By Olu Alemoru, Staff Writer
Having debuted and then been renewed on TBS, one hoped that Tyler Perry’s sitcom “For Better or Worse” had been given a severe creative shot in the arm now that it is part of the Oprah Winfrey Network.
But at the risk of offending its sizeable fan base, I won’t be holding my breath, having caught the sneak peak of the third season premiere, which airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET.
The promotional spot was part of a cast lunch with local entertainment reporters on Sept. 11, which took place at OWN’s offices in the Miracle Mile District. A surprise entrance by Winfrey had the assembled press scrambling for their iPhones and iPads.
Based on Perry’s “Why Did I Get Married?”, which chronicled an ensemble of four upwardly mobile couples on their annual retreat, “For Better For Worse” centers on bickering twosome, ex-football pro turned entrepreneur sportscaster Marcus (Michael Jai White) and successful salon owner Angela Williams (Tasha Smith).
Meanwhile, love and friendship entanglements ensue with Marcus’ partners, Richard Ellington (Kent Faulcon) and Joseph Jetson (Jason Olive). The former is married to Marcus’ ex-wife and mother to his 15-year-old daughter, Keisha (Kiki Haynes), and Jetson’s ex-girlfriend, Leslie Norris (Crystle Stewart, Miss USA 2008) is Angela’s best friend. The off-color gags are usually provided by Angela’s childhood friend Jennifer (stand up comedian Cocoa Brown). Below are highlights of the cast responding to being part of Winfrey’s media empire, the positive image of the show and what fans can expect for the new season.
What’s it like being part of OWN?
Tasha Smith: We couldn’t be more excited. It was great being on TBS, but we have nothing but high expectations being here. We have faith and belief that the same people who loved the show before are going to continue to love the show and also that we’ll gain a whole new audience. We’re grateful for the opportunity for Oprah to believe in us and to be a part of this fantastic network.
Kent Faulcon: We should collaborate more and follow Oprah and Tyler’s example of coming together to create something. That falls in line in what Tyler tries to do with this show. When have you seen three Black men own something on TV?
The sitcom is set among the wealthy set in Atlanta; why is that important?
Michael Jai White: I think it’s just responsible to show the world as it is. I don’t think what we’re representing is at all strange, it [happens] all over the country. It’s just that when others control our images, you see only one type. I think that it’s quite strange that you have an African-American president, but you have no shows that represent the people that he would know or went to school with. It’s weird, it’s like we’re hiding in plain sight.
Kiki Haynes: The show is filmed at Mr. Perry’s studios in Atlanta and I have spent more time there in the last three years than ever before. I can say whenever I’m there I feel like a baller because of the lifestyle down there; beautiful mansions and luxury cars, people own businesses and their homes.
Tasha Smith: I feel it’s important for us to put positive images on screen that our daughters and granddaughters to come will be inspired by. That they can dream and achieve, no matter what obstacles are in front of them. It’s important for us to stay smart, vibrant, relevant, political and spiritual if we need be.
What can we expect in the new season?
Michael Jai White: I think you’ll see a very evolved season. I think our comedy goes into the abstract sometimes; it’s as layered as the characters we are portraying. Tyler’s just amazing in summing people up and writing for them. As he’s gotten to learn his actors, he can work off different layers of their own sensibilities. I’m really proud of the season. I think it really stretches into other aspects.
Tasha Smith: In the first season, it was focused on Marcus and Angela, based on the spinoff “Why Did I Get Married?” But, like Michael said, at this point [Tyler's] learned his characters; he’s writing more for the others and creating more of an ensemble show. You’re gonna see a lot of amazing things with Keke and Richard. It gets messy; you’re gonna think Tyler needs medication.
Cocoa Brown: I think you’ll see a truly organic experience because Tyler gives us that freedom to take the character and embrace and define it. He allows us to bring the character to life as we see fit. In the very first season he told me, ‘Cocoa, I trust you’re funny, do what you do.’ That allowed me to be myself and not feel inhibited in any way. That’s the kind of freedom you don’t get on many sets.
ennifer (Cocoa Brown), left, and Angela (Tasha Smith) comfort Leslie (Crystle Stewart) at the hospital in the third season premiere of ‘For Better or Worse.’ Photo by Charles Bergman