Television comedies starring female adolescents sooner or later address an underlying sexual tension. Will she have sex? Or will she have the wisdom and strength to resist her Romeo?
These are some of the questions raised in "Moesha," featuring 16-year-old pop music star Brandy Norwood and airing tonight at 8 on Channel 20. Fortunately, executive producer Ralph Farquhar's approach to this subject is not tired, melodramatic or too silly. The same assessment can be made of the series in general, now in its third week.
The viewer knows more than Moesha's father (William Allen Young), a car salesman who worries that his daughter might turn stark boy-crazy like her friend Kim. He gets nervous when he sees Moesha talking quietly with a boy, then flips after reading in her diary that she has been secretly walking in the park with a boy.
But we know that, for the moment at least, Moesha is too through with her flame, Ohagi (Merlin Santana), who has "dogged" Moesha by cheating with another girl. Ohagi tries to make up with a birthday present, but in a harsh put-down, Moesha spurns him and his "cheap gift, weak rap and fake African name."
With unremarkable story lines such as this, Farquhar and his team fortunately have a few things going for them in making the show engaging and funny.
One is that the writers manage to approximate the way that people actually speak. "Moesha" is not marred by the embarrassing racial assumptions, cliches and gestures that make other sitcoms parodies of themselves. (In three weeks, no woman has put her hands on her hips, rolled her eyes and said, "Girrrlll. . .").
Perhaps TV has an easier time achieving a certain realness in language, dress and demeanor when depicting teenagers. "Moesha" certainly has a handle on black pop culture references: A party scene recalls a recent Dr. Dre video, and at one point, Moesha tells Ohagi that he'd better "roll up on out of" her birthday party. Characters refer to a boy who wears his pants half off his behind, bad acting on "The Wayans Bros." television show and even the platinum-selling Brandy herself. We are comfortable with this as an accurate snapshot of young black America.
Farquhar, who won critical praise for his short-lived Fox sitcom "South-Central," has created a family for Moesha that doesn't feel like 10 other TV families. Moesha's father has the right combination of modern fatherly sensitivity with old-fashioned fatherly law and order and is not a buffoon. Her schoolteacher stepmother, Dee (Sheryl Lee Ralph), is not evil, easily trampled or an airhead. Little brother Myles is a smart aleck without being annoyingly so.
Finally, the show has Brandy, who plays her hip, smart and opinionated character with seeming ease; she represents a step forward in the way black teenage girls are presented on TV. (Remember the sulking Dee and Big Shirley on "What's Happening!!" or the brooding, weird character played by Lisa Bonet on "The Cosby Show"?)
"Moesha" spends much of its time in places where its young characters spend their time -- hanging out with friends at school or the Den, a neighborhood restaurant. There are also snippets of "real life," like a woman helping a child cross the street, that are unconnected to story lines and used to reintroduce the show after commercial breaks. These snippets, along with the Mitchells' lifestyle -- which is neither Huxtable upper-middle class nor "Good Times" poor -- serves as a real portrait of people who live in south-central Los Angeles, which contains solid working-middle class neighborhoods such as Leimert Park, where the show is set.
CAPTION: Clockwise from center: Brandy Norwood, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Lamont Bentley, Yvette Wilson, Marcus T. Paulk, Countess Vaughn and William Allen Young.