This is rare, nuanced storytelling, anchored by one of Brad Pitt’s career-best performances and remarkable technical elements on every level. It’s a special film.
By all accounts, "Real Husbands of Hollywood" should be one of the more heavily-hyped cable TV shows on the air right now. When it began airing earlier this year, it became cable's number-one sitcom among adults 18-to-49. (If it wasn't for that pesky "Tosh.0", it would've been the number-one bit of original cable programming in Tuesday-night time slot.) Its finale in March snatched up 2.2 million viewers. The show should've been on the cover of Entertainment Weekly months ago.
But since it also stars a black cast and it airs on Black Entertainment Television, a cable network that mostly caters to black audiences, most of the mainstream media hasn't exactly taken a shine to it. Never mind that the show stars Kevin Hart, one of the most in-demand comedians working today. Instead of playing comedy clubs or theaters, the man plays arenas—and the places are usually packed when he hits the stage. His stand-up specials and concert films have given him a loyal, continually swelling fanbase. His last concert movie, "Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain", which grossed a decent $32 million at the box office over the summer (it was made for only $5 million), making it the fourth highest-grossing stand-up concert movie of all time, showed him performing to a sold-out, racially mixed, Madison Square Garden crowd.
He's also a viable movie draw. He starred in "Think Like a Man", the ensemble romantic comedy that was number one at the box office for two weeks when it was released last year, eventually raking in a $96 million worldwide gross. In the coming months, you'll see him opposite Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone in "Grudge Match", with Ice Cube in "Ride Along", and co-starring in a remake of the Rob Lowe-Demi Moore '80s rom-com "About Last Night".
Once again, you should see Hart's mug on all the magazine covers, not unlike fellow stand-up sensation Louis C.K., whose acclaimed, Emmy-winning FX show "Louie" helped him land covers on Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly. Unfortunately, even with web sites like Slate declaring he is the most successful comic working today, I've only seen Hart on the cover of Ebony.
The media neglect of both Hart and "Husbands" further shows why the reality-show sendup (which begins its second season this evening) is a more relevant program than even the people involved with it may realize. As much as "Husbands" (which originally came out of a recurring skit on the 2011 "BET Awards", which Hart hosted) satirizes reality-show ratchetness, the show also satirizes Hollywood—more importantly, how black people stay afloat in Hollywood.
But instead of the show being a black version of "Entourage", with Hart serving as the resident Vincent Chase for this band of brothas, "Husbands" is a black-Tinseltown version of FX's "The League", the improvised malice-fest about a bunch of frenemies who are in a fantasy-football league. However, while the amusingly cold-blooded "League" features of a crew of guys cutting each other off at the knees just to have a killer fantasy-football team, the husbands of "Husbands" are clawing and climbing over each other, mostly in order to gain some sort of prominence in a business that generally ignores them.
Even though Hart and the rest of the husbands on the show—entertainment hyphenate Nick Cannon, comedian J.B. Smoove, actors Boris Kodjoe and Duane Martin and rapper Nelly (who's now a full-time cast member this season)—consistently hang with each other, getting together for weekly card games and socializing with one another at parties, they're far from buddies. These selfish "mitches" (male bitches for short, a put-down the show is constantly trying to put out there in the pop-culture lexicon) are always ready to stab each other in the back, sell their fellow brother down the river or take visible glee in someone else's misfortune, especially if it means a step-up for them.
While that can be perceived as the actors indulging in the rampant treachery that reality shows like the "Real Housewives", "Basketball Wives" and series excel in, it can also be seen as them giving an exaggerated yet still painfully accurate vision of contemporary black Hollywood. This show gives black performers a place to show just how much of a cruel, lonely, dog-eat-dog world working in Tinseltown can be. The fact that most of these men's spouses are more successful than they are makes things more frustrating for them.
Any given episode of "RHOH" has the male characters busting each other's chops on many subjects—the most prominent being their lack of success in the industry. "I'm in a room with a bunch of has-beens!" Hart yelled during one uproariously heated exchange last season, before slamming Nelly for not having a hit song lately and Martin for his lack of TV exposure in recent years. Martin later retaliates: "You'll never be a leading man! Who's gonna play your mini-wife?" Nelly also hits him below the belt with, "As soon as Dave Chappelle comes back from Africa, back to "Comic View" for you!"
Viewers have to be well-informed on these players and their history to know how much these zingers sting. Martin, who portrays himself on the show as a shady hustler with a bunch of failed black sitcoms under his belt, is constantly ridiculed for not being as popular or financially well-off as his wife, Tisha Campbell-Martin, who appeared in the long-running black sitcoms "Martin" and "My Wife & Kids". Even the cast members who have mainstream clout in the biz also get it. Smoove, who is best known for his role as the unfiltered Leon on Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (another influential source for "Husbands"), was once called out for often being cast as the "unintimidating black friend the white lead's girlfriend don't want to @#%*!"
Even though he's the star, co-creator and co-executive producer, Hart isn't afraid to be the butt of most of the show's jokes. Much like in his stand-up, Hart plays himself as a ridiculously pompous yet ultimately insecure, rising young celebrity. Hart's always on the verge of bankruptcy in order to keep up appearances. He lives in a mansion he really can't afford, has an assistant he hardly pays and usually surrounds himself with gold-digging dames who usually suck him dry.
Hart rarely shows love to those who have better careers than he does. He consistently butts heads with workaholic Cannon, sometimes because Hart is carrying a torch for Cannon's wife Mariah Carey (a running gag on the show is that the divorced Hart has a thing for all his so-called pals' wives), but mainly because Cannon is the most successful performer of the bunch. In the first season, he was also at odds with pop/R & B recording artist Robin Thicke for having a dime for a wife and a career to die for. Now that Thicke is a bona-fide pop star thanks to the popularity of his summer hit "Blurred Lines," Thicke didn't have time to do the show this season. (It's just as well, since Thicke didn't exactly have the loose, comic chops needed to hold his own with Hart and these fools.)
With Thicke's pale-skinned presence omitted from the show this season, one wonders if white viewers will be even less inclined to tune in, with the show being even more black (and, perhaps, even more insular) than in its previous season.
It's ironic that "Husbands"'s biggest strength—hilariously highlighting the desperation working black performers exhibit in Hollywood and amongst each other—is also its weakness. Viewers who aren't aware or just don't care about black celebrities and their (mis)treatment in the entertainment industry may not find any of this interesting, even though it is funny.
Chris Rock once said, "You can make a million black people laugh, but one white man will make you rich." (Incidentally, Rock will be appearing on "Husbands" this season.) "Real Husbands of Hollywood" has already proven it can make people laugh on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, both the show and the people on it still need important white folk to co-sign for them.
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