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Chemistry Carries Comedy of Act Your Age

“Act Your Age” is an energetic but somewhat flawed throwback to 1980s and 1990s sitcoms, for better or worse. This comedy series shines brightest when focused on the vibrant chemistry between leading actresses Kym Whitley, Tisha Campbell, and Yvette Nicole Brown, who skillfully play the three best friends at the story's center. The three pals, bachelorettes in their fifties, live in an apartment together in Norfolk, Virginia, while they experience many wacky situations and mild annoyances.

The show stumbles when it spends a little too much time on awkward subplots about the young adult children of two of the main characters. It doesn’t help that “Act Your Age” has a constant laugh track, which is an unnecessary distraction that sounds very dated. Fortunately, the multi-camera “Act Your Age” doesn’t completely lose its way because the story always returns to the lively trio, who can make this show sizzle with familiar amusement. Their friendship, for all of its ups and downs, looks genuine.

Whitley (“Raising Whitley”), Campbell (“Martin”), and Brown (“Community”) are all comedy veterans who bring their considerable talent and experience to “Act Your Age,” which has a zippy pace that sometimes tries to cram a little too much hijinks into each half-hour episode. As the show’s title suggests, “Act Your Age”’s first season of 16 episodes takes a “grown folks” approach to the material, which has candid but not wildly explicit talk and scenarios about sex and drugs.

“Act Your Age” was created by showrunner/executive producer Alyson Fouse, whose past TV producing credits include the comedy series “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Big Shot” (which had Brown as a cast member), and “’Til Death.” “Act Your Age” can occasionally be formulaic, but the show admirably offers a perspective that is uncommon on primetime TV. In this show, the middle-aged African American female protagonists aren’t obsessed with trying to look younger or trying to act like wannabe “Real Housewives” cast members. They are navigating their lives as single women and are unapologetic about and comfortable with who they are—even if they might get on each other’s nerves.

Each of the women in this tight-knit trio has a distinct personality. Whitley’s “Act Your Age” character is Bernadette “Bernie” Sykes, an ambitious real estate developer who is the landlord of the high-rise apartment building where she lives in Norfolk. Bernadette might have her act together regarding her successful career, but her love life hasn’t run as smoothly. She has been a single parent to her only child, Jacob (Nathan Anderson), who’s in his early 20s, for all of Jacob’s life.

Brown portrays widow Angela Martin, whose late husband, Davis, was the beloved mayor of Norfolk. Davis has been dead for about a year. Angela and Davis, who both went to the same law school together, often got comparisons to Barack and Michelle Obama. Angela is very straightlaced and shows signs of being slightly obsessive-compulsive regarding her expectations for things to be neat, orderly, and done her way. Angela’s only child is her daughter Olivia (Mariah Robinson), who is in her early twenties and has known Jacob since they were children.

Martin plays the role of Keisha, who is almost the complete opposite of Angela. Some might call Keisha “free-spirited.” Some might call her “irresponsible.” Some might call her both. One thing’s for sure: Keisha, who has been married and divorced multiple times, is the friend in this trio who loves to party the most. The show makes several references and comedic comments about Keisha’s fondness for cannabis.

The first episode of “Act Your Age” gets right to the zinger jokes. Angela and Keisha are in an elevator together in Bernadette’s apartment building. Keisha and Angela are looking at each other suspiciously because they didn’t expect to see each other in the same place at the same time. The reason for this visit? Bernadette has told her two pals that she’s getting the key to the city in a high-profile ceremony, and she wants her two closest friends to celebrate with her.

Keisha has arrived from her home city of Miami, and she expresses sympathy to Angela over the passing of Davis, whom Keisha calls “a great man.” But then, Keisha adds, “You won’t ever get that lucky again.” A miffed Angela snaps back, “I was surprised that you took time off from finding your next victim—I mean, husband.”

The back-and-forth sniping continues between Keisha and Angela, as it becomes obvious that the two women are very competitive over being Bernadette’s closest “best friend.” Bernadette tries to stay neutral, but sometimes she gets caught in the crossfire. As an example of how Angela and Keisha have contrasting personalities, Angela has brought a congratulations gift for Bernadette, while Keisha tries to get Angela to say that the gift is from Keisha too. And then, Keisha ends up snatching the gift away from Angela and telling Bernadette that the gift is from Keisha.

In the show’s first episode, Bernadette drops a bombshell: she’s not really getting the key to the city. It was a lie she told to get Angela and Keisha (who’ve been feuding off and on during the friendship) in the same room together. Bernadette’s big news for her two pals is that she’s getting married to a man named Richard (Richard Whiten), who meets Angela and Keisha for the first time during this announcement. What happens next leads to some shenanigans, a few more secrets being revealed, and the three friends deciding to accept Bernadette’s invitation to live together in Bernadette’s apartment.

The second episode of “Act Your Age” isn’t quite as breezy a romp as the first episode. It’s a little cluttered with subplots about supporting characters, while the episode’s story about the main characters is a little too superficial. Bernadette, Angela, and Keisha experience some discomfort from adjusting to their different lifestyle preferences in the same household. Angela is uptight about how she wants items arranged in the refrigerator, while Keisha brings home a gaudy abstract painting that Angela and Bernadette dislike immensely. A storyline continues from the first episode about Jacob secretly dropping out of college to live platonically with Olivia. Jacob has an unrequited crush on Olivia, and he gets jealous when she dates a guy named Malcolm (Davonté Franklin), who is charming and attentive to Olivia. The Jacob/Olivia love saga isn’t nearly as fun and interesting as the star trio’s core friendship.

However, one of the show’s supporting-character highlights is an elderly tenant named Mr. Henries (Jack Landron), a chronic complainer who lives in the apartment directly below Bernadette’s. Bernadette and Mr. Henries have a prickly relationship played entirely for laughs. Mr. Henries is repulsed by “let it all hang out” Keisha, but he has some respect for Angela because he admired Angela’s late husband.

“Act Your Age” needs better footing for its subplots within the context of the series, but the show puts the right foot forward as long as the characters of Bernadette, Angela, and Keisha are showcased as hilarious and authentic friends.

Two episodes were screened for review. "Act Your Age" airs weekly on Bounce, starting March 4, with episodes available to stream on Bouncetv.com and Brown Sugar.

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