For all of society's hubbub about blacks and their many roadblocks to wedded bliss, you'd think pop culture representations of black marriage would be scarce. But black, happily married couples crop up on TV pretty often. There's Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv; George and Weezy and Lionel and Jenny Jefferson; James and Florida Evans; and the crown jewels of black suburban happiness: Heathcliff and Clair Huxtable.
But jumping the broom is only half the battle. For TV couples, the titles "husband" and "wife" are just the beginning. They also have to convince viewers that they're compatible -- that they belong together, or as Joan Clayton used to sickeningly repeat in every episode of Malik Yoba's character arc on Girlfriends, that they're each other's "Enchanted Love."
That can be a hard sell -- even for couples the writers *really* need for us to buy as soulmates. Here's a list of matrimonial pairs who may've missed the mark.
1. Dwayne and Whitley, A Different World.
This is always a controversial one. But here's the thing: as with high school sweethearts, college couplings aren't always meant to last. A lot of times, the person you seriously date in college defines what you are and aren't looking for in a life partner. He/she isn't always or even usually supposed to be that partner.
For six years, we watched Dwayne and Whitley evolve from geeky cornball and superficial debutante to self-aware professor/engineer and elegant sophisticate. Certainly, neither would've become who they were without the other.
But I would argue that upon reaching those heights, their relationship had fulfilled its purpose.
I loved Dwayne's slight indiscretion with Debbi Morgan, because it was his "a-ha" moment: he may have loved Whitley, but he and Whitley weren't necessarily compatible. The fire and ice of opposites attracting, of the scholar "deepening" the frivolous socialite, was wearying. He wanted an easy rapport with a woman whose interests he shared.
And Whitley, for her part, was a changed woman with Byron. Even her trademark twang toned itself down in his presence. They, too, had an easy rapport, complementing interests, and a mature, nuanced kind of chemistry.
It just seemed right that Whitley, upon quitting her childishness and learning the value of money, would end up married to a senator.
So even though Dwayne's "Baby, Please! Please!" wedding interruption made for epic TV, I've always wished Whitley told Dwayne, "I don't."
2. Denise and Martin, The Cosby Show.
Lisa Bonet's Denise is one of the most iconic black television characters of our time. This isn't because of great acting or memorable storylines; it's because she was the most believable of the Cosby Kids. Cool, trend-setting, eclectic, and a bit lost when the charmed days of high school gave way to the hustle of college.
She drops out of Hillman, after an entire TV series is spun-off to chronicle her time there, and she gallivants to Africa.
Up to this point, we're able to buy Denise's every move. She's a bit of a hippie, a drifter.
But then she comes back from overseas married to a naval officer who has a three-year-old child.
Here's where things get iffy.
We all know that Bonet was written off Cosby for a time, in part because her risque role in Angel Heart didn't jibe with the sitcom's wholesome image.
So when she returns to the fold, settled into a practical marriage, it feels more like a necessary penance for her real life wild child rep than it does a believable Denise move.
But say for a second that we can roll with the marriage as just another of Denise's impulsive decisions.
It becomes apparent that Joseph C. Phillips and Lisa Bonet don't have convincing chemistry. You always get the sense he wouldn't know what to do with all-a that.
He seemed far more suitable to Sondra, a notion with which the casting directors flirted once.
3. Thelma and Keith, Good Times.
Remember the episode after this couple's wedding? Keith kind of hated the Evanses that day, didn't he? First, JJ accidentally tripped him, effectively derailing his pro-ball career. Then, he kept yelling at Thelma about it, until Michael jumped in with the best line ever: "Hey, man. You ain't been married to my sister long enough to be talkin' to her like that." (Really?)
This was an early indication of how Keith handled stress. When he saw verbal abuse wasn't going to fly, he turned to the drink, hiding liquor bottles in the toilet.
Thelma deserved so much better.
4. Nikki Parker and Professor Oglevee, The Parkers.
By some miracle, three episodes before the series finale, Nikki Parker fell for a dude who wasn't the terminally disinterested Professor she'd stalked for five years. He was romantic, a chef, and a recovering stalker like herself.
Match. made. in. heaven. Dude proposes, Nikki accepts, and quick nuptials are arranged.
Then, with very little character transformation, the professor decides he loves "Miss Parker" and breaks up the wedding. He's actually crying when he does it--and I call bull on that.
It's pretty obvious he only broke it up because he would've missed the constant attention, which he secretly found flattering.
5. Melanie and Derwin, The Game.
Is it me, or did Derwin seem happiest when he wasn't with Melanie? All she does is play games, whine, keep secrets, and swab his kid for DNA when he isn't home. She initially mocks his career, believing her own profession to be so much nobler. He agrees to pay her way through medical school and she decides not to practice. Then, come to find out, she terminated a pregnancy and never told him, after harassing his own child's mother, brow-beating him, and trying to get him to sign away his parental rights.
The new season should open with a trip to divorce court.