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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

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TV PREVIEW: ‘Love Is_____’ gives you the real and the feels

I had the opportunity to review “Love Is____,” the new project from writing and life partners Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil. (Minimal spoilers, no worries!)

My interest was already piqued because it was set in LA in the 90s, which was my coming of age on the other coast (NY). That puts us in the same age range with a high likelihood of some common lived experiences and perspectives.

Here’s a lil something for my generation (the 40+ crew): That Brownstone track in the promo got me too, not gonna lie! Quintessential 90s jam.

I really like the subtly of the creative license taken with the title, leaving it open-ended. Love is… so many things, it’s your blank to fill in. It takes on so many complexions. It’s respective, fluid and open. It’s a continuum. The title says all of this and it’s well played out in the show itself.

“Love Is____” follows the love story of Nuri (Michelle Weaver) and Yasir (Will Catlett). It’s predicated on their 30th anniversary and looks back at their journey. Right from the opening, “Love Is____” addresses the issues of colorism through the 90s gaze.

The colorism construct began to push its way into the conversation in a very tangible way about this time. I respect addressing the topic, even though my initial feeling was that of reticence about yet another show about men worshipping and chasing light-skinned women (EYEROLL).

However, knowing the work of the Akils (“The Game,” “Being Mary Jane,” “Girlfriends.” Salim is behind “Black Lightning.”), I know they know better than to present such a dated, unbalanced concept. So, don’t you be too quick to judge either!

“Love Is ____” is an epic nod to kismet or fate and a testament to the validity and veracity of love at first sight. It feels very believable, which is what any well-crafted story does. It follows the typical meet cute, misunderstandings, missed communication and man vs himself type of plot line. BUT it works and doesn’t feel rehashed.

The show is well-written and directed with great delivery from relative newcomers Weaver and Catlett, who are backed up by the secondary characters. Their perspectives add the necessary texture to the storyline by showing the push-pull involved in personal/cultural growth; in this case as young adults in the 90s.

As late 60s-and-70s babies, we were figuring out our brand of feminism/womanism: What does a 90s career woman look like? How do we balance love and career and have it all? What do we want/need out of partner? We were figuring out our sexual identity as women. We were challenging sexual mores, double standards and the mischaracterization of sexual liberation (slut shaming if you will, one-sided of course).

The show also does a very good job of speaking to men, – well, coming from a non-man perspective. It illustrates the way in which men were evolving and changing their attitudes about the role of women in their lives and in society. They too were becoming more liberated by expanding their views and opening up their minds and expectations.

Yasir is a progressive brotha, so to speak. He meditates and is vulnerable, emotionally honest and open. He is a creative soul and, like many folks in that era, converted to Islam. I love the vulnerability he shows. It’s OK to feel stuff and even talk openly about it. He is verrrrry clear about how he feels.

In the beginning and in the midst of tackling the colorism piece, Yasir is reconciling his hyper blackness with his feelings for this woman, who embodies what had been the typical beauty standard in the black community; before “dark skin was in.” (Yes, this is something people really said.)

“Love Is___” has so many other things that are refreshing:

  • It’s not a remix of the same old folks. However, there are some 90s favorites in the mix such as Kadeem Hardison and Tammy Townsend.
  • By episode two, the cynical black (darker-skinned) women with angry black women hair characters become more nuanced. We get a better understanding of their context and get to see a softer side in some cases. Keep developing their characters, please!
  • Music as the soundtrack of our lives. I know our generation isn’t alone in this, but music was so important and punctuated so many moments. Certain songs still evoke the warm and fuzzies or take me back to a great moment/experience or make me think of a great love.
  • They nailed the 90s with the boxy work blazer, corded phone, old school heavy laptop, the nod to Blockbuster and Karl Kani gear, The Source Awards, the Mary J-style Doc Martens with slouch socks, the “Martin” spoof and even Nuri’s nail color.
  • Nuri’s moment of empowerment. A bitter and rejected male co-worker tries to threaten her, claiming he has her job in his hands. She lets him know though – all he’s got is coffee in his hands. Yassssss girl!                                                                       

“Love Is___” premieres Tuesday, June 19 at 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT on OWN. Highly recommend!

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