The producers of Atlanta-based “Single Ladies” were clearly caught off guard when their biggest star Stacey Dash quit after just one season. It was VH1’s first big scripted show and it had done well, averaging about 2 million viewers a week, resulting in a quick renewal.
Dash’s character Val had a major cliffhanger of a plotline involving her current squeeze, who caught her sleeping with her ex.
Dash had no plans to come back to tie up loose ends on that story.
So the second season starts a couple of weeks later. Humiliated by the mess she created, Val had left the country and the girls find out she is not coming back in the first episode I screened. The creator Stacy Littlejohn recognized that this could all be a bit of a stretch. She hopes the viewers will give the new girl Raquel, played by “All My Children” soap star Denise Vasi, a chance.
“You can’t let a monkey wrench stop the show,” said Littlejohn in an interview on set in March. She said after the news broke last September, she spent a day mourning the situation. “I then went into fix it/recovery mode. I had to create a new character. It was challenging. We had to really use our creative muscles.”
She ditched the “season one was just a dream” option. (Think “Dallas”!) “Nobody gets zapped by a UFO,” she added. “I had to create a rationale for her to leave. Sometimes you need to escape and not face things.” She also couldn’t fast-forward, say, a year. She had other storylines with LisaRaye McCoy and Charity Shea to deal with.
Raquel, the new girl, had to be different from Val. “Val was a hopeless romantic,” Littlejohn said. “I want to keep the romantic in there. Raquel isn’t as naive as Val. Raquel is more grounded. She believes in love. She’s been hurt. She gets it.”
She gave Raquel a history with Keisha, LisaRaye’s character. They grew up together but Raquel had been traveling a lot for work. Raquel came from a lot of money but doesn’t want to be defined by that. In fact, she’s not snooty at all but “super-relatable.” After quitting her high-powered job, she buys Val’s boutique. “We can’t get rid of the set!” Littlejohn said.”Some shows have a coffee shop or a restaurant. We have a beautiful boutique.”
Raquel is introduced in the first few minutes of the first episode at her engagement party. Things don’t go quite as planned.
Littlejohn acknowledges the pressures of replacing a character as big as Val. “It’s way more stress,” she said. “Val’s already an established character. There’s a little doubt as to whether the new one will work. There’s a lot riding on it. We’ve had a lot of rewrites.”
Vasi herself is not expressing fear. “What I fell in love with is how relatable the show is to my own life and my own girlfriends,” she said. “Women are going to relate to Raquel’s decision. That’s really what’s going to sell her. She is going through this moment of transition. She’s finding herself.”
Like the first season, there will be a fair share of Atlanta cameo appearances by the likes of Big Boi (in the first episode), T.I. (who doesn’t play himself) and Chilli of TLC (who does.) Queen Latifah, who produces the show, will appear in it as well. Rick Fox is back. “Project Runway” star Anthony Williams (the fashion designer for the show) will appear as well in an episode.
None of the other actors would talk specifically about Dash, who was rumored to be a difficult on set season one.
“We had a lot of problems,” said Shea, who plays April. “Regardless, I plead the fifth.”
She did add later, “She had some issues unrelated to the show spill over.” [Dash in a statement said she missed her family while shooting in Atlanta last year.]
You can read between the lines of Shea’s next thoughts:
“It’s a lot easier [this season.] Denise and I get along really really well. She just makes every day so much easier.”
Shea expected some backlash after Dash left. “People will get over it,” she said, “or stop watching. At the end of the day, we can only do the best we can do.”
Her character divorced after an affair with the mayor. She dropped A&R work for another career. So her life is a little more “Sex and the City.” More men, cooler dresses and the like.
McCoy said she remains friends with Dash. She figured any rumored rift between the two of them simply added publicity about the show. “Stacy came with her fan base. I came with mine. Collectively, we’re brands. We knew that. Now with her gone, it makes me the only brand. No way do I look at this as a one-person situation. It’s a three-piece ensemble. It’s about us, three friends and our dating lives.”
She echoed Shea by saying “the camaraderie on the set is calm.” [McCoy's reality show on TV One is on hold. "Single Ladies" is taking up too much time. And she is still in the midst of a divorce Michael Misick, a former Premier of the Turks and Caicos Island. "I didn't go into the marriage right. I wasn't in love for better worse. It went from fairy tale to nightmare."]
Her character at the end of season one is reeling when she finds out her boyfriend Malcolm, who she truly loves, is on the run from the FBI and is with his ex wife. “It brings back all my insecurities about him,” she said. Keisha also has an ex boyfriend pop up this season to add levels of complication.
“I absolutely love the Malcolm/Keisha dynamic,” said D.B. Woodside, who plays Malcolm. “The two are perfect for each other but they both have trust issues. They love hard. They fight hard.” He compares it to Mr. Big and Carrie from “Sex and the City.”
Indeed, for better or worse, the ghost of “Sex and the City” hovers over “Single Ladies.” But that’s not the worst specter to have around, eh?
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk