Although played on potentially fertile turf — football players’ wives and girlfriends, not to be confused with the BBC’s “Footballers’ Wives” — “The Game” feels pretty artificial and stages all its action near midfield. It’s the kind of predictable attack meant strictly to hold the line established by lead-in “Girlfriends,” which also comes from series creator Mara Brock Akil. The new CW is in a counterprogramming mode on Sundays, but the bar-raising feat the former UPN achieved with its comedy “Everybody Hates Chris” regresses here to more limited appeal.
Having junked its pilot, the series premieres with an episode that hits many of the same beats. Med student Melanie (Tia Mowry) is shacking up with an NFL rookie, Derwin (Pooch Hall), but she’s threatened by the prospect of groupies, beginning with the gorgeous “image consultant” trying to help him maximize his few years of professional paydays.
Derwin invites Melanie to attend his first away game — a no-no in the locker room, the veterans advise him, with their wives having correctly surmised that the road is “a license to cheat.” As a result, nobody wants Melanie there, figuring she’ll go back and fink on the players who aren’t as upstanding as Darwin.
Guiding Melanie through this maze are Tasha (Wendy Raquel Robinson), the mother and manager to one of the team’s stars; and Kelly (Brittany Daniel), who boasts about her marriage to Jason (Coby Bell), even if she doesn’t trust him much further than an onside kick.
So the girls go all Lucy and Ethel by sneaking along on the road trip, hoping (or rather, not hoping) to catch their men in acts of infidelity, in which case the guys will have some ‘splaining to do.
Part of an acting clan, the charming Mowry grew up on WB sitcoms and perhaps appropriately helps inaugurate the net’s new incarnation. “The Game,” however, is a throwback to the old UPN and a comedy block that, for better or worse, performed modestly well among African-American women but possessed virtually nil crossover allure.
Some of that can be attributed to the audience, but given the praise rightfully heaped on “Chris” — which returns in fine form with an episode guest starring Whoopi Goldberg — the net might have sought to expand on those inroads.
As is, despite the football backdrop, “The Game” does little to capitalize on its milieu, simply tossing a slow underhanded pitch to the “Girlfriends” audience, with less chemistry among its central femme trio than that established show’s quartet. And if the recurring through-line simply involves women stressing about their men stepping out, they may awaken to find that the audience has already left them.