New eras for both BET and Tyler Perry kicked off last week with the debut of his new shows, The Oval and Sistas. Similar to Perry's past television partnerships with Debmar-Mercury and OWN, it appears that content is definitely king when it comes to establishing longevity. Perry's Debmar-Mercury sitcoms churned out tens and tens of episodes over their runs. Tyler Perry's House of Payne aired 254 episodes, which is more than any other series with a Black cast. It even beat a record set by The Jeffersons. The rest of his shows have also built huge libraries of content. That seems to also be the goal for The Oval and Sistas (as he's responsible for 75 hours of original content for Viacom between October and September 2020) and it's clear in the product.
Both pilots move at a chaotic pace, and the storylines are equally as chaotic. White House drama The Oval doesn't seem like your typical Perry show at face value, but once you sit down and digest it, it's very much in the same vein of his movies and other television series. The odd thing about The Oval is, much like a lot of Perry's movies, the show presents a plethora of extremely unlikeable characters. While the other movies and shows have always had cartoonish villains, this is taken to another level in The Oval. These characters are absolutely abhorrent, with few exceptions.
From the looks of the first episode, The Oval is probably Tyler Perry's most bats**t film or television series to date. President Hunter Franklin (Ed Quinn) and First Lady Victoria Franklin (Kron Moore) are involved in a terrible, abusive relationship that looks to hinge on power. Literally, the opening scene is full of minutes (yes, minutes) of a physical fight between the two. They are throwing each other against walls, shattering glass, hitting each other with paintings on the wall.....it's all there. Then, we are introduced to the rest of the characters, and there are almost 20 of them. They are all introduced in rapid-fire fashion, much like the extensive ensemble casts of Perry's movies. It's hard to know who's who, but that's the fun in it, right?
As for all of these characters, the First Daughter, Gayle (Paige) seems to be just as toxic as her parents and seems to be inundated with problems. The First Son, Jason (Daniel Croix Henderson), doesn't have much of a storyline yet, but his sister keeps hinting at his "creepiness." From the White House head butler to the Chief of Staff to someone credited in the opening credits as a "pharmacy owner," literally the whole gang's here. And the other storylines are just as wild as any Tyler Perry movie or series. In the pilot episode, clocking in over 40 minutes, we get a Black Israelite-esque cult trying to steal a little girl, a teenage girl lying about an assault and a man literally popping up inside a woman's house after having a one-night stand with her inside of an airport bathroom. In case you are wondering, yes, we are still talking about this in reference to a drama about the White House.
With Sistas, there is actually promise under all of this apparent trauma, but oh boy is this trauma deep. Four friends, Andi (KJ Smith), Karen (Ebony Obsidian), Danni (Mignon Von) and Sabrina (Novi Brown) are at the crux of the show. Sistas also has an ensemble cast outside of the main four, though it's nowhere near as deep as the bench on The Oval. The comedic elements of Sistas are solid, especially the comic relief that is always presented by Von's character, who has impeccable timing with one-liners. However, the entire premise of the show clearly appears to be about these women's love lives.
While The Oval presents some of the wilder aspects of Perry's past work, Sistas presents the tropes that were present in these projects. All of the boxes are checked off: a woman sleeping with a man who keeps saying he's going to leave his wife, a woman who catches a sexually-transmitted disease from her cheating boyfriend and a woman who is attracted to a man but she thinks he may be gay. The latter storyline may be the most frustrating because it's one we've seen time and time again and the stereotypes are damaging to what we should be understanding about sexuality heading into 2020. Although the four main actresses are great, the material they are given to work with could be so much better.
But, as the old adage goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Take bits and pieces of all of Perry's past works and put them in a blender and you'll get some version of what we see in these two shows. This is clearly the approach of both Perry and the network, and it seems to be paying off! The shows brought in huge ratings for BET in their premieres, and according to the network, combined for "2.9 M total viewers (across BET, BET Her and VH1) from 9 p.m.-11 p.m." Guess it's all about what you determine to be a success.
Have you seen The Oval or Sistas yet? What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
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