Never mind the strange names — “Chardonnay,” “Malik ‘El DeBarge’ Wright,” “Tee-Tee.”  BET’s The Game, now in Season 6, is a gamble worth taking.

It appears I didn’t get the memo that several characters are Black history: “Derwin ‘Ding Dong’ Davis” (played with Emmy-worthy virtuosity by Pooch Hall [pictured above]) and “Dr. Melanie Barnett-Davis” (played by Tia Mowry-Hardrict, unevenly at first — when she was still “Med School” — and then, too late in the game, with conviction).  Now I’m banking on the following actors to score touchdowns of a simulated-carnal nature:

  • vivacious series lead, Wendy Raquel Robinson, who steals the screen as manager “Tasha Mack” (single parent of Malik, who’s portrayed to mama’s-boy extremes by Hosea Chanchez);
  • new series regular Jay Ellis (ain’t nothin’ regular ’bout the brotha, lookin’ like a buffed-up, taller Larenz Tate) in the role of “Bryce ‘The Blueprint’ Westbrook” — “Derwin”‘s replacement as pro wide receiver for the San Diego Sabers football team;
  • gentle giant Rockmond Dunbar, portraying “Pookie,” former gangsta and Tasha Mack’s current love interest (after blasting her from their past — repeatedly — last season like a real hitman should); and
  • recurring guest star Rick Fox.

I hope the married creative duo of director Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil — creator of The Game — don’t disappoint this time. I’ll miss “Derwin”‘s Ding Dong — I mean, his teammates teasing him with that nickname — but I’ll welcome rejuvenated passion from the loins — er, lines of Wendy and Rick. Hopefully their characters will be scorching the sheets with grown ‘n sexy passion. I’ll take any excuse for Tuesday-night aromatherapy to handle the heat. Talk about potent chemistry. Not that Wendy/”Tasha” and Rockmond/”Pookie” don’t possess it. After all, Rockmond’s got that gleaming dome that would make any woman want to sing Mr. Clean, Mr. Clean at the moment of climax.

And if Rick manages to outfox “Pookie,” and the latter gets written off the show, there’s always the porn route. Imagine the pussibilities: I Cream for Genie, Jackin’ the Beanstalk, Nights of Cabeza (in the Foreign Tongues category), Cocktale, and the one to rise above contenders for AVN Awards: The Sure-Shaft Redemption.

[Note to the real RICK … FOX (with your fiiiiine self): Avoid “Single Ladies” — your eroticism would be wasted. While LisaRaye was hot on that show, your chemistry with her fell flatter than a reverse boob job.]

Elsewhere on The Game … Newcomer Lauren London (as “Kiera Whitaker”), though a comely addition to the show, has got to bring it dramatically. Lips and hips aren’t enough — unless you’re Chaka Khan, but Lauren doesn’t yet have acting-wise what Chaka’s still got in lungpower. Is L.L. capable of delivering divaliciousness to the addiction that is The Game?

Although she already spouts more lines than tour de force Brandy Norwood (what’s up with that?!), L.L. could never embody “Chardonnay.” Head swiveling like a charmed cobra and Ferragamo shoes on her pedicured feet, Brandy as “Chardonnay” is the most effervescent player on The Game — after “TASHA” … “MACK.” No newcomer to TV series (“Moesha” was a sista, a one-name wonder that slapped down “Sister Sister” like a clap of thunder), the beauteous Brandy keeps it (and the show) real portraying “Chardonnay” as a hollaback girl gone glam.

Brandy sparkles in her limited role as sassy bartender married to cocky ex-jock “Jason Pitts.” Special guest star Coby Bell, as footballer-turned-sports-analyst “Jason,” sure is dreamy, strutting across the small screen like a big, stiff tawny dick. I wish that Coby’s “Jason” were a main character, rather than a “special guest star,” because, with Wendy Raquel Robinson’s “Tasha,” he anchors The Game in the satirical realm of dramedy. His sports broadcast often is hysterical, mostly because Coby is great at deadpanning. It’s good to see that he’s (“Jason” is) excellent at another kind of balling, a form of “exercise” (and for some, exorcism) — judging by the “pushups” he was doing on/in his beloved “Char” in Season 6’s opener.

Viewing tonight’s season kick-off, “The Blueprint I, The Blueprint II,” I was transfixed over the artsy freeze frames juxtaposed with Ciara‘s wayward catwalk, which would make a cop toss a Breathalyzer past any checkpoint. I’m a straight woman, but her gams had me leaning sideways like a bowling pin in a weak spare, though with the shocked expression of the broad aboard the doomed ship in the Brooklyn Navy Yard of Hitch’s Saboteur. Director Akil’s flashy aesthetic also was memorable as employed in last year’s well-cast but poorly re-envisioned remake of Sparkle.

That it took more than a decade to make after Aaliyah’s death does not instantly induct the updated Sparkle into the Black Cinema Hall of Fame. That our beloved Whitney Houston — whose music and acting career probably would’ve been resurrected after its release — never got to attend its premiere in her earthly form is what makes Sparkle 2012 matter. I may have purchased my ticket, but I didn’t buy the nonsense of three somewhat privileged, definitely sheltered, middle-class young Black women who really needed after-hours sleazy gigs to make money to get out of the … oh yeah, missing was the inner city and tenement home life — and the somewhat absent mother because she was a maid by day — of the iconic original film.

Back in the early ’70s, Hollis, Queens, the NYC suburb immortalized in Run-DMC’s “fried chicken and collard greens” line (but for this writer, legendary for the prominent White Castle on Hollis Boulevard), for all its middle-class folks, was grittier than the suburb in which the sisters in Sparkle 2012 reside. I recall that a bike ride home from that Hollis W.C. was like a death trap; my mother and I worried more about getting a flat tire and walking the rest of the way than getting sideswiped by a Pontiac. Back then there was no drive-thru at that White Castle, but drive-bys weren’t unheard of. So next to Hollis, Sister and Her Sisters were living in luxury.

While I’m bitchin’, also missin’ was a soundtrack as emotive and essentially Black and transcendent as Aretha Franklin’s collaborative magic with Curtis Mayfield, who was the maestro of the soundtrack (an urban heaven and hell conveyed through music). Every track on Aretha’s album (I loved her turban) was a gem — from “Jump,” with her trumpet-like gospel shouts, to “Hooked on Your Love,” with muted horns evoking Bacharach on the beach and the Queen of Soul’s sensual vocals bumpin’ with the bass under the boardwalk. Any references to junkies, smack and getting smacked around were lost on my tween self. But I donned my mother’s long satin gloves before the needle skidded to “Hooked on Your Love” and, swaying in front of the hallway mirror, struck a seductive pose each time Aretha and the backup ladies paused between “What can I do” and “with this feeling?”

No need to travel back to 1976, though. I’ll take En Vogue’s 1992 version of “Something He Can Feel” (the stunning video homage, too) over the macarena-like mechanics led by the anorexic-looking (in 2012’s Sparkle) Carmen Ejogo. Carmen’s lackluster performance and skeletal appearance didn’t live up to the exoticism that her name seemed to promise. She just made me run two flights down to the concession stand to buy another hotdog. I was glad to show my financial support for a Black-made and -cast film, but, daaaamn, those franks are expensive! I may not be able to sing worth a coughdrop, but I have no trouble giving him something he can feel. If only I could stop singing that old Ballpark franks jingle as I write this sentence. OK, I’m kidding. I’m really asking, “Where’s the beef?”

My beef, my disappointment, with Sparkle 2012 was precisely the reason that I didn’t publish a critique of it back in mid-August, when I had plunked down the twelve dollars to see it (twenty more for the hotdogs and beverages). I didn’t want to discourage people who perused my blog, and my faithful readers — people of all persuasions — from checking out and financially supporting the film. Heck, it took more than a decade for the movie to get made. However, nearly eight months later, it’s safe to say that Carmen Ejogo was better portraying Sarah “Sally” Hemings, mistress to Thomas Jefferson. What I didn’t hear during that TV miniseries but did notice in Sparkle 2012 was Carmen’s British accent. I could cite a long list of Black American actresses and singers who would’ve been appropos for the role. You know, it’s like the casting of Gwyneth Paltrow in Sliding Doors, Emma, etc. — friends kept swearing to me that she was English. Not even the more inclusive “British”; they had placed her birthplace firmly in England. Well, you know what they say about us Americans and geography. Meanwhile, I was countering my friends’ comments with, “She’s not just sliding through time portals; she’s slipping in and out of her fake British accents.” [An aside: I admire most Brits’ American accents — no matter which regional dialect — in film, though not as much as their natural accents. A few of my favorite British actors disguised as Americans in many films and TV programs: Idris Elba, Linus Roache, Kate Winslet and Rachel Weitz. But I would never accept anything but a ruggedly charming Scottish accent from still-sexy Sean “retired ‘007’” Connery!]

What was the casting head of Sparkle 2012 thinking? I challenge anyone reading this piece and shaking a finger at me right now to check out Lonette McKee‘s bold curves in the 1976 original. Sure, Irene Cara and Dwan Smith were pretty — as are Jordin Sparks in the title role and Tika Sumpter as “Deloris” (Tika’s gorgeous, resembling a Julia Barbie doll in the flesh, life right down [or up] to the Twist ‘N Turn legs circa 1967). Lonette was stunning, though. And nooooo, not because she was “light, bright and damn near white,” as that sickening phrase of colorists goes. Rather, Lonette had star written all over her face, body and attitude.

Meanwhile, back in the 21st century …

Please, somebody write a kick-ass script for Tika Sumpter! Maybe if Tika had been cast as lead singer of the girl group, I would’ve found the Sparkle re-don’t more tolerable. (Almost nodding off in slow parts, I kept telling myself: Stay awake for Whitney. Stay awake for Whitney. I would’ve tried There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. But that may have proven too tempting, despite Payless penny loafers for ruby slippers.)

Sparkle 2012’s filmmakers took the original movie’s casting of a light-complexioned and biracial woman literally. What, figuring that such a move would be more bankable than switching it up for a change? Their choice promotes and perpetuates colorism. I noticed they didn’t leave the death-by-smack subplot in the story, yet they made the dark-complexioned sister (“Deloris,” IMO the prettiest of the siblings) the rebel. Ironically, Tika turned it out on The Game (Season 5) portraying … a substance-abuser. And she was priceless as “Jenna Rice.” Perhaps Tika, in the role of “Jenna,” never had a chance to win an NAACP Image Award for her unforgettable bump ‘n grind with and subsequent dumping by her “babe,” fellow alcoholic “Malik,” in Season 5’s closer, but her fallen supermodel was a long-legged study of pathos and empathy. “Jenna” was a prima donna who had robbed herself of her diamond tiara and never found the balance to keep it atop her pretty little head. I can’t prove whether the following was deliberate, but “Jenna”‘s wobbly gait near the end of Season 5: Episode 22 was the antithesis of Ciara’s killer strut through the corridors of the hotel in Season 6: Episode 1.

One more note about the lackluster Sparkle remake …

The filmmakers had the gall to kill off Mike Epps‘ serio-comic character. Really? Never mind that I can’t recall the showman’s name or that I found his Sambo behavior ill-placed (It bothers me that the 2012 film Sparkle appears to take place during the late ’60s, yet despite the emergence of the Black Power movement as symbolized by “Deloris”‘ Afro, Epps’ comedian emcee seems to be stuck in the Chitlin Circuit’s earlier era.) My point: these days, although we have progressed from murdering the Black character early on in a horror flick, we nevertheless depict people getting chainsawed and incinerated on screen. Yet we can’t display the consequences of intravenous drug use. Honestly?

Any non-genius could’ve imagined retaining the domestic-abuse and drug-abuse arc and updating “Sister”‘s demise by incorporating the devastating physical, emotional and psychological effects of AIDS. Back in ’76, AIDS wasn’t known or, if so, hadn’t yet been reported. Now the disease is still a pandemic — no matter how seldom the major news media mention that. And, yes, for those of you who haven’t yet viewed the original Sparkle on TVOne or on DVD, McKee’s “Sister” actually dies, and her gradual demise and her funeral feel realistic. On film nowadays, we show to exploitative effect the guns and gore, but a syringe and hyperdermic needle … naaahhh.

But back to The Game

I wish the writers of The Game would stop playing us and allow Brandy to saaaang. But, please keep on giving us those smoking lovemaking scenes between her “Chardonnay” and Coby’s “Jason.” And don’t even think about writing off the latter because, Mr. and Mrs. Akil, you will lose most of your viewership. You’re already taking a chance dropping your 18-34 demographic by cutting loose Pooch and Melanie. That would’ve been like writing off (releasing from the contract of) “Joan” and “Maya” (Tracee Ellis Ross and Golden Brooks) from your long-running sitcom “Girlfriends.” Damn, y’all, I know The Game‘s a spin-off of “Girlfriends,” but would you consider a reunion episode of “Girlfriends”? If you do, no awkward replacements, such as Goapele for Tracee or Meagan Good for Golden!

Lastly, Ciara (not only her legs) was phenomenal in tonight’s episode, but filmmaker John Singleton (playing a fictional version of himself) looked haggard spouting idiotic lines opposite L.L.’s “Kiera.”

© 2013 Chantale Rêve
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