BET Sitcom 'Somebodies,' Just So-and-So

By Teresa Wiltz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 9, 2008

"Somebodies," BET's first-ever original scripted program, has a lot riding on it. Unfortunately, it doesn't have a lot going for it.

The show, which debuts tonight, signals a radical shift in programming for a network long synonymous with rump-shaking, controversy-stirring music videos. For these new good intentions, we are thankful.

On the plus side, "Somebodies" travels terrain not trafficked in sitcom TV since "A Different World": the lives of black college students in the Dirty South, specifically, Athens -- home of the University of Georgia, R.E.M. and the B-52s. And it's got director Rusty Cundieff, who directed "Chappelle's Show" on Comedy Central and the hysterically funny 1994 mockumentary "Fear of a Black Hat." And it's got writer-star Hadjii, who has a way with the one-liner: If you don't finish school, he says, "the only kinda woman you gonna get is a YouTube woman who does freaky things to everybody." (Hadjii also will direct some episodes.)

But potential and good intentions, in this case, do not a funny show make. Which is too bad.

Early last year, BET -- led by its entertainment president, Hollywood veteran Reggie Hudlin ("House Party") -- announced an impressive lineup of scripted programming. The projects included not only "Somebodies" but "Wifey," a drama starring Queen Latifah; "BUFU," an animated sketch series directed by Orlando Jones; and "Hannibal," a series about the Carthaginian general, produced by Vin Diesel.

Based on Hadjii's 2006 indie film, which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, "Somebodies" was the first to make it out of the gate.

The show, though, never quite jells. It's done in by stilted performances, leaden pacing, sitcom cliches (straying wife stuffs lover in closet, narrowly escaping being found out!) and some rather unfortunate stereotyping. (White people are nasty! They like to share food!)

"Somebodies" takes the Seinfeldian approach to sitcom humor, taking an observation and stretching it out for comedic effect. As with "Seinfeld," everyone is driven by self-interest, greed and, in no small amount, hypocrisy.

Hadjii plays Scottie, a good-natured, church-going college student who appears to be on the 20-year plan. Or, as his uncle tells him, "You been in school since Jim Crow days." Scottie has four roommates who are also motivationally challenged; an Elaine-type ex, Diva, who's sometimes more than just a friend; and that nutty uncle, who makes out publicly with his younger white wife -- his "Snow Angel." Except that behind his back, Snow Angel hates Uncle with the heat of a thousand suns.

Scottie is ambling through life, reluctant to make a change in the status quo, perfectly happy to continue living the frat-boy style, until his uncle and Diva shame him into making a move. It isn't until he spots his new neighbors -- extremely flexible, scantily clad cuties who invite him over to watch porn -- that Scottie decides that maybe there's something to solo living. Except, of course, in a case of good ol' comedic bait-and-switch, the cuties move out, only to be replaced with the neighbors from hell -- neighbors for whom "boundaries" and "personal space" are a foreign concept.

At a time when BET could sorely use an original hit, "Somebodies," unfortunately, is a miss.

Somebodies premieres tonight at 10:30 on BET.

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