We watch... so you don't have to.

Fall 2000: "Girlfriends"

At last, at long last, America's centuries-old battle with the twin evils of racism and sexism can be declared over: once marginalized or ignored completely, black women can now proudly call themselves capable of turning out nauseatingly bad sit-coms just as handily as their white male counterparts. You know you've arrived as a demographic when any sort of garbage gets on the air because it stands a statistical off-chance of appealing to you and the money you have to spend.

Witness Girlfriends. Or, better yet, don't.

Executive produced by that noted scion of black culture, Kelsey Grammer, Girlfriends feels like nothing so much as any one of the thousands of Friends rip-offs that appeared a few years ago, with the tint badly askew and the script run through the junior copyediting desk at Vibe. Less a black Sex and the City and more a steaming pile of crap, Girlfriends is twelve shades of awful, from the pale cowardice of its presentation of black issues to the dark center of its deeply unfunny heart. Girlfriends is flat-out bad, no matter your color, your gender or your ability to dress yourself in the morning.

In fact, if anything makes Girlfriends stand out, it's how astonishingly generic it is. The show apparently considers such concepts as "black" to be skin deep: you could easily replace any aspect of the show -- the sex of its characters, their ethnicity, their jobs, their relationships -- with substitutes pulled randomly out of a hat and not make a noticeable difference. Six months ago, the flapping of butterfly wings could have turned Girlfriends into a vehicle for Kirk Cameron.

Here: if a white, overweight, married, rapidly-approaching-middle-age father of two can pick up every reference and noodle out every motivation in a show supposedly aimed at hip, young black women, either he watches a hell of a lot of Oprah or Girlfriends is as much about the black female experience as Daddio is about nuclear arms control.

Even the single, lonely stab that this black, female show makes at something uniquely black and female is bungled. When a woman refuses a date with someone darker than herself, she's accused of self-hatred. Hey! A legitimate issue! Something to... Oh, wait. The problem's dealt with in two minutes of tepid confrontation, an admission of "issues" and a suggestion of therapy. Phew! Got that out of the way -- back to the ass jokes! Be sure and tune in next week, when Girlfriends tackles sickle cell anemia.

But Girlfriends is not supposed to be a manifesto on sisterhood and its discontents -- it's supposed to be a sitcom. Or so the press release says. It's hard to tell in the mirthless, echoing silence that surrounds it.

The dialogue is grindingly awful, either ABC-Friday-Night bland or so weighted down with so many weak black culture references that it becomes parody. Where a line of Boy Meets World dialog might run, "Hey, how's it going?" a line of Girlfriends dialog manages, "Hey, how's it going, my brother?" Seriously. Random references to Nelson Mandela, Walter Mosley and Destiny's Child seem dropped in haphazardly, without justification or meaning, just so you remember who the show is aimed at. When a character searches for a date on the Internet, she goes to blackstuds.com. When another warns her off the idea, she cites an article she read in Black Detective Magazine. Not only does Girlfriends apparently consider this the deep cultural bond it has to offer to audience, but also thinks it's knee-slappingly hilarious.

The acting is high-school-capable, with all the awkward transitions and stumbling entrances of a sophomore-year production of "Our Town" but minus the walking into set walls and falling into the orchestra pit. Maybe these actresses are all Oscar-caliber comedic geniuses -- y'know, like Whoopie Goldberg -- but it's hard to tell with what they're given to work with. The only one who managed any on-screen spark in the reviewed episode -- and this may be only because she had the least face-time -- was Persia White's Lynn. Rebellious and a little bit angry, she's the only character who managed to raise her voice with anything approaching emotion. As a bonus, she's also the only character not swiped from cast-off episodes of The Golden Girls.

Not that it helps much. The show is a disaster. Superficially black at best, female in wardrobe only, unfunny from start to finish, Girlfriends is an embarrassment to its race. The human race.


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