors have a lot more in them. I don’t believe that TV is a wasteland for actors of merit, but I’d love to see all the members of this potentially talented cast spread their wings onto other projects. Hubbard we’ve seen of course in four seasons in the family drama Lincoln Heights, so she’s proven she can flex, but I’d love to see Lee, Ellis and Pratt especially do so. I see something in them.
Okay, now that I’ve gotten off my high-horse, lets review what’s been going on since the return of the post-apocalyptic drama Revolution, which stars S&A fave Giancarlo Esposito as well as Billy Burke (Miles), Tracy Spiridakos (Charlie), Daniella Alonso (Nora) and LOST’s Elizabeth Mitchell (Rachel), and JD Pardo (Jason Neville). After the ragtag group of Charlie, Miles, Aaron and Nora have finally escaped from the Monroe Republic along with Charlie’s kidnapped brother Danny (Graham ‘Can I get a hot tub!’ Rogers), who they came for, and the sibling’s mother Rachel, who they had no idea was alive, they split up into two groups: Rachel and Miles who go off to get weapons from one of her old tech buddies that helped her develop the weapons that shut off power to the entire world, and Nora takes the rest to her rebel camp to warn them about the power/electricity generated weapons and helicopters that the power mad General Monroe (David Lyons) now possesses thanks to his interrogation of Rachel through Danny. Rachel and Miles are successful in getting the weapons, but not before a double-cross from her friend John (the always-underrated character actor Leland Orser) which they narrowly escape from, since Miles seems to always narrowly escape from everything including missile fire (How? Hide in a meat locker/restaurant style refrigerator).
Meanwhile, Charlie and Danny barely have time to enjoy being reunited and instead help Nora and her rebel troops, including her leader and old ‘friend’ Nicholas (Derek Webster), prepare for Monroe’s helicopters. While Miles and Rachel return in the middle of the rebels getting lit by helicopter-propelled machine guns, by time he preps the rocket launcher he for once can’t escape its fire. Danny grabs the rocket launcher, somehow figures out how to shoot it in :10 seconds, and destroys the ‘copter that knocked Miles out. But while he revels in his victory, the other whirlybird evades fire from the other rebels and shoots Danny down, killing him and making their prior mission technically a waste of time – which angered fans of the show to no end. On the Black folks front, Monroe Republic Captain Tom Neville, played sternly but sympathetically – at least when it comes to his family – by Giancarlo Esposito, is once-again confronted by his reluctant solider son Jason who once again refuses to follow orders. They fight, and Tom beats the crap out of his son but doesn’t kill him as he would a Republic soldier who disobeys an order, but excommunicates him from his family and the Republic. At episodes end we also see the return of Randall Flynn, who earlier in the season kidnapped Grace Beaumont (Maria Howell, The Color Purple) one of Rachel’s scientist buddies along with John who knows how to temporarily get back power and is forced to work with Flynn who seeks an alliance with Monroe in order to rule America, and eventually the world.
In the next few episodes we learn that Flynn, played villainously by Colm Feore (The Chronicles of Riddick) worked for the Department of Defense and after losing his son in the post-9/11 war in Iraq became vengeful and was the one who eventually plunged the world in darkness. Meanwhile the group buries Danny and join Nora’s rebel group full-time. First order of business is for Miles to get his former lieutenants who helped him almost succeed in killing Monroe (for this unaware, Miles was once the dictator Monroe’s right hand man until he saw he was becoming despotic) back together in order to train the rebels how to really fight. The first in line isn’t too far away, and that’s Jim Hudson who is living in a bucolic town that feels like a modern-day Upstate New York town. Hudson, portrayed by Malik Yoba, is under a fake name and has totally purged of his former life and happy to be married to a quiet woman and running the town library. Unfortunately, the Republic finds out Miles is there and are on their way to the town and willing to raze it to find Miles. Hudson joins the fight to make the soldiers to stay away, and in a bloody battle he, Miles and Nora kill or maim them all – except for their leader who sees a concerned woman – Hudson’s wife – in a house looking at him, and goes after her. Hudson succeeds in killing the leader, but his wife is frightened of seeing him like this and he decides he cannot fully escape who he really is and returns with Miles to help the rebels.
Meanwhile, in this past Monday’s episode Monroe gives the recently fallible Tom Neville a final chance to make things right and puts him in charge of picking up an important but mysterious payload. Neville and a compliment of soldier’s drive down to spot, and in a rare moment of levity now that he has a vehicle with power Neville is grooving along to Lionel Richie jams, but then his vehicle is blown up by incendiaries planted by the rebels. His truck flips over, and he’s the only one left alive, but is taken prisoner by Miles and company. They try torturing Neville, which is really where Esposito shines as he gets to play both mouse and cat with his interrogators, chuckling, as he knows Rachel wants to kill him as well for kidnapping Danny. It isn’t until unfortunate son Jason, who is now working with the rebels, comes speak to him that he breaks down, telling him to help him escape so that they both can go finish the task Neville set him out on so that Monroe won’t indeed kill her since he messed up the mission. Jason lets him out of the chains, but it was all a double-cross so that the rebels could find out where Capt. Neville was going in the first place. As Miles, Jason and Charlie trace down the lead, Neville asks for redemption – and his last rites from rebel leader and former minister Nicholas. But he has is own double-cross in mind as well, and when Nicholas turns him down, Neville escapes from his bonds, and kills Nicholas by stabbing him slowly through the chest (see below) – which more than anything shows audiences that in true fantasy/sci-fi TV drama that you can’t have more than two-to-three Black men or characters as cast/recurring characters last an entire episode, much less multiple ones.
I wanted to cover Chi McBride in the new show Golden Boy this week as promised, but with multiple episodes of the above shows to break down I want to give that show its own due, so look for that (I extra promise-promise) next week along with coverage once again of The Game, and catch you up with the finally funny character of Winston in New Girl. If there is anything you’d like me to cover that I’m missing, please let me know below or by hitting me up on Twitter.
Follow Shadow and Act’s This Week in Black Television contributor Curtis Caesar John on Twitter (@MediaManWatch) and check out his film blog, brotherfromadifferentworld.tumblr.com