Last night the prolific writer-director-producer-actor-island owner premiered his new project, The Haves and The Have Nots. The show focuses on two families – one rich, one poor – in Savannah, GA and all the sex, lies and other tenets of telenovela drama.
The nouveau nighttime soap opens with the Cryer family patriarch, Jim, a powerful judge with political ambitions, in bed with a young prostitute, Candace Young, played by Tika Sumpter. As fate would have it, Candace is the friend of Jim’s daughter Amanda, a struggling law student who has unknowingly befriended an escort with a penchant for blackmail. And – gasp – it turns out Candace is also the daughter of the Cryer family’s new maid, Hanna.
Typical Tyler Perry touches
It sounds more interesting on paper than it does in practice. Like many Tyler Perry creations, it’s an amalgamation of several different shows you’ve seen before. In this instance, it’s an orgy of Dynasty, Savannah, Dallas, Knots Landing, Downton Abbey, The Young & The Restless with sprinkles of the short-lived NBC soap opera Generations. Of course, The Have and The Have Nots also features your typical Tyler Perry touches, too.
There’s a stuck-up educated black woman leading the cast. Her nose is so high in the air she could probably tell you what brand of deodorant Jesus wears. Not to be outdone, there is a woman who constantly speaks like she’s ready to say at any moment, “Until you do right by me, everything you think about is gonna crumble.” And we can’t forget about the very handsome blue-collar man, who presumably will save some villainous, snobby college-educated black woman from herself later in the season.
The standout character, though, is undoubtedly Candace Young. While Tika Sumpter plays the villainous role well, you have to wonder why every beautiful, intelligent, lusty black woman in a Tyler Perry production might as well be Satan on birth control. Hopefully, Tika doesn’t end up with AIDS or some other “nasty woman’s disease” given Perry’s knack for punishing the sexualized woman.
‘What in the hell is going on?’
Halfway through the pilot I found asking, “What in the hell is going on?” The Haves and Have Nots would probably make way more sense if viewers watched it inside of Tyler Perry’s head. For a hot minute there, I questioned whether or not there was even a script. Although Perry obviously has a formula that works, but when duty calls I wish someone would muster up the courage to tap Tyler on the shoulder to say, “That ain’t it.”
For example, when Candace is in bed with her John and she’s writing her name and number on a pad. Hello, it is 2013 and she is a hooker. Where was her iPhone, Mr. Perry, especially when Jim later mentions they met online? And that one scene in which the bougie black woman was shocked beyond belief that a black girl in the 1980s doesn’t want to say her dad’s name. C’mon.
If Tyler Perry wants to continue writing Dynasty fan fiction so be it, but the dialogue could stand to be tightened a bit. Not to mention, it’d be great if The Have and Have Nots could be a little more forward thinking considering the issue of growing economic inequality needs far more addressing in every medium imaginable. But whatever flaws the show has, I imagine most of Tyler Perry’s fans and those rooting for Oprah’s success will point to the “bigger picture.”
As Oprah herself told Essence magazine: “We both know how rare this is. Where else in the history of African-American culture have two really, really successful people who can do whatever they want say, ‘Let’s come together and be even more powerful — let’s take it to the 10th power'”?
Is ‘laughs’ all there is?
Erik Logan, the president of OWN, has already found a nice way of defending how Tyler Perry’s product fits with the purported vision of OWN, telling the Los Angeles Times, “A large part of living one’s best life is to be able to laugh and be entertained.”
I’m all for black folks coming together to create opportunities, but we’ve got to stop touting the idea that no matter how mediocre something is, it warrants cheers. If you enjoy The Have and The Have Nots, have at it.
Meanwhile, I’ll be sticking to Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta for my soap opera fix. If I watch this again, it’s all for laughs.
Follow Michael Arceneaux on Twitter @youngsinick