TV Review: Girlfriends
By: Ugochi Amuta
Life is like a sitcom. Just like characters of the hit show “Girlfriends,” we make mistakes and learn from them. These experiences spur our evolution from one stage of life to another — this is the central theme of the show.
“Girlfriends” is a 30-minute comedy/drama about three African-American women who are best friends living in Los Angeles, CA. They endure challenges in their respective personal lives and relationships with one another, but their unbreakable bond sees them through tough times.
Formerly aired on UPN, “Girlfriends” survived the UPN/WB merger that caused the cancellation of several shows on both networks. The series, which now airs on the CW, has also survived despite the departure of former Girlfriend Toni (Jill Marie Jones) who quit the show after a contract dispute.
Created by Mara Brock Akil (“The Game”), the comedy is now in its eighth season. The first episode of the sitcom’s new season shows the tremendous growth and maturity the girlfriends have experienced.
Lynn, who was once a struggling musician and financially dependent on her best friends, is now a financially independent member of a successful rock band. Joan, the uptight lawyer who is notorious for jeopardizing every romantic relationship she is involved in, is finally engaged to a man she actually appreciates. Maya, who was once in an insecure relationship with her husband, is now pregnant with a second child in her now-secure marriage.
I think these three women are supposed to be the main characters of the show, but in an annoying, subtle way, Joan is often portrayed as the main character. Although this episode is about the growth of the three characters, it focuses disproportionately on Joan. Maybe the show should have been named “Joan and her girlfriends.”
“Girlfriends” appeals to a racially diverse audience because even though it mainly addresses issues concerning African-American culture, it is not limited to this scope. The show tackles societal issues concerning people of every race. This is evident in the first episode of its new season, which focuses on the conflicts that ensue when a woman is the breadwinner in a relationship.
Without being preachy or boring, this episode explores the controversial topic through heated debates between the characters. Instead of reaching a definite conclusion about the topic, the show’s superbly crafted script encourages viewers to form their own opinions about the subject. When Joan and Aaron (her fiancé) get into an argument because she has bought an expensive kitchen range for their house without his consent, Joan yells: “If you wanna be head of household then make some damn head of household money.” When the two supporting male characters, William (Reggie Hayes) and Darnell (Khalil Kain) discuss the matter, William remarks “Is a woman with money a bad thing?” Through such candid dialogue, the show deals with these issues in an understated yet thought-provoking way.
“Girlfriends” has the right balance of drama and humor. Just when you think the plot is getting too serious, you are tickled by amusing outbursts and scenarios that cause uncontrollable laughter. When Monica (William’s fiancée) and Joan seriously discuss the “Aaron argument,” Monica hilariously describes how she flashes her cleavage to make William grant her requests.
The only unrealistic aspect of the show is that all the girlfriends look like picture-perfect super models — and this is an inadequate representation of the varying physiques of African-American women. Unlike the ’90s show “Living Single” where the black female characters varied in size, “Girlfriends” mirrors the obsession with the unattainable standards of beauty the media and society are so consumed by.
But the comedy’s realistic and highly unpredictable story lines make up for the unrealistic standard of beauty it portrays. In the midst of the tumultuous period their relationship is facing, Joan and Aaron discover that Aaron’s National Guard unit has been called to Iraq. This new development provides an unexpected transition from the “breadwinner conflict” to a more important issue. The incorporation of such societal concerns into the show is what makes “Girlfriends” different from senseless, ridiculous black comedies like “All of Us” and “My Wife and Kids,” which not only lack substance, but are very un-funny comedies.
Despite how awesome this show is, it has never won an Emmy Award. But then again, most Emmy-award-winning shows feature far-fetched characters and storylines that are entertaining because they are so removed from reality. In real life, regular folks don’t win Emmys for being normal. Joan, Lynn and Maya are regular folks. And that’s why we love them.