By Roseann V. Warren
With the news of BET cancelling Being Mary Jane, and the series finale to be a 2-hour movie, it’s hard not to wonder, what happened? Why did such an empowering show fall on its knees, so to speak? The main issue that comes to mind is the writing.
The show’s first three seasons did exactly what it promised to do, which was to portray a story that modern day women could relate to. We were introduced to Pauletta “Mary Jane Paul” Patterson, a highly ambitious, successful anchorwoman at SNC news network in Atlanta. Devoted to her family, we learn that her efforts to help them, in fact, enables them. In love, we witness a woman with an hard exterior use it as a mechanism to hide insecurities that play out in areas of her life. Toxic people surround her, and loyalty and earnest friendships is something Mary Jane is yet to experience or even discover. We related to ALL of this. From being completely irritated by Mary Jane’s knee-jerk reactions, to seeing her story within our own.
Power couple Mara Brock Akil (Girlfriends, The Game) and Salim Akil (Girlfriends, The Game, Sparkle) were Being Mary Jane’s writers and showrunners during the first three seasons. They seem to have a natural ability for developing stories that highlight diverse Black experiences in America, which aren’t limited to crime or disenfranchised people of color. Their authentic stories bring together a community with the idea of all things being attainable; you too, can experience success, notwithstanding hard work.
So what went wrong? The first change came with the news that the Akils accepted an overall deal with Warner Bros TV to create three shows. BET then hired Erica Shelton Kodish (The Good Wife) and renowned executive producer Will Packer to take the reins for season four. With both their acumen considered, Sheldon Kodish and Packer seemed to be perfect replacements. However, when the TV promotions began for Being Mary Jane’s season four, it was evident the change would not be a seamless one.
|Raven Goodwin as 'Niecy'|
Jump forward one year, Mary Jane is now an entertainment reporter for Good Day USA in New York City. This move is a step backwards in scope of reporting she would do, but a step forward in terms of prestige and national exposure. She is pitted against lead anchorwoman in hope for upward mobility at the network. She contacts a high-priced matchmaker, who gives her an in-depth questionnaire to complete. From Mary Jane’s answers the matchmaker decides not to assist her in finding a mate. They skim over her niece’s story from previous season, and never address what concerned the matchmaker. Mary Jane then meets the British comedian, Lee, and during their first sexual encounter, she practically begs him to declare his love for her, when they had just met! Their relationship progresses at lightning speed, and she forces her agenda of wanting a child on him, but then later cheats on Lee with Justin, a new producer of Good Day USA, and former enemy. Mary Jane’s mother rekindles a past relationship from yesteryear; a deep secret is revealed, which breaks apart the head Pattersons. And this is a couple worthy of a ‘Senior Citizen Goals’ hashtag! The two unlikely characters to find normalcy, ironically, were Niecy, Mary Jane’s niece, the teen mom, and her father Patrick, who battles with drug addiction. Then seeing Mary Jane force a friendship with her publicist, just smelled of desperation.
These characteristics and choices don’t fit the Mary Jane from one year ago, who was self-assured and grounded in her convictions, then to be reduced to a woman begging for love and friendship from strangers, and chase fluff stories to report on for work; it was uncomfortable to watch. In the show’s quest to create drama, the writer’s instead created an unbelievable mess.
Mary Jane was not a likeable person, but her issues and conflicts, even when handled badly, had us riding with her. Season four failed to continue the show’s original promise. There is more to the modern day woman than glamour, career, and messy relationships. A two-hour series finale is not merely enough time to undo the disarray that the show became. However, there is still a captive audience holding onto the Mary Jane Experience, whether there for the melodramatic theatrics, or creatures of habit simply there to feast their eyes, one last time, while Mary Jane gets it on with Michael Ealy.
|Gabrielle Union and Michael Ealy|
Where do you think the missteps were in Being Mary Jane, and how could it have been better?