Over the past five years, Tyler Perry’s TV output, with TBS’s “Meet the Browns” and “House of Payne,” has been traditional three-camera sitcom slapstick with a laugh track, a set-up that goes back six decades to “I Love Lucy.”
With “House of Payne” nearing retirement, the Atlanta mogul is effectively replacing it with “For Better or Worse,” a relationships dramedy which uses one camera and nixes the laugh track. Topically and somewhat stylistically, it’s closer to shows such as “The Game” and “Let’s Stay Together” on BET than “House of Payne” or “Meet the Browns.”
But like his first two television shows, he mines characters made popular in his films. One of the three couples on “For Better or Worse” is from the “Why Did I Get Married?” movies: loud, opinionated Angela (Tasha Smith) and feisty but loving Michael (Michael Jai White). Angela is the owner of a successful beauty salon married to Michael, a former pro football player who has started a new sports program called “C-Sports Now” with Richard (Kent Faulcon) and Joseph (Jason Olive).
The twist: Joseph is dating Keisha, Michael’s ex-girlfriend and mother of his teen daughter (Kiki Haynes). Richard’s wife Leslie (Crystle Stewart) is Angela’s best friend. In the first episode debuting tonight, Angela and Keisha have it out, cat-fight style.
TBS has committed to ten episodes upfront. If it does well, the network will pick up another 90. That’s the Tyler Perry formula.
I talked briefly with Smith and White at a recent Q&A session at the Museum Bar in Atlanta:
White’s take of Atlanta: “It’s like a second home. I love the culture. Just a place I’m very proud of. I feel very comfortable here. I love the fact youngsters say, ‘Yes m’aam, No m’aam.’ People treat each other very brotherly. There are real neighborhoods here. In L.A., it’s hard-pressed to find a neighborhood.”
How Smith met Perry: “I met Tyler through Tyra Banks. She had basically suggested to him to hire me for ‘Daddy’s Little Girls.’ The rest is history.”
Smith and White have a past. “We used to date years ago,” Smith said, long before they were acting together in Perry films. It was a few months around 1996. White recalls Smith getting stronger in her religion at the time. “I can’t compete with Jesus,” White cracked. “Let you and Jesus have your love affair. Holla at me later!” More seriously, he said, “I commended her for that. She came out this person that she is now.” They’ve since stayed friends.
Perry had no idea about their romantic past when he paired them together in “Why Did I Get Married?” “He felt like he hit the jackpot,” Smith said. “Wow, I’m intuitive!”
Smith’s wailing “Marcus! Marcus!” remains on the TV show from the film. “I am sick of saying it,” Smith said. “Sometimes I say it in my sleep. My husband says, ‘You have to chill out with this!’ ”
As they await the fate of the show, Smith is busy with a fragrance line while White has done several films including “El Gringo,” “The Philly Kid” and “Freaky Deaky.”
RATINGS UPDATE: The show drew 3.4 million viewers, a very respectable opening on a Friday night.
“Tyler Perry’s For Better or Worse,” TBS, Fridays, 10 p.m. starting Nov. 25
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk