I watched NBC's Undercovers. (Sigh), this chocolate covered Hart to Hart was a major disappointment. I can't comment on the premiere episode's plot because I couldn't bring myself to care enough to pay enough attention. Sorry but even Boris Kodjoe isn't fine enough to overcome mediocre story lines, boring characters and an obvious lack of chemistry with his leading lady, actress, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, (who many on Twitter remarked looked mismatched, i.e. too young to be paired with Kodjoe). Nicole Ari Parker (Kodjoe's real-life, actress wife) would've kicked this role's a--! But then again one can only do so much with mediocre material. (May I suggest that NBC at least bring Parker on the show to guest star as a "frenemy" who winds up in a knock-down, drag-out with Mbatha-Raw? Can we get a little fierceness up in here?) But alas we are left with an action drama that's neither exciting nor all that dramatic.
First of all I love J.J. Abrams, creator of Undercovers. Abrams has championed diversity in media as long as I can remember, consistently bringing together stellar multicultural casts, from TV's Felicity to Lost. And if you remember, he cast a black leading lady in the Mission Impossible franchise, with Thandie Newton. (Okay, he chose one of the lightest black women he could find, but we gotta start somewhere.) And it seems that it's white men who have brought more notable diverse programming to television over recent years, which I find very interesting.
Along with Abrams' commitment to diverse programming, Kelsey Grammer executive produced black sitcoms Girlfriends and The Game. Is it that white men have more power to greenlight a project featuring a black or diverse cast, or is it that no networks have been interested in the shows brought to them by black or other ethnic producers? Hmmm... But at any rate, featuring black actors without having key elements to back them up isn't good enough.
Undercovers lacked palpable action, witty dialogue, genuine intrigue, characters we give a damn about, and um, chemistry between the leads. Getting Kodjoe and Mbatha-Raw to periodically disrobe may work for the viewers, but it doesn't convey that they think each other is hot. I guess I'm just mad because this is a big deal people! Having black lead actors on television in programming that isn't comedy is a major step in networks finally believing that yes, black folks watch TV, and yes we do more than laugh -- we like to think too! But we need and appreciate good content. And I wonder if there are any black writers on the show.
Obviously Undercovers is a mainstream show that just happens to feature black characters -- and that's pretty much the way you approach it if you want to reach mass viewers. However, I think it would be okay for the black leads to let on that we know they are in fact black, and be allowed to inject a little soul into their dialogue. Anybody feel me on that? Don't get me wrong, I'm not asking for full-on ebonics, just a little hot sauce in the script.
I had a feeling I wasn't going to get into Undercovers. There was something I sensed in the ads that made me feel I wasn't going to be captivated. I'm sad I was right because I want to see reflections of myself (and Asians and Latinos, and everybody) on TV. I want my television viewing experience to be an entertaining expression of the real world. But the key word here is entertaining.
I applaud NBC for finally taking the leap into the 21st century and understanding that diversity in media is no longer optional. Though I find it interesting that it took so long seeing as a black programming (The Cosby Show and A Different World) is what put them at number one back in the day. But just because the programming showcases diversity doesn't mean it doesn't have to also showcase quality.
I'm sorry guys, (Kodjoe and Mbatha-Raw) I really wanted to like your show. I'm so happy to see you on my little screen, but it's gotta get better because we don't NBC to use this as an example that black people and black shows just don't work on network television. We do, it just needs to be done right. So though I congratulate NBC for airing Undercovers, I will celebrate if they don't snatch it off the air, give it a chance, do a Tim Gunn, and "Make it work!"