Reviews

Half and Half

Bernadette Adams Davis

Dealing with complicated familial history, rather than relying on man-chasing for every plot, will set Half and Half apart.


Half and Half

Airtime: Mondays, 9:30pm ET
Cast: Rachel True, Essence Atkins, Telma Hopkins, Valarie Pettiford, Chico Benymon, Obba Babatunde
Network: UPN
Creator: Yvette Lee Bowser
Amazon

Right away, Phyllis (Telma Hopkins) makes it clear which sister got the raw deal in UPN's new sitcom, Half and Half. According to her, it was Mona, her daughter. Phyllis' ex, Charles, is now married to Big Dee Dee and they have a daughter, also named Dee Dee. As Phyllis puts it, while Mona was "growing up in the city, riding the bus... princess Dee Dee spent the summers in the country riding her pony."

So that's the setup: two half-sisters who are raised in different economic circumstances, but now live in the same San Francisco apartment building. Charles promised the upstairs apartment to both daughters. He owns several rental properties and is caught in the middle as the young women and their mothers -- who have more than 20 years of beef -- fight about the space. A coin toss resolves the dispute and everyone races up to see the prize, which, amazingly, neither daughter had seen. Mona, the coin toss winner, learns that she's giving up her downstairs apartment for a tiny space with sloped ceilings. Getting stuck with the attic apartment is just one more slight in a lifetime of coming in second to Dee Dee. "Ever since the little princess was born, I've been treated like a raggedy, one-eyed doll you shove in the back of a dusty old drawer, or stinky old attic."

Half and Half is superficially the meeting of two opposites, a sort of familial Odd Couple. The pilot mostly sticks to the surface story of unfamiliar siblings in close quarters. The backstory, however, is what gives this light comedy the potential for meatier fare. More than being raised apart, the sisters were raised in different economic environments. Mona, an African American alternachick of the sort we haven't seen since Denise and Freddie from A Different World, grew up with her mother, the first wife. Dee Dee is the child of Charles' second marriage and the greater beneficiary of his financial success. Shrieking and frail, she is a BAP (Black American Princess), the product of private schools, cotillions, and summers in the country.

This class dichotomy is only the ground for more complications. Both women are college graduates and can afford, whether through their father's largesse or their own income, to live in the same apartment building. So, the difference is more upper middle class versus lower middle class than rich versus poor. That distinction matters, because it is one more primetime representation of the black middle class and African American diversity. Showcasing the black middle class is something executive producer Yvette Lee Bowser has done before with Living Single, which featured four black women, and For Your Love, an integrated comedy.

Another UPN comedy, Girlfriends, is the standout among current shows featuring black women. While UPN's The Parkers, which focuses on a single mother and her young adult daughter, relies on stereotypes about man-crazed, overweight, working class black women, Girlfriends and Half and Half get laughs with characters who are middle class, educated and ambitious. A Different World, Living Single, and For Your Love gave viewers similar characters, before their cancellations, and UPN is the only network even making an effort to fill the void.

However, in the Half and Half premiere, the writers tiptoe around the class and culture issues Mona and Dee Dee face. Instead of interrogating the sisters' class and cultural differences, the episode focuses on their reunion and subsequent misunderstanding over a man. Mona, in reluctant response to Dee Dee's cries for help, calls an exterminator to take care of the spiders in her old apartment. Even though he hasn't chosen the sexiest profession, the pest control guy is a hottie. Mona bonds with the bug man during an "amazing call," but when he arrives, he assumes Dee Dee made the call. It is her apartment, after all. And she thinks Mona was simply doing her a favor by taking charge of the situation.

Luckily for Mona, Dee Dee's date with the bug man is a bust. Once Mona confesses that she wants the exterminator for herself, Dee Dee hooks her up. The two go out, it goes great and Mona goes to Dee Dee's apartment to share the details. The scene helps soften Dee Dee's annoying, and seemingly fake, excitement about the new living situation. Mona thanks her sister and asks her why she helped her. "I did it because you're my sister," says Dee Dee, confirming what she said earlier: "I've always had the dream that someday we'd live together and help each other and be like real sisters."

Mona doesn't share the love. Her dream, she admits, was that a big bird would "dump you in the sea and then me and my mother would move back in with my father and be happy forever." The fact that Mona is still pained by being second to Dee Dee and doesn't share her yearning for a closer relationship hints at the harsher history the women share: namely, the who, what, when, where and whys of Charles and Phyllis' divorce.

Phyllis claims that she and Charles were still married when he met Big Dee Dee and that the second wife was a home-wrecker. When she and Charles were on a flight to Acapulco, Phyllis says, "That bitch comes rolling down the aisle... and let's just say the friendly skies never been so damn friendly." Charles and Big Dee Dee aren't around to refute that story, but the show does give at least one other clue. Dee Dee has just finished college, so she's probably around 22 years old. Mona's parents, as she says in the opening scene, have been divorced for 22 years. If a shotgun was the "something old" at Charles' wedding, the girls and their mamas will be in for more drama as they hang out at the sisters' apartments. Dealing with such a history, rather than relying on man-chasing for every plot, will set Half and Half apart.

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