Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Haves and the Have Nots

The Haves and the Have Nots
Episode 1: The Big Surprises
Episode 2: Playing in the Deep End
By: Carlos Uribe

The Haves and the Have Nots is a soap opera about a wealthy family, their friends, and the family of their maid.

Spoilers Ahoy!

Tyler Perry has built himself a media empire that largely concentrates on a segment of population that mainstream Hollywood generally neglects. He makes entertainment products aimed at a primarily black audience. He's one of the few prominent producers that consistently creates successful films with a predominantly black cast. He has formed a niche that has made him wealthy and a household name amongst the African American community. This would suggest that he's some sort of genius whose been able to connect to a segment of the population by creating quality products with a lot of appeal. After all, he has a loyal audience that goes to see almost everything he attaches his name too. He might have just released his first flop in history (Tyler Perry Presents Peeples) but it's a small blemish in an otherwise successful career. The funny thing about Tyler Perry is that he's only had one movie (I Can Do Bad All By Myself) that's been certified fresh by Rotten Tomatoes. The very community that he attracts has criticized him for his movie's social conservative values and use of existing stereotypes about black people. He has attracted a large audience not because his movies are any good but because he's the only one who has resources that's trying to appeal to them. Hollywood might come out with a movie every now and then (42, Red Tails) but Tyler Perry is constantly presenting African Americans with a choice. He's expanded his media reach into television with multiple television shows. House of Payne is the longest-running television series featuring a predominantly African American cast but it was thrashed by the critics. He followed this with Meet the Browns, a comedy that had a respectable run but didn't get a good critical reception. His third show is For Better or Worse which followed two of Perry's films. It's going to switch from TBS to the Oprah Winfrey Network as part of a new deal between the network and Perry. A deal that includes this show (as well as Love Thy Neighbor): a soap opera that seeks to explore the class divide without having a lot to actually say on the matter. Now that we got the background out of the way...on to the review.

It really shouldn't come as a surprise that the Haves and the Have Nots is not a good soap opera considering whose behind it. The soap opera suffers the following problems: forced execution, bad writing, weak characters, and cliched plots. The execution felt rigid and constrained. The characters always felt like they were a part of a play set rather than a television one. This makes them feel like they are not only distant from each other but the audience as well. It also highlighted the existence of the show in one scene where two characters are supposed to be looking in the mirror. There is no actual mirror as they look at the camera. This makes sense in a play or a sit-com where there is no actual fourth wall to film. The cameras are that fourth wall-it's where the saying of breaking the fourth wall comes from. The characters looking into the mirror felt odd because they were looking directly into the camera. It wasn't breaking the fourth wall because the characters weren't aware of it but it did point out that this is a televisions how. Immersion was ruined. There really was no reason for this. The show proves in other scenes that it's capable of filming from any vantage point and it's clear that the vast majority of the locations budget went into that house set. The show could have easily brought in a mirror. All in all, The Haves and the Have Nots always has a feeling of artificiality that it never really overcomes in the first two episodes. It's shocking that the director is Tyler Perry. His movies might never be any good but at least he's proven he does know the difference between stage and film. It's mystifying then that he thinks that this show should be filmed like a play rather than like a television show.

The writing for the Haves and the Have Nots is bad. I'm not necessarily talking about the plot but the dialogue. It never feels natural but rather like fictional constructs by a man who has only imagined of social interactions came up with them. It's no surprise that the characters are all weak, with little personality of their own. All they do is exist to service the plot. They act based on where the writer needs the narrative to go rather than being their own beings with actual desires and free will. None of these characters ever feel like they actually exist. The actual narrative is rather predictable. There's the cheating powerful husband who gets blackmailed by his prostitute. The drug-addicted, spoiled brat. The secretly gay son of a public family. The plot elements were largely like they came from a checklist of soap opera plots without offering a fresh take on them. It's basically what one would expect from the genre down to every plot twist. The only aspect that the Haves and the Have Nots has that is different is the way that race plays into the show. There is some exploration of race within the episodes but it's not trying to say anything about it either. It's there because it needs to be there rather rather than being used by the writers to explore race relations. Overall, The Haves and the Have Nots has completely weak writing with dull characters and very little originality to add to the genre. It brings up race because it has to but it goes nowhere with it. The weak execution of the scripts only helps to serve a soap opera that isn't even a guilty pleasure simply because it's utterly boring and devoid of life. There's generally two types of soap operas that make it: the good ones (the first season of Revenge) and the over-the-top fun ones (daytime soaps on network television). This show doesn't make it into either category as it's too low budget and too weak to properly be good and it's too dull and too artificial to really be fun. It's a bad show.

So who are the characters in this soap opera? The protagonist of the show seems to be Hanna Young. She's a maid who gets hired at the beginning of the pilot but she doesn't really do anything other than clean and complain about her daughter, Candace. Crystal Fox has some fun with Candace but she's largely serves as the typical crazy character that drives a lot of the action. She has a brother, Benny, who gets a food truck and listens to his mom complain all the time. He's boring. The final of the have-nots is another maid, Celine, who basically acts as an adviser to Hanna. The only characters among the have-nots to have a real personality are Hanna and Candace. Hanna has too little agency to properly work while Candace is too crazy to really be a character. As for those who have? The first one we meet is Katheryn, a heiress who doesn't really do much. She's married to Jim, who can't keep it in his pants and is basically a villain. I like John Schneider but he's wasted in this show. The daughter, Amanda, is largely just an innocent school girl who has some self-esteem issues. The son, Wyatt, is a drug addict who really wants drugs. He doesn't even try to hide it. The other family is made up of David, who acts as Jim's sidekick while Veronica is a recovering alcoholic. They have a son, Jeffrey, who is secretly gay and acting as Wyatt's life coach. The characters all have the issues you would expect but very few of them really stand out.

All in all, the Haves and the Have Nots is a pretty boring soap opera. It's weakly directed, horribly written, and it doesn't really do anything with it's race issue. This could turn into a good show one day but it's going to need to grow out of it's clich├ęd situations and into a narrative that it can actually own. It could be a show that truly explores race relations along the class line by actually saying something about it. It could be a show that eventually tightens up it's dialog and where the execution is improved. It's just that at the current stage, this is a soap opera that will put you to sleep rather than keep you glued to the screen.

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