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DVD Review: Girlfriends – The Fourth Season

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Back when Girlfriends aired on the UPN network in 2000, the show looked as if it wouldn’t get past its first season. Spike Lee already blasted the show and the television critics didn't completely warm up to it at first. What the critics discovered that Spike didn't was that the show was more than a show about sex and relationships.

While the show, starring Tracee Ellis Ross, Persia White, Golden Brooks, and Jill Marie Jones, covered the issues of love and relationships, the show was bold enough to discuss the issues of AIDS, adoption, and even what it means to be black in the workplace. In addition, something as seemingly minor to most as taking a day off for Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday as a black woman or man in the workplace managed to get covered. Girlfriends, if Spike Lee gave it a chance, would have probably secretly been one of his favorite shows.

On the other hand, I don’t think I would have liked to hear Spike complain every week about lawyer Joan Clayton (played by Ross) not getting a man or Joan’s secretary and friend Maya Wilkes (played by Brooks) raising her son by herself after divorcing her husband due to an affair or Joan’s other friend Lynn Searcy (played by White) not having a steady career after many years in college. Oh yeah, and he’d probably have a problem with the uppity “male girlfriend” William Dent (Reggie Hayes) who is conservative and a Bush voter. Did I forget to mention he’d have tons to say about the self-centered materialistic Toni Childs (Jill Marie Jones) who is a friend to all of them?

The fourth season was something of the middle ground within the lexicon of the show's history. Some things remained the same, some things changed, and some things were clearly a case of “what the hell?” Even some of the girls began to sense some déjà vu in their tribulations of love and life.

In the third season finale, Toni Childs became Toni Childs-Garrett, the wife of Todd Garrett (Jason Pace). In the mind of Toni Childs (and despite his height), Todd’s “secure” profession as a plastic surgeon meant that she would be rolling in dough and living the high life with someone else paying the way for that lifestyle. Unfortunately as it turns out, Todd isn’t as rich she thought. Due to this revelation Toni now seeks a divorce, which temporarily ends when she decides to work on being in a marriage.

Also last season we left with Ellis (Adrian Lester) still having his back and forth with Joan over his career as an actor and whether their “love” is really “love”. Since I never liked this pair, I have no problem saying that eventually they will split this season in the wake of another relationship with Ellis’s agent, Brock (Mailk Yoba). Of course that relationship won’t last long because Joan wants kids while Brock doesn’t. While all alone, Joan suddenly finds love in the most left field of places — with William!

William, who made senior partner in the fourth season at Swedelson and Company where Joan also works, was still looking for a true girlfriend at this point. In season two he was set to marry a nutso cop named Yvonne (Cee Cee Michaela) who decided to leave him at the altar at the last minute. In season three he ran into the highly ambitious and career-driven Monica (Keesha Sharp) and subsequently the same season lost her due to him leaving his job at Swedelson and Company after he got passed up (as well as Joan) for senior partner. Season four saw William developing a newfound love for Joan, but not without a transitional romance with Donna (Jill Scott) who makes him see that Joan is his true soul mate. Oh, William also had a short-lived marriage with Lynn, just for kicks I imagine, and slept with one of the senior partners, Sharon (Annie-Marie Johnson).

Lynn stayed the same old Lynn. She finds herself waning from her passion as a filmmaker and returning to the same old smooching ways by living off some of the other girls. She then out of left field decides to get married to William to help him beat Joan to the altar. This all occurring just as Lynn is breaking off a relationship with Svaid, a poet she met in the third season who was stuck on celibate which put a damper on and ultimately an end to their relationship.

Maya, who was really the most interesting character of the show, was still divorced from her husband Darnell (Khalil Khan) and was dealing with being a single mother to her son Jabari who still visits with his father despite their being separated. Last season she made the lateral move of leaving Joan by quitting her job as Joan’s legal secretary and becoming William’s secretary. That allowed her the freedom to return to college after spending much of her life taking care of her son only to find out that she must start over again since none of her previous coursework was from accredited schools.

The relationships between the girls were rather ironic in some ways. Although Joan doesn’t like Toni’s selfish ways, there are many ways in which Joan is selfish. When Toni clowns about the poverty of Joan, Lynn, and Maya, especially in this season, it really turns out she was just as poor as the rest of them. As Lynn beats up everyone for chasing the American dream, she doesn’t even know who she is or what kind of dream she should be chasing. Even Maya, who pretended that she didn't want to be upper class, turned up her nose when she switched from being Joan’s legal secretary to William’s legal secretary for more money.

It’s difficult to see William in a stable relationship as I believe the character worked best as the “male” girlfriend. Getting him into a relationship meant that the character would spend the same amount of time on the show in the endless loop of whether he loves the person he is with or not, much like the very girlfriends he would give advice to.

Fans of the show always seem to attack Lynn as a character because of the fact that she was a slacker. I see it differently. Every sitcom has always had the “loopy” friend who told crazy stories. Kramer on Seinfeld always did that and it very nearly became the reason the show was even watched in the first place. Sometimes you just need a wacky character like Lynn to spice things up.

Given that defense, I did have a problem with the producers making up a plot in which Lynn and William get married. What was the point of that? I realize there are things that you would do for a friend, but getting married to beat someone else to the altar is not something anyone logically would do and certainly not with someone as “smooching” as Lynn. The embarrassment I felt for White and Hayes acting in that plot set-up is the fact that the end result is Lynn giving away the alimony check (from their quick divorce) to support a charity auction for Joan that her job asked her to do.

Again, what the hell?

Maya’s storyline seemed to be the only one that works and actually felt like a piece of reality. She’s was a newly single mother who was working her way up in life and yet always feeling like she’s going backwards, especially when she’s tried to start college again in her mid-30s. Things pick up by the end of the season when a book she wrote is picked up by a major publisher.

Golden Brooks, in an interview with BlackVoices, revealed that she was originally asked to play Toni Childs. If she had chosen to play Toni, I don’t think that would have been an expansion of her talents. Maya is more a real person with real desires and real issues. She’s the only one who from the start of the series had a real family life. Although the producers felt it necessary to through that into chaos in the last couple of seasons, she didn’t go all the way crazy as Joan, Lynn, and Toni did eventually as did — well, if you can excuse the episode where she and Lynn fought out for the affections of Jalen (Rockmond Dunbar) who played the “I hate you so much I love you” next door neighbor.

As far as why Jill Marie Jones left, the answers are rather complicated. Some say it was the lower salary that she was offered when the show was looking to be added to The CW network. Some say that it was because the actresses were all offered this same low salary and were all supposed to walk out on the show because of it and subsequently didn’t, which left Jones being the only maverick. You could also argue the last two seasons her character had gotten more in the over the top department and she simply wanted to leave to do movies.

When she did leave after the sixth season it was clear that the show wasn’t able to recover the chemistry by simply having Brooks, Ross, and White there. The same old plots of the three remaining girls continued when William's wife Monica (who was added as a full-time cast member in the seventh season) was brought into the fold as the fourth girlfriend to replace the gap left by Jones’ Toni.

Golden Brooks, who is the strongest actress of the series, also has the most realistic character out of the foursome. I believe a lot of the incredibility of the story lines of the other characters comes more from executive producer Kelsey Grammer than it does from Mara Brock Akil (who is the other executive producer of the show). It's a shame Akil and Grammer never bothered to make the spin-off which would have had Maya and Darnell being the focus.

Should you buy the show's fourth season? Only if you are a fan. Just getting into it? Rent it first.

There are rumors about that a Girlfriends movie will be made thanks to the success of the Sex and The City movie's box office returns. Personally I think, even thou I still reel from the sudden cancellation of the series after the writers' strike, that the show had run its course.

I mean, they already had one finale. Let it be.

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