Words By Thembi
I’d be a liar if I said I watched Tyler Perry’s Meet The Browns thinking I would enjoy it. I have a pretty low tolerance for mispronounced English, hackneyed jokes, abysmal acting, and an even lower tolerance for black men in drag; a Tyler Perry mainstay. So instead of setting the bar unfairly high, I watched the double feature premiere of Meet The Browns in comparison to Perry’s movies and the “most popular cable television sitcom,” House Of Payne. While House of Payne is just not my cup of tea, Meet The Browns had one of the most offensively poor sitcom premieres I have ever watched, making House of Payne look like reasonable entertainment.
I’m not sure who is loving his stuff, but the audience is huge and — as poor as this show was — shows no signs of slimming. Perry’s shows account for half of the black sitcoms on television today (the other two being The CW’s The Game and Everybody Hates Chris), so they must at least be somewhat representative of the collective black sense of family and humor, right? Tyler Perry churns out feature films like Utz churns out potato chips and grosses an average of $45 million per film, turning the film version of Meet The Browns into a sitcom in ten months flat. Months before the premiere TBS jumped at the chance to order a whopping one hundred episodes of the series. “Tyler Perry is an extraordinary talent who has turned ‘House of Payne’ into a record-breaking hit,” Turner Entertainment Network’s president Steve Koonin said. Yes you read that right. Steve. Koonin. Repeat it out loud to yourself if you don’t yet think that there must be some senseless pro-Perry conspiracy afoot.
The feature film Meet The Browns, based on the stage play of the same name, featured veteran actors like Angela Bassett starring alongside expected clunkers like Rick Fox, and a host of other performances with qualities in between. The Perry demographic, however, isn’t too concerned with the performances or plots. The idea is to present a set of familiar stereotypes that are just true enough not to be offensive, humor that is just clean enough to satisfy the church-going crowd and plots with just enough family/relationship/financial hardship to remain reminiscent of the Black America that we can’t seem to escape (and frankly don’t always want to). Perry’s replication of these themes is a formula and marketing technique, not writing or filmmaking.
In said fashion, the first episode, “Meet Brown Meadows,” opens with an ashy-kneed Leroy Brown (David Mann) installing a ceiling lamp into his newly inherited house while singing the imaginary gospel song “Drop kick me! Drop kick me, Jesus!” Before you know it, the house becomes ‘Brown Meadows,’ a nursing home constantly on the defense from competition, the activities of the neighboring frat house, and residents that are liable to turn the place into a madhouse.
As the title of the show promises, we soon meet the entire Brown clan: Leroy’s daughter Cora (played by David Mann’s real-life wife Tamela Mann), Leroy’s especially attractive nephew Will (Lamman Rucker) and his wife Sasha (Denise Boutte). Throw in a crotchety old man, an amorous old woman, and guest star here and there and you’ve got the disastrous Meet The Browns for ninety-nine more episodes and a formula that has mystically made Tyler Perry a very rich man.
While it’s not the highest form of art, the stage play has its purpose – mild Black family entertainment with a comedic lowest common denominator that doesn’t leave members of any age without at least a chuckle — so I fully understand why these plays get popular support. But that legitimate purpose is almost completely diluted down to a handful of bitter groans when carried over into sitcom form. The first trademark of any Perry sitcom has become a cast that is fresh off of the proverbial stage-play boat — every emotion and action is grossly overdone and characters are all played in an over-the-top, needlessly theatrical style that is especially off-putting on the small screen. After that, each joke, even if initially funny, gets beaten into an uber-corny pulp only to be repeated four or five times and die a dry, painful death lost in the laugh track. This level of entertainment doesn’t really belong in our homes. Forget going for a bike ride as a family, we’re better off playing XBox 360 or Wii together than settling down on a sofa to watch this type of coonin’. Meet The Browns knows it’s intended audience: its commercial breaks advertise the DVD release of The Family That Preys and next month’s Madea Goes To Jail, so if you’re already a fan of these movies The Browns just may be for you.
Otherwise, as Perry’s worst outing yet, my advice is to skip this one and hope that the coming television seasons bring us more legitimate programming.