Tuesday, November 22, 2005 at 11:33 AM
My idea of a good TV drama series is 24 (on FOX) starring Kiefer Sutherland. And, for a good TV comedy series, Curb Your Enthusiasm (on HBO) starring Larry David gets my vote. Therefore, this commentary on Desperate Housewives (on ABC) is admittedly suffused with bias, if not condescension. But the fact that I could not figure out whether it was trying to be a drama or comedy did not bode well for my review of the show.
I am writing about Desperate Housewives because a friend who worships it like a new-found religion tried to convert me to its saving grace during an episode last Sunday night. But much to her dismay – when it was over and she asked “well?” – I had so many critical things to say about the stereotypical scene in which a black man was arrested that we never got to what, if anything, I liked about the show.
Yet, I suspect that a vast majority of blacks who watched this episode would give it an equally jaundiced review. After all, many of them criticized popular TV sitcoms like Seinfeld and Friends for neglecting to feature people of colour (not even as extras), despite being ostensibly situated in the very diverse New York City.
But this quota based criticism is not what informed my reaction to the arrest scene. Because I appreciated that both of those programmes centred around the private lives of a group of “white” friends. And, as shocking as it might have appeared to people who have never lived in New York City, I was not at all surprised that neither show depicted much interracial socializing. After all, New Yorkers generally accept that eventhough whites and blacks interact as professionals; they rarely socialize as friends. (Which, incidentally, made the belated casting of a black love interest for one of the male characters on Friends during its final season seem so woefully contrived.)
Instead, what incited my reaction was the stereotypical way the only black family in this lily-white neighbourhood was (and is) being portrayed. And my dismay was compounded when I thought of how often openly gay men like the show’s creator Marc Cherry proclaim their empathy and solidarity with victims of racial stereotypes. Because it seems that Cherry decided to promote racial diversity in his TV world by casting a black family whose members are alienated not only by mundane racial prejudice but also because of the suspicious, menacing and criminal traits he assigned to them.
Even worse, after having his white characters commit every crime imaginable – including murder – with relative impunity, Cherry played on black stereotypes by having a police squadron raid Wisteria Lane to arrest one of these black characters in such dramatic fashion. And, his failure of creativity in writing this scene was only exacerbated by the fact that Cherry had all of the white neighbours congregate on their lawns to gawk at the arrest and watch this black “intruder” being driven-off to a place where so many black men call home: prison. (Meanwhile, he has already put the only Hispanic-looking main character behind bars…)
It’s fair to assume that I won’t be watching any more episodes of Desperate Housewives….
Note: I acknowledge Cherry’s creative license to portray the characters in his show as he pleases. But just as I don’t think one has to be gay to resent stereotypical portrayals of gays on TV, I hope one does not have to be black to resent stereotypical portrayals of blacks. Nevertheless, here’s to more black creators and writers of TV shows!