Shows you should be watching: 'Being Mary Jane' on BET
Watching some of my favorite TV shows is like attending a great dinner party. You're with a group of your friends (some you like, some you don't) and enjoying rich discussions. BET's Being Mary Jane, back for a third season tonight at 9 p.m., is one of those shows.
Being Mary Jane stars Gabrielle Union as — you guessed it, Mary Jane — a beautifully flawed broadcast journalist trying to balance her successful career and her disappointing love life. The series explores a black woman's choice to "have it all," what it means to "have it all," and how possible — or impossible — it is. A little pop culture math: The Mindy Project + Scandal + Tyler Perry + Murphy Brown = Being Mary Jane.
Brought to you from the brilliant mind of Mara Brock Akil (who helmed the successful series Girlfriends), BMJ originally aired as a 90-minute made-for-TV movie and attracted 4 million viewers. That's nothing to scoff at for BET, so the network, attempting to find more black creativity outside of music videos, quickly ordered a series.
And Union is the perfect lead for it. You remember her from her teen years playing queen bees in Bring It On and 10 Things I Hate About You. Union, who is married to Dwayne Wade (some sports dude), is fierce and absolutely stunning. And so is her character, who is in a constant battle against society's stereotypes and standards.
Mary Jane hosts her own show on a CNN equivalent channel, where her stories range from hurricane coverage to fertility treatments. And her job is very important to her, but we quickly learn that it hasn't kept her happy. As her career skyrockets, her love life plummets. In the first few minutes of the show, Mary Jane learns her hottie boyfriend is actually married. And that's just the beginning of how messy her life actually is.
She's a control freak who is still in love with her ex. Her family constantly mooches off her, but she wouldn't want it any other way. And most importantly, she wants to have babies. Strong-minded Mary Jane is constantly reminded that hard work does not necessarily equal dreams come true.
The show is often heavy-handed and preachy. And its surrounding characters aren't as fleshed out as Mary Jane. During its second season, we learn more about Mary Jane's niece, a teen mom. The two often have combative conversations that leave the "winner" up to the viewer. In one of their cringe-worthy moments, Mary Jane fat-shames Niecy, who ends up teaching Mary Jane a lesson in body-loving.
Critics and viewers have often criticized Being Mary Jane for its unlovable protagonist. Television loves to portray African Americans in positive light because of all the bad stereotypes. In an interview with Vulture earlier this year, showrunner Mara Brock Akil said: "...I personally believe strongly that the positive image is just as damaging as the negative image. Humanity does not exist in those polar extremes. One day you can be both good and bad. Your intentions can be good, your actions can be bad. Oftentimes you'll see Mary Jane doing a good deed but frustrated and agitated in the doing."
After this year's Primetime Emmy Awards recognized more black roles than ever before, and Empire's record-breaking success on Fox, audiences are finally getting what we deserve: more shows rich in both diversity and greatness. Being Mary Jane might not be up to Shonda Rhimes-level of dramatic storytelling and character development. But it's at the head of the table in engaging debate on race and feminism. So take a seat at this compelling TV show dinner party. And be prepared to be served some delicious hunks of man meat.
Watch the first two seasons on Netflix. The third season airs tonight on BET at 9 p.m. So I don't give you any spoilers, here's the trailer for the first season: