art.meet.browns.courtesy.jpg

The Problem with Society is that Men are Being Feminized, and Other Ridiculous Throwback Notions

By Michael Murray | TV | October 1, 2010 | Comments ()

By Michael Murray | TV | October 1, 2010 |


art.meet.browns.courtesy.jpg

Meet the Browns?

Sure.

I like people.

I'd love to meet the Browns.

Oh.

Well, OK, maybe that wasn't such a hot idea. Turns out I don't much like the Browns. They're obnoxious, desperate for attention, not at all funny and maybe a little simple in the head.

These people have been on TV since 2009 when the show "Meet The Browns," based on Tyler Perry's play and motion picture, debuted on TBS. Primarily, the show is a vehicle for David Mann, who reprises his role from both film and stage, as Leroy Brown, an eccentric blue collar church deacon attempting to operate a retirement residence in his house in Atlanta. Oh, imagine the hilarity that would ensue! Imagine all the wacky, unpredictable scenarios that could arise!

And then kiss them all good-bye.

"Meet The Browns" is a formulaic, family-friendly offering that has that After School special stink about it. However, it's not truly a kid's show, nor is it really for the parents of those imagined kids, but more for the grandparents. It's wholesome to a fault and the comedy is so blunt and plainly telegraphed that you know it's coming even if you don't have your reading glasses on or your hearing aid in place.

Even though it's set in the present, the show recalls some previous era, a time when things were perceived to be simpler, better and safer. When we see Brown Meadows -- the retirement home -- from the street, it's always lit from the interior, glowing with welcoming washes of amber. The neighborhood it's in isn't too ambitious, but it's good enough for honest folk, and the furniture inside the place isn't overly expensive or stylish, but it's solid and well looked after.

The characters that cycle through the show are predictable caricatures, each person nothing more than an amplification of their most easily identifiable characteristic. Essentially, the humor is derived from the recognition of this overly dramatized type, as if the simple identification of a stereotype was in and of itself funny. It never challenges or surprises the audience, fusing two unexpected parts of your brain together in a flash of comedic genius, but chooses instead to lead you down the same trusted path that you've followed a million times before.

What we're actually served is something that looks like it could be a teaching implement for ESL students. Simple and direct, it's vividly physical and easily understood by anybody. And if for some reason the humor eludes you, there is always an intrusive, almost insulting laugh track to point you in the right direction.

The vibe is so familiar and safe that the studio audience erupts into delighted hoots and applause whenever a favorite appears on the set. That's all it takes to please this crowd, and the production team makes sure to ask nothing more from them than a surface reflex that's little more than an instinctive shudder.

There's never anything original about the characters, and this predictability is presumably the appealing foundation of the show. The Colonel will always have a gruff exterior and a mushy heart, Will and Sasha will always be bland role-models, (so square as to feel written by some white guy trying to imagine the kind of black person that he doesn't actually believe exists) and Joaquin will always be the cutely precocious foster-child (who looks too much like a baby version of the Night Stalker, serial killer Richard Ramirez, for my taste) who just needs some good direction.

No matter, they're just window dressing, anyway, for the show is all about David Mann, the lead actor who plays Leroy Brown. Employing a high-pitched voice and a slightly effeminate manner, Mann always plays the clown. Integral to this is his wardrobe, which is always stretching to reach new levels of thrift store absurdity. Recently, I saw him clad in a now almost hip 1980's sweater, suspenders and the sort of pants you would have seen on Robin Williams back on Mork and Mindy.



A pageant of digressions, malapropisms, lame puns and shout-outs to the Lord, Brown is a kind of Speaking in Tongues version of Forrest Gump.

But the really funny thing about this character, and I don't mean Ha-Ha funny, is that he's supposed to be in his mid 60's. To accommodate this fiction, they've given him a little grey goatee, but it looks like it was hastily dyed by a kid from the high school drama club. Further, Mann looks just as strong as hell. His bald head, far from making him look aged or infirmed, makes him look like a bullet, and there's simply no mistaking the powerful build of the guy beneath the ridiculous, and ridiculously tight clothes he's made to wear.

Beneath the cloak of humility that the Mann must assume as Leroy Brown, you can see something very different beating within. It's as if the vanity of the actor couldn't quite be contained beneath the role he plays and that he needs everybody out there in Hollywood land to know that he can play young, too.

Watching the well-oiled machine that is Mann dancing away on a recent episode, I thought of Baptist Bishop Eddie Long. A respected and powerful leader in the
African-American community, Long enjoys the reputation of a civil rights champion, but has long stood in opposition to gay rights, preaching that homosexuality is a curable disease and that gays should not be allowed to marry.



Typically, it seems, when somebody so fervently condemns something, well, it usually has something to do with self-loathing, and so it's not a huge surprise to hear the recent allegations that Bishop Long has been engaging in the very same practices he vituperates against from the pulpit, charges he has, by the way, not convincingly denied.

It's tiring, this, and it goes some way to explain why people might turn to a show like "Meet the Browns," a program where everybody is exactly the way they appear to be, and audiences always laugh on cue, never questioning the mysterious and inexplicable dancing taking place right before them.


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