TV Review: BET’s ‘Being Mary Jane’

Being Mary Jane

Gabrielle Union elevates BET's first episodic drama into a solid primetime player

Sometimes, casting really is half the battle, and so it is with “Being Mary Jane,” BET’s first stab at an episodic drama with a principally African-American cast. Gabrielle Union stars as the title character, a TV anchor with a complicated personal life, which includes a pair of romantic entanglements, one of them married. Picking up where a high-rated TV movie left off, it’s hardly ground-breaking material, but Union proves good enough company to pull it off, giving BET a credible shot at becoming a more significant player in the scripted game.

Actually, the whole “picking up where the movie left off” aspect proves a little jarring at first, at least for anyone who didn’t see the film, inasmuch as practically everything about “Mary Jane” starts in the middle. That said, it’s not hard to figure out she’s had an affair with the married Andre (Omari Hardwick), without knowing about his plus-one status; and has moved on to David (Stephen Bishop), which hasn’t stopped Andre from continuing to pursue her.

Work, meanwhile, yields its own headaches, even if Mary Jane doesn’t push back too hard against her anything-for-ratings producer (Lisa Vidal), which includes interviewing a couple that chooses to remain in harm’s way as a dangerous storm bears down on their home.

What makes it all work, moderately, is Union, who manages to portray Mary Jane as relatable, sexy and vulnerable, without being a saint or goody-two-shoes. As created by “Girlfriends’ ” Mara Brock Akil (whose husband, Salim Akil, directed the pilot), the premiere establishes the character as a woman trying to have it all with the pressures that entails, and not always succeeding despite her glamorous job and seemingly perfect exterior.

Given how long BET’s modest ambitions and the lack of serious drama on TV featuring African-Americans have been lamented (Tyler Perry’s recent contributions to OWN hardly ameliorate the situation), it’s welcome to see the Viacom-owned network enter the arena, recognizing that there’s more to life than reality and comedy.

Of course, assuming viewers would like to see more along these lines, it would be helpful if those who sampled the movie return for “Being Mary Jane” and, to quote a very old song, look for the Union label.

TV Review: BET's 'Being Mary Jane'

(Series; BET, Tue. Jan. 7, 10 p.m.)

Production

Filmed in Atlanta by BET Prods.

Crew

Executive producers, Mara Brock Akil, Salim Akil, Jessica Mecklenburg; producer, Paul Garnes; director, Salim Akil; writer, Mecklenburg; camera, Michael Negrin; production designer, Gary Frutkoff; editors, Lauren Schaffer,Thomas Costantino; music, Kurt Farquhar; casting, Tracey “Twinkie” Byrd. 60 MIN.

Cast

Gabrielle Union, Richard Roundtree, Margaret Avery, Omari Hardwick, Lisa Vidal, Richard Brooks, Raven Goodwin, B.J. Britt, Aaron Spears, Latarsha Rose, Robinne Lee, Stephen Bishop

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  1. Robb7 says:

    Just discovered this show. Love Gabrielle Union – she makes it all work! Can’t find the pilot though — which would clear up a lot of questions.

  2. Gabrielle is the real reason I watch BET. Being Mary Jane is what I wait for on Tuesdays. I love the show. The hottest tv series on cable.

  3. pinkdiamond734 says:

    Excellent show!! Will be watching ever episode.

  4. Drasa says:

    This show disappointed me. I never thought Gabrielle Union would ever portray a woman with such horrible hygiene. It even offends me as a woman myself to see black woman with such nasty habbits.

  5. Resa says:

    Awesome performance by Gabrielle!! I waited a long time to see this show because there are not a lot of tv. shows that portray African American women as gorgeous, caring, successful, and leaders.I could relate to her character and I don’t feel that it in no way represents black women in a negative way. If anything her character helps others to understand the experiences/challenges that many African American women face in their every day lives and the reality of a good man is hard to find.

    • Resa says:

      I don’t feel that it in no way represents black women in a negative way; sorry, with the exception of the inappropriate bathroom/alone at work scenes.

  6. Marti says:

    Mary Jane is what we have been waiting for! Every scene was real drama that goes on everyday in our lives and professionals! Gabrielle, we love you! Nobody else could have taken that lead role and nailed it like you did! Bravo BET!

  7. RROSS says:

    snide and demeaning to women of color as always. just what we expect from brian lowry.

  8. Peas and Tanks says:

    Brian: Mara Brock Akil created “Girlfriend” not “Girls” (which was created by Lena Dunham)

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