First Watch: Being Mary Jane: “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)

As far as demographics go, there aren’t very many shows as far out of my demographic as Being Mary Jane, which seems to be targeting black women ages 30-45. Reading the synopsis, I didn’t expect to be entertained by the BET series; it sounded like it belonged on Lifetime or as a sequel to Bridget Jones’ Diary. I was surprised. In fact, I learned that the first episode of Being Mary Jane had aired on BET months prior to the release of the series. The pilot garnered positive reviews and brought over four million viewers to the series premiere. So what did I, those producers (and presumably an audience) see in a successful, single black woman struggling with her romantic life? Let’s take a look.

Mary Jane (Gabrielle Union), our Single Black Female and titular character, receives a late night gentleman caller. The “gentleman” in question is an old, drunken ex, who “needs” her. Within two minutes of that knock on the door, we get a sex scene. A long sex scene. While they say never to judge a book by its cover, I’ve learned long ago to judge a show’s theme by it’s first scene. The theme this time around seems to be “gettin’ laid is fun.” Maybe I can learn to enjoy Being Mary Jane after all. The morning after, while Mary Jane is praying for this man to be hers, he gets up, looks at her, and vomits all over the bed. On top of all that, Mary Jane trips over a wedding ring while picking up his clothes. Alright, now I’m beginning to see a theme. Needless to say, Mary Jane throws the jerk out on his half-naked ass.

“42% of Black Women have never been married,” the statistic appears before the title, spouting the central idea of Being Mary Jane, I suppose, while reminding me exactly how far out of my demographic the next forty minutes of my life will be. Then we see Mary Jane go to work. Before now, we could assume Mary Jane is a successful woman (and possibly a home wrecker), but now we can see she’s a successful news anchor with her own show. What’s the first story she introduces? African women raping men. I’ll leave that one alone, although I’m pretty sure it’s going to be an important story.

Between her love life and career, I’m already impressed with the amount of thought the writers have given Mary Jane Paul as a character. Mary Jane’s career acts as a vehicle for commentary on world issues, while her personal life allows her to connect to, and reflect, the audience. While watching Mary Jane’s life, I feel as if I know what a single, middle-aged, black woman experiences in her day to day. Being Mary Jane covered that demographic reasonably well, but what does it offer for the rest of us? Mary Jane’s best friend and producer, Kara Lynch (Lisa Vidal), is a divorced Latina woman; her other best friend, Mark Bradley (Aaron D. Spears), is a gay, black TV personality; her niece , Niecy Patterson (Raven Goodwin), is a nineteen-year-old soon-to-be mother of two; and her older brother, Patrick Patterson (Richard Brooks), is a recovering drug addict. Patrick is even dating a white woman named Tracey (Tatom Pender). They portray every demographic besides straight white males. Fair enough.

Being Mary Jane offers us the trials and tribulations of the professional, single woman—not as entertainment, but as a learning experience. Mary Jane’s character works on so many different levels, it’s impossible not to relate to her; despite any difference in race, gender, or age. Even if you’re not relating to her, the writers have offered a variety of other characters to create a smörgåsbord for the audience to choose from. The writers also managed to make this show good. I am hooked. After a single episode, I am prepared to follow Mary Jane through the labyrinth of libido and love, through the challenges of her career, and through the process of adjusting her moral compass in a way to find happiness without concession. The most important question the episode asked (in between the lines of dialog) is “Who are we to judge?” Is our own sense morality so fine tuned that we are infallible? Even while watching a character make mistakes, we must ask ourselves “Is she making poor decisions, or am I judging too harshly?” In my book, any series that can make you think is worth watching. If they manage to entertain you while doing that, there is no reason it shouldn’t be winning awards.

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