Is It A Good Time To Be ‘Black & Sexy’?

by Guest Contributor Aymar Jean Christian, originally published at Televisual

In one episode of Black & Sexy TV’s The Couple, Dude and Chick bicker over space in their small bathroom. In another they have a tit-for-tat over what side dishes to order with lunch. Two people, one location and a common scenario comprise most episodes of The Couple.

“It’s about two people living together. Doesn’t matter what their names are. Doesn’t matter how old they are. Doesn’t matter where they live. They could be anybody,” creator Jeanine Daniels said when I met up with her and the Black & Sexy team in Los Angeles last month. “Anybody could relate to them.”

Welcome to black television during the rise of YouTube, or at least that’s the hope of Dennis Dortch, director of 2008′s A Good Day to Be Black & Sexy and creator of the YouTube channel Black & Sexy TV.

Television today is brimming with black sitcoms. TV Land just premiered The Soul Man with Cedric the Entertainer and Niecy Nash, new networks like Bounce TV are already showing original scripted programs and older networks like BET are ordering more (and more channels are premiering every year). None of these shows have been as buzzy or relevant as classic series from the Eighties and Nineties, from The Cosby Show to Martin. They’re passable and pleasurable, but few could be called new or innovative.

Maybe it’s because our 300-channel universe demands fresher, fleshier shows, and here the web is picking up steam. Web showrunners are innovating largely out of view of cable network executives, from the diverse oeuvre of Al Thompson to the roaring success of Issa Rae’s Awkward Black Girl, now releasing its second season on Pharrell’s premium iamOTHER channel.

Black & Sexy TV has spent the past year carving out a clear niche amidst rising competition among black web series: focusing on artsy realism that shares more in common with Louie than Let’s Stay Together.

“I really wanted to showcase black people in a certain way. Black is beautiful,” Dennis Dortch said.

Black & Sexy already has a full slate of programs, with The Couple and The Number leading the pack and other’s like The Conversation filling out the slate. The idea for the network arose from Dortch’s feature film of the same name. Dortch has practicing film for years, motivated by demand for his signature brand of casual, relatable realism showcasing black actors. Frustrated by film distribution Dortch originally developed the web shows as off-shoots of his feature called Sexy B-Sides, a reference to 70s-era black aesthetics and culture.

Black & Sexy launched as a standalone website in 2009, right as black web series were starting to take off–it was the year BET released their first series, Buppies, from Julian Breece (also the year I wrote about “The New Black TV Guide” for The Root). Self-distribution was challenging, though, so Dortch relaunched the network on YouTube last year. Shortly after, Shadow & Act started publicizing their shows. People responded. Issa Rae got involved (with Dortch also directing a high-profile episode of Awkward Black Girl). Black & Sexy TV now has about 10,000 YouTube subscribers.

The programs on Black & Sexy TV are broad and simple enough to allow the team some flexibility. They’ve built up enough content to release episodes weekly, ending this month. After that the team plans to embark on a Kickstarter campaign to fund a feature-length version of The Couple.

The creators behind Black & Sexy share a range of inspirations. Daniels named Seinfeld as a key source for its focus on mundane comedy; Dortch cited Melvin Van Peebles and actress-producer Numa Perrier (star of the The Couple) cited contemporary TV dramas for their intimate character portrayals that demand audiences trust the writers behind the scenes.

“We all want quirky stuff. That’s basically what it is,” Perrier said.

Right now, Black & Sexy plans to keep active across media while maintaining the YouTube channel as a home base. It’s a slow build, they admit, but they’re hoping to maybe catch on to the second or third wave of YouTube’s premium content investments, particularly since there are few black-oriented or black-run channels, save for a few from big names like Pharrell and Shaquille O’Neal.

“We’re building a world,” Dortch said. ”There’s a value in it.”

Check out two episodes of The Couple and The Number below. To subscribe to Black & Sexy TV, visit YouTube.

 

  • Linneax23

    LMFAO @ I don’t know what chlamydia feels like!

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  • Medusa

    Thanks for this! I’ve really been getting into Black & Sexy TV lately, and I am a big fan of ABG. I prefer The Number to The Couple, althugh I seem to be in the minority in that regard!

    Anyway, I love seeing black people front and center instead of relegated to “black best friend”, “sassy colleague”, or “grumpy cashier” and actually having story lines and being fully deveoped characters. One gripe…. and I guess this isn’t even a gripe, just a wish- is that I wish some of these black webseries were centered other than the the US, so far I’ve not had any luck finding any.

    I agree with Karine 1976, I hate the slut-shaming of Melissa.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been watching the Black and Sexy series along with ABG and others on YouTube, to the point where I wonder why I bother holding on to my cable package.

    One quibble I have with The Number is there seems to be a bit of slut shaming in that show and the comment sections has me SMH, especially at the season finally, clearly basic sex ed is lacking. It was funny in the first episode then I started getting a bit uncomfortable was I watched the rest of the episodes. For all we know she slept with 10 guys but her BF finds that number troublesome but people assume that she was giving it away to every man who came her way. I hope he got the disease from a past girlfriend of his.

    • Anonymous

      I think that the amount of time it took her to count made it clear it was a very high number. I don’t think she would have had trouble adding up or remembering 10. And I think that in an era with horrible HIV and unplanned pregnancy rates, both men and women nowadays get “slut shamed” for certain kinds of behavior. No one is applauding these ridiculous ball players who have 20 kids.

      I don’t really see how it is slut shaming so much as a man being uncomfortable with, yet enjoying, a woman who clearly has “enjoyed” her own sexuality. I think he comes off much worse as a hypocrite b/c the character isn’t that likable and out of all of her flaws, that is the one that he has a problem with, which is interesting but perhaps very typically male.

      I also personally think it shows how the question should never have been asked, since the test gave them the most important info which is that it only takes one infected partner to catch a disease, which many people don’t understand.

      • Medusa

        Hey, this may be a stupid question, but why is Melissa so unlikeable? I mean why do people hate her so much? (I agree that she shouldn’t have been talking to issa rae’s character about her size, but her character had been pretty shit towards Melissa prior to that, so….)

        • Anonymous

          Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t care for either of them and I thought that they BOTH do a good job of conveying the unlikable bits of their personalities/characters.

          I dislike him for being wishy-washy and didn’t like the way he handled the issue with his sister (if they were roommates and he moved someone else in, it shouldn’t have been taken as a given that he could throw her out and keep the place). I can agree with the need to change the situation but he did a piss poor job of handling it. I also dislike the fact that he seems unable to stand up and say what he feels, and that he seems simultaneously enthralled/disgusted with her sexuality. So he just comes across as rather lame and weak-willed to me.

          What i dislike about her character is that she either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care about the things that make him uncomfortable; so she is basically too self-involved for me to root for her. The number of partners conversations was a dumb one(and I’m not a fan of this idea that very real and necessary discussions about promiscuity and sexual choices are slut shaming and should not be held b/c it’s become a default to absolve people of any sense of responsibility or consequences, and there is this annoying piece of “feminism” that tries to make any critique of women sexism and misogyny, which is just lazy derailing). And before I get accused of being a prude, I’ll point out that in real life the STD test is where that conversation needed to start, not with numbers or names (and they probably don’t need to come into it at all).

          I also think it was tone deaf to at least keep the names of people he knew/worked with out of it. I can’t figure doesn’t notice or just doesn’t care. Either way, not a great personality trait. She never seems to notice when he is nervous, uncomfortable and shifty, and the scene with his sister came across as an attempt to goad and mock her. They both made a choice not to walk away, but she planted the seeds (deliberately) there, and I felt that pretty clear once it ended.

          But as I said, I would wonder if the writers intended us to dislike them both. I assume yes and assume they do a good job of making themselves unlikable in subtle and non-overacted ways. I enjoy the Couple and don’t really like either of those characters either. I liked how the episode shown here did show both sides of the situation. I didn’t just side with them b/c they were the protagonists or b/c they were black and the neighbor was white, or b/c she was passive-agressive, or anything else. I also watched the first (?) episode about the exes and texts and they were both pretty much assholes in that situation.

          So that is just my answer to your question. I’m sure there are as many answers as their are people who watch the series.

  • Anonymous

    This is really interesting. My biggest complaint about TV and movies is that we aren’t shown as regular people with regular lives. We are either accessories or stereotypes.
    I really miss the show Girlfriends b/c it was the last time I felt like I show that had black women being women who happened to be black and whose lives reminded me of me and my professional black female friends and peers.
    I also think that we are done a big disservice b/c the diversity of our looks and attractiveness are not represented on TV, so the most famous black women are othered(I cringe at the comments made about our skin and hair), treated like rare exceptions, or dismissed as not really looking black.
    So I enjoyed this clip that showed black people of various hues and hair styles (I’m going to guess that body diversity is still too much to ask for since people on both sides of the color line have big issues with it and seem to agree that it’s not attractive).
    But are these a sampling of the young black actors and actresses (aside from Issa Rae, with whom I’m familiar) who never get treated like they can do so much as walk-on roles when they attempt to audition? Shame, b/c they are comfortable, natural in front of the camera, and talented, in a way that I think I don’t see on all of these shows about overwrought white 20 and 30 somethings.
    I’m glad that the web gives these creative types an outlet and a following, and honestly, I think these shows would not be allowed to maintain their creative integrity and license if they did have deals on the networks. I HOPE that they are able to monetize in a way that lets them keep making episodes in this manner. I’d rather have 10 entertaining minutes than 22 minutes of canned laughter.

    Sorry, but the BET edition of The Game is awful, and the other shows look rather simple. I like what I’ve just viewed here much more.