The new VH1 "romantic comedy series" Single Ladies premiered last night, immediately following Basketball Wives. The juxtaposition of these two shows says a lot about what VH1 is trying to do, and whom the network is trying to reach. Black women, come get your entertainment! But while Basketball Wives is a reality show designed for gawking — complete with drink-throwing and bleeped out rants — Single Ladies is a scripted show to which the audience is meant to relate. For the characters — single black women in Atlanta and their one white friend — the drama mostly stems from men, and relationships with men. The comparisons to Sex And The City are unavoidable, although with guest stars like Kim Porter, Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas and Common, it's clear we're not in the all-white world of Carrie Bradshaw and company.
Stacey Dash plays Val, a successful stylist-turned-boutique owner, who has just broken up with her boyfriend of five years, because he didn't put a ring on it. She's the Carrie slash Charlotte: She believes in love, despite being hurt, and dreams of being treated like she deserves. In the clip above, she sums up the plot of the first episode: Keisha's being blackmailed, April's cheating on her husband, and Val is pretty sure she is pregnant. Maybe by a white guy! Dun dun DUN.
Keisha, played by LisaRaye, is the Samantha. In an early scene, she establishes herself as a strong single woman by kicking her boytoy out of her apartment immediately after coitus. April, the blonde, is also the Samantha, sorta, because she is married to a nice black guy but sleeping with the mayor (played by Common). Almost all of the men in the first episode are jerks or cheaters, but then again, so are the women.
But seriously: There are only two "nice guys" on the show — aside from the gay boutique employee. One of them is April's husband, and he doesn't have much of a personality or character other than "the guy being cuckolded." The other halfway decent dude is the "white boy," KC, who owns his own business and seems sincerely interested in dating Val. She ruins their relationship by hooking up with him in her store dressing room mere seconds into their first date and then following up the encounter with an awkward "getting to know you" date in which the first question she asks him — not where are you from, what kind of music do you like — is "Do you usually date black women?" KC replies: "I'm not John Mayer." By the end of the episode, it seemed like his storyline was over. Too bad, since the interracial plotline was actually keeping the show interesting.
The problem with Single Ladies is that it's just not very good. Not deep enough, not well-written enough, not well-directed enough, not well-acted enough. Every scene seemed to have a luxury car, some diamonds, or a designer crystal glass of champagne in it, as if bougie trappings could stand in for character development. And, as someone on Twitter noted, the show really seems to be about being 45 and trying to act 25. VH1 viewers looking for gasp-inducing drama might be tempted to just watch the Basketball Wives throw drinks on each other instead. That said, I plan on giving Single Ladies a chance. It's not supposed to be game-changing TV that Makes Us Think. It's supposed to be entertaining, and I did get sucked into the soapy Telenovela rhythm of it. Plus, seeing as how there are so few shows revolving around women — and fewer revolving around women of color, Single Ladies needs all the help it can get.