Every once in a while, I get my hands on a mini-pass at the Sundance Film Festival. It is nothing like the fancy passes that get the rich and powerful into swag houses to pick up free Uggs, but it does let me walk into films without having to pick up tickets first. I then feel obliged to see as many films as possible to justify having the darn pass, which explains how I ended up seeing a little film a couple of years ago called Somebodies. The program description was typical Sundance–“Surrounded by eccentric relatives, prankster classmates, and more-or-less rehabilitated ex-cons, a black college student stumbles along the path to responsible adulthood.” That may as well be gay cowboys eating pudding, but it fit into my schedule. What I actually found was a warm, funny movie about a community most films and TV shows don’t bother showing us anymore. There were great characters but not much plot, and I remember thinking the idea would make a better TV show than a movie–after all, Friends never attempted any ambitious, overarching story, but we loved hanging out in Central Perk anyway.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who thought this, as Somebodies is now a half-hour comedy on BET. Last week’s pilot reintroduced Scottie (writer-creator Hadjii), an Athens college student who isn’t quite ready to leave the warm bosom of education for the real world. Trying out a bunch of different institutions–the church, the school, the black power movement–looking for something meaningful, he runs into characters who represent all kind of possiblities: the pastor, the activist, and the college counselor who doesn’t want Scottie to become the kind of man who sits on her couch and eats her groceries while waiting for his (non-existent) record contract to come through. Perhaps the only problem with this is that Scottie, genial as he is, isn’t quite as much fun as the people surrounding him.
The most interesting thing about Somebodies, though, is its explicit treatment of the ways young black people practice a form of bilingualism–biculturalism?–to make it in the world. The aforementioned counselor has no trouble falling into a melodic voice to order a salad “with a splash of tangerine” from a white subordinate just as she was about to drop the N-word on Scottie. The ex-girlfriend Scottie still hankers for assures him that all black people have a little “inner n-word” in them that pops out every once in a while (hers is the aforementioned Keisha). This discussion is a voice that just doesn’t exist in the television landscape today. Little wonder that the episode was directed by Rusty Cundieff, the man who not only directed Fear of a Black Hat but gave us the great TV Nation experiment trying to get Yaphet Kotto a cab (“If you’re anything like me, you’re a black man”) and was the last slaveholder in Mississippi, pointing out that the state didn’t ratify the Thirteenth Amendment until 1995. When a show can be that bold and this funny, we’ll be back for more. Catch it tonight on BET–Thursday first runs at 10:30 Eastern with reruns throughout the week.