By Guest Contributor Patrice Peck, cross-posted from Zora & Alice
How can you notice that something is missing if you never even acknowledged that thing to begin with? The lack of racial diversity on the major television networks—ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and The CW—clearly illustrates how an omission can actually be rather glaring. Yet, whenever critics draw attention to the lopsided numbers of lead minorities in television, writers, producers, and casting directors are quick to cry color-blind in hopes of white washing the issue with a fresh coat of guiltless naivete. When addressing this issue, television executives always point to profitability and markets as the main reasoning behind their casting while uncomfortably skirting around their propensity for narrow thinking, country club-style hiring, and disregarding racial diversity.
Then, this September, NBC inadvertently shed light on television’s homogeneity by picking up J.J. Abrams’ newest project, Undercovers, a show surrounding a married couple who leave retirement to rejoin the CIA. Abrams (Lost, Alias) and co-creator Josh Reims (Felicity) made headlines with their unorthodox casting of Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, both black actors, making Undercovers the second NBC show to feature a black lead couple (The Cosby Show being the first.)
Nonetheless, at a panel for Undercovers, Reims still insisted that when it came to casting the leads, both he and Abrams considered novelty as opposed to color as if the two weren’t synonymous in Hollywood. “[We said] Let’s just see every possible incarnation of person [so we won’t end up with] the same people we’ve seen on TV a million times … Boris and Gugu came in, and we sort of knew immediately, these are them. We didn’t go out of our way to say we are hiring two black people to be the leads of our show, but we didn’t ignore it either.”
By Arturo R. García & The Racialicious Roundtable
Okay, this is just becoming ridiculous.
Yesterday, NBC announced it was going to let Undercovers play out the string. with the final episode airing Dec. 1. I’m not saying it’s surprising, given the ratings and the problems the Table noted week in and week out: not enough conflict; way too much hinting at a bigger plot without any actual plot movement; and a protagonist couple that, while loving, and that’s cool and all, didn’t have much behind it as far as individual characterization.
If you’re scoring at home, this continues the Table’s streak of seeing a show until its’ demise. Though Heroes, as we all know, just wore us out slowly over time, Undercovers joins Flash Forward as flashes in the pan. More worryingly, expect the former’s demise to give renewal to the argument that POC leads “can’t carry a show.” Well, at least one that isn’t a sitcom or an “urban drama.”
While we wait and see what shakes out, let’s get the team’s thoughts:
Hosted by Arturo R. García
Never let it be said that the Roundtable is above a mission of mercy. And as this episode proves, Undercovers is definitely in need of … something.
About the only cool thing in “Devices” was seeing Philippe Brenninkmeyer – aka the swinging German husband from Super Troopers – play the bad guy. I’d put up a link to one of his scenes here, but, uh, you’re better off looking it up after you leave work today. Trust me.
Otherwise, the episode was so repetitive it’s become even more annoying: the Blooms are still having the “Wow, it’s so weird teaming up with the partner I’m schtupping!” talks. At least there was finally the beginning of some sort of bigger plot movement, with a more serious, more suspicious-acting Leo Nash getting in the way of the team.
But, with the show still fighting unbearable ratings issues, we’ve decided to perform a public service – and try to preserve our sanity – by offering tips to the creative team on how to fix up each of the show’s primary characters before it’s too late.