Girlfriends’: feisty females forge ahead in fourth season

Girlfriends’: feisty females forge ahead in fourth season – Cover Story

Marti Yarbrough

Affairs, divorce, sex and heartache. No topic is ever too personal or off limits for discussion among “Girlfriends.”

The UPN comedy is back with its fourth season of laughs to tackle the universal issues that women face with tenderness and honesty. Rated as the No. 1 prime-time Black sitcom among Black households, “Girlfriends” has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the category of Outstanding Comedy Series for the third year. This year the cast members will play host to the special event scheduled to air on FOX on March 11.

Since the show’s debut devoted fans have gotten a chance to see a whirlwind of changes take place among best buddies Joan Clayton (Tracee Ellis Ross), Toni Childs (Jill Marie Jones), Maya Wilkes (Golden Brooks), Lynn Searcy (Persia White) and “honorary girlfriend” William Dent (Reggie Hayes).

Their loyalty to one another has been challenged time and time again, but it is the sincere bond of their friendship that always keeps them connected.

It’s no secret that over the past few years attorney Joan Clayton has dated her fair share of men. She came close to making it down the aisle, but her short-lived engagement to Brock (Malik Yoba) ended when it was revealed that he didn’t want to have children.

Toni has started her own real estate business and is now officially off the market since marrying her friend and doctor, Todd Garrett (Jason Pace). The material girl, who is used to dating men with money, finds herself on a budget when her new hubby turns out not to be as wealthy as she had hoped. Toni’s new marriage is teaching her to do something she’s not used to, and that’s parting with her selfish ways.

After she divorced her high school sweetheart Darnell (Khalil Kain), Maya is making adjustments to living a single lifestyle. Raising her son Jabari (Tanner Scott Richards), Maya splits her time working as a legal assistant for William and taking classes to earn her college degree.

Free-spirited and eccentric Lynn, the rolling stone of the crew, fills most of her time trying to find herself when she’s not working on her documentary about single mothers.

William, who is an attorney at the same law firm where Joan works, is the male shoulder that the ladies tend to lean on. The friendship between him and Lynn has grown to be a unique one since the brief and bizarre sexual relationship that they shared.

Earlier this season William persuaded Lynn to secretly marry him just so that he could beat Joan and Brock down the aisle. Since Joan’s marriage plans are now defunct, William has decided to end his union with Lynn as well. Now he’s in search of true romance.

Ross’ portrayal of Joan has earned her an Image Award nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series for a third time. She tells JET that the show’s success is due to fantastic scriptwriting and a genuine chemistry between the cast members.

“I am incredibly proud of the show we produce and the responsibility in which we handle very important, delicate and sensitive issues,” says Ross.

“The beauty of having five different characters is that we get to have five different opinions spoken on the issues.”

Jones adds that another reason diehard fans tune in week after week to catch the Monday night sitcom is the human element that the show provides.

“People can relate to us. When we cry, they cry. When we get upset, they get upset. That’s a beautiful thing,” says Jones. “It’s the good, the bad, and the ugly, and I think it’s groundbreaking to have a sitcom that’s going there. OK, we’re not curing cancer, but we’re doing well if [viewers] learn a little something and laugh a lot.”

You could say that growing up with three sisters has helped prepare Hayes for his “big brother” role as William, the male confidant on the show.

“Yes, I’m henpecked,” he jokes. “I like being the only male because I like all the attention. Men appreciate that I have a spine and that I’m not a complete pushover.

“William has been kind of like a male oracle to the girls. If they have questions and they want to know what a man thinks, they say, ‘Ask William.'”

“Girlfriends” has developed a reputation for pushing the envelope. It’s almost expected that the cast provide performances in each episode that are a little edgy and progressive.

“In this day and age it’s not easy to get a show about four women of color on the air and to keep it going for four seasons,” says Brooks. “We always take our characters to the limit without being stereotypical or coonish.

“If you talk down to your audience, that’s all they are going to know, but if you force them to catch up to you, then they will come.”

Showcasing a different view of the Black woman is what helps make “Girlfriends” unique to prime-time TV. All Black women are not alike and the show embraces that concept fully.

To actually be able to play the role of a biracial character is exciting and fulfilling for White. She feels that this particular Black role is very prevalent but often overlooked.

“I’m biracial and I haven’t seen that portrayed too many times. A lot of times biracial people get stuck as the anonymous ‘whatever,’ especially if you’re really light,” explains White. “There’s a whole spectrum of shades and types of women who aren’t really represented. It’s a different vision of a Black woman and I love it.”

The faces behind the cameras of the show are just as diverse as those of the cast. Mara Brock Akil created the series and is executive producer along with Kelsey Grammer of the NBC sitcom “Frasier.” Regina Hicks is co-executive producer of the show.

Seeing a familiar famous face on any given episode is not unusual. Among the celebrities who have made guest appearances on the show so far this season are singer Jill Scott, pioneer model Beverly Johnson, actors Jennifer Lewis, Dawnn Lewis, Malik Yoba and comedian Sandra Bernhard.

Without giving away any of the storylines, Hicks offers a “few” hints as to what is in store for the remainder of the fourth season. With no apprehension she says that fans can look forward to seeing a lot of growth in the characters.

“Expect for Joan to find a romantic interest in a place where she would least expect to find someone,” says Hicks. “Toni and her husband experience a few more ups and downs in their relationship, which is going to conclude with an interesting twist. And Lynn, whose character is adopted, is going to go on another journey that involves her birth family.

“Maya is going to have a unique career change,” Hicks continues. “She’s writing and something very exciting is going to happen with that. William was dating Jill Scott’s character, but they have a few problems. Something surprising happens at the end of that relationship.”

Still remaining a tad bit vague, Hicks does let out that all of the characters will converge in a storyline hat takes place in New York City at the end of the season.

Change is inevitable and the writers behind the comedy keep this fact in mind as they stay focused on the show’s true-to-life format.

“As human beings we don’t stay the same. We change and we grow and we are really growing the cast. By the end of the season the characters will all be at different points in their lives,” explains Hicks.

“We like to create shows that people talk about the next day at work, but don’t want to shock or offend anyone. We just want to keep it real, and I think we do a pretty good job at that.”

COPYRIGHT 2004 Johnson Publishing Co.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group