On Being Mary Jane And Making The Leap Towards Greatness » VSB

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On Being Mary Jane And Making The Leap Towards Greatness

I remember when Being Mary Jane first hit the BET lineup. I didn’t love the show, but I also didn’t dislike it. I largely watched the show because of Black Twitter and the tremendous shade tossed the way of Pauletta Patterson aka Mary Jane Paul. Mary Jane was one of those women who never saw a bad decision regarding a man that she didn’t like and that makes for great arm-chair quarterbacking on Twitter. This culminated in my creating a drinking game to coincide with the first season’s finale that was guaranteed to ensure that you were drunk by show’s end. The game? You had to take a shot at every questionable decision of Mary Jane Paul. I couldn’t see straight when the show was over.

But the thing is, many, many women could relate to her. At one point, BET requested for women to tweet that they were Mary Jane. I thought it to be an absurd request because Mary Jane seemed to be written to be the most insufferable, hapless woman ever. Yet and still, many women felt a kinship with her; turns out I know nothing about women.

When the second season rolled around, I watched it with less enthusiasm – mostly because I lost the mojo to livetweet the show, the same way I’ve done with Scandal which without Twitter apparently doesn’t tickle my fancy at all – but I still paid attention. I kept up with the various storylines at arm’s length but I couldn’t really sit down with a bunch of Being Mary Jane fans and debate the finer points of season 2.

To that end, I didn’t even realize season 3 was on the horizon. I happened to be watching some other wizard ratchetry and saw an advertisment for the season 3 premier in a few days. I had nothing better to do at 9pm on that particular Tuesday so I turned to BET for the 2-hour premier. No need to rehash all of the shenangians, but a run through of Facebook, Twitter, and IG will let you know that everybody and their mama was watching and saw the speech her brother gave her about brothas who grow up with a silver spoon and what they expect from women (those men suck, effectively). I feel like the writers were looking to achieve two things: 1) they wanted to hear a collective high-five of Black Women Across America along with some, “uh hHow unh! They sure are terrible!”; and 2) they wanted it go viral. I’m sure it did both.

Also, Loretta Devine came through and Loretta Devine’d by stealing all of her scenes and dropping some much needed truth about taking what’s yours and not getting taken advantage just for being the little guy. It was basically MESSAGE! all up and through those two episodes. Which was great because I enjoyed them. I said to myself that I’d take back up watching the show.

And then I promptly forgot about it. This past Tuesday, I happened to be getting ready for bed when I realized it was Tuesday and couldn’t remember if anything interesting came on. I lightbulbed at, “Oh, wait…Tuesday night is Being Mary Jane…right? Does it come on at 9 or 10pm? Yo no se.” I turned to BET and it was about to start. It was kismetically serendipitous, which would be the next “complex simplicity” if public education in this country was better.

Maaaaaaaaaaaan listen. That episode was so real from start to finish. The opening scene featuring Mary Jane’s best friend, Lisa as she effectively winds down to her suicide with dinner, bath, and getting comfortable as she downs pills and wine was so scarily powerful that I felt actual pain and dread watching it. It hurt. I think most of us think of suicide in the abstract. We know somebody killed themselves, but something about watching her tick down her own last moments was difficult.

The fact that they didn’t include music made it that much more dramatic. I was truly saddened, especially in light of why she did it. It was the culmination of the loneliness, isolation, and pain that she’d endured through her life and more recently between her and Mary Jane because of David. She’d gotten to the point where she couldn’t go back and couldn’t move forward. She was a woman with everything and nothing at all. That hurt.

The rest of the episode was masterfully written as Mary Jane had to deal with her own issues: her best friend killed herself, but she was also angry at her, so the conflict of emotions was on display. Watching Mary Jane scroll through the missed calls from Lisa – presumably as she grasped for hope for life, before she stopped calling Mary Jane and eventually called herself home –  and visibly sift through the emotions of watching the timeline of a person’s demise, was compelling.

Mary Jane’s dressing down of David and then going full MJ on the eulogy by exposing a dark truth that no doubt contributed to Lisa’s demise, amongst the isolation she lived in from people she cared for most, including Mary Jane, all played perfectly. Even the Sam Cooke song playing during the service fit almost too well. I can’t lie, I was moved to tears. The point I’m making here is this: the folks who write, produce, and direct Mary Jane have hit a new gear and are taking no prisoners. The last episode could stand on its own as an exercise in how to handle a show with that many emotions packed into it. It was flawless. It was moving. It was compelling television. It was the moment, to me, where I feel like Being Mary Jane decided to go for it. They decided to take their show to a new level. It’s not just a show that’s good for BET. It’s a good show period. These folks want to be taken seriously.

They made an already good show one that looks like they’re hoping for some recognition.

Being Mary Jane is mostly a show for women. Of course men watch it too, but it’s a show about a woman’s struggle through life and love and the pitfalls that come with having all of the professional success (though its not without struggle), a financially upwardly mobile, but low relationship success life. She’s the representative of so many women out here today who have it all except the family they want so badly, sometimes their fault, other times through no fault of their own. Mary Jane is living a truth that represents so many conversations had via Facebook and blogs. She’s not every woman obviously, nor does the show purport her to be, but she’s a woman that many can see themselves in. She’s also one who I now want to win. Life is hard for everybody, but man, she’s had a tragic run so far this season.

But more importantly, the powers that be behind the show are coming for necks. I want her to win, and they want my eyes. If they keep it up like that, well, they got them.

I’m not Mary Jane or nothing, but I’m definitely on board for the ride.

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is pretty fly (and gorgeous) for a light guy. He used to ship his frito to Tito in the District, but shipping prices increased so he moved there to save money. He refuses to eat cocaine chicken. When he's not saving humanity with his words or making music with his mouth, you can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking her fine liquors. Most importantly, he believes the children are our future. You can hit him on his hitter at panamadjackson@gmail.com.

  • Ari

    I firmly believe that BMJ is one of the most well-written, in-depth, multi-dimensional character-driven shows on television, and I have believed this for quite some time now. However, I also understand how many find it boring or find themselves disinterested in the weekly story lines. The show often times requires the viewer to lean in and pay close attention, and I find that most early viewers/likers can closely relate to the main character. Glad to hear your analysis. BET has quite a gem of a show – I sure hope they give Mara Brock-Akil their very best.

    • BMJ is a gem of a show and obviously BET didn’t want to extend the contract of Akil productions – they are taking their talents to Warner Bros Studios as of May 2016. Mara will be a consultant for the show… YIKES

      http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/salim-and-mara-brock-akil-are-exiting-bet-and-setting-up-shop-at-warner-bros-20150805

      • Ari

        See I read about this some time ago, but since Season 3 aired on BET again, I concluded that they had come to some sort of compromise. Sadly I am not surprised, as this seems to encompass a larger and long-term problem with the network as it relates to its programming decisions.

        • QuirlyGirly

          BET has has a hit on its hands. That network always seems to throw away good shows or pick up good ones and kill them.

          • dmcmillian72

            “…or pick up good ones and kill them.”

            Yes… Enter, “The Game”! #SMDH

        • JamesInstagram

          BTW, love the avatar. It’s like Nola Darling has something profound to say, perpetually.

          • Ari

            Thank you.:)

        • Janelle Doe

          Maybe it can be picked up by Netflix or OWN (*she hopes)

      • CLenPi

        I heard that it wasn’t a bad blood situation with BET, Mara and her husband just want to move on. Hopefully, they left the show in good hands. From the looks of these first few episodes, it is on a great track.

    • whaaaaaaaaaaaat

      • Ari

        I find that this show is very divisive – either you think it is an amazing show or you liken it to the caliber of Empire (my S/O). I sit in the former category. :)

        • BlueWave1

          For the record, BMJ is way better than Empire. It is one thing to have an occasionally rushed plot. Its totally another to have no plot at all.

  • uNk

    Hmm…I tried watching this with a woman friend one time. After numerous “Bruh” and “Look how yall do us” I decided to not partake. Maybe ill try to get back into it and watch it by myself.

  • Damn I’ve gotta check in on that…Hulu? I usually just wait for it to end up on Netflix…but you’ve piqued my interest in keeping up in real timee.

    • TeeChantel

      Me too. I’ll need to check for it on Hulu.

    • Kema

      Right! I will now have to look.

  • [Insert Creative Name Here]

    I really wasn’t into the last episode. I think for me, taken in a vacuum, it was great. Buuuut, it followed two episodes of a damn good performance by Ms. Loretta Devine. She played that part! I don’t know if BMJ is Emmy-eligible but Loretta should be nominated for Outstanding Guest Performance. My appetite had been whet and I was a bit disappointed by the suicide episode. But I like BMJ. Partially because I like Gabby Union- my family tells me that she reminds them of me (I take it as a compliment whether they mean it that way or not).

    • panamajackson

      Why were you disappointed exactly? You said it was great, but it seems like you only didn’t like it b/c it didn’t include Loretta DeVine.

      • [Insert Creative Name Here]

        That’s certainly part of it. I wanted more. But besides that it seemed a little too melodramatic to me. And I was tired of Mary Jane going in on David.

        • QuirlyGirly

          YES!! I am tired of her going off on David too. I am so ready for him to put some bass in his voice and tell her some hard truths too. Things are never one sided.

          • ShayBryson

            Agreed, but what her brother said about David is true. MJ doesn’t make it easy for him though. And where is that fiancé of his that is pregnant with his kid? When did Lisa give him head, she was friends with him before MJ so I would like to know when that happened?

            • QuirlyGirly

              Yes @your first two sentences. I totally agree but at some point he has to get tired of her constantly dumping her “I’m not happily married with kids because of your actions.” at his doorstep. I think she needs to see a therapist.

              I was wondering what happened to her too. The last thing I remember was old girl went to Europe to do a photo shoot and her ex was going to be there too. After that..that chick fell off the radar.

              To my understanding, Lisa gave him head when MJ and David was on a “break”. LOL

  • Jennifer

    Read your review in the Root last week and loved it. I still haven’t finished season 2, but I skipped ahead and watched the current episodes because of the excitement I’ve been hearing from my friends. Haven’t been disappointed AT ALL.

    I don’t know if this show would have made it for this long if it weren’t for BET. But, I think that if it were on another cable network this season, Gabrielle Union would be in those award consideration convos with Taraji P. and Viola. She is acting her face off.

  • Adara

    Perfectly stated. I cried the moment Lisa took her last breath and throughout the episode as I watched MJ go through the motions of planning her best friend’s funeral, dealing with her own pain and coming to terms with her death. Lisa’s death scene was just all to real and I honestly believe all to necessary. We so seldom see black women depicted as the type to commit such an act but we suffer from depression just like any other race. Happy they dealt with this issue head-on and brought a topic that is typical brushed under the rug to the light.

    • Janelle Doe

      You writing this reminded me of why I enjoy all the “black” shows. Scandal did a great job with that dad that had a lawn chair over his son and the multiple perspectives of the protesters and HTGAWM continues to illuminate the layers of black women’s lives through Viola. I am all for these shows that show our multiple dimensions. It would be nice to see Grey’s anatomy explore that narrative about black bodies and perceptions of whether or not (and how much) we feel pain … or misunderstood mental illness and what that means for our criminalization

      • Adara

        I cried at that episode of Scandal as well. Once again, brining something that we are far too often dealing with to light. I applaud Shonda for using her popular, powerful, widespread platform for something that resonates with so deeply with people of color. I hope in the future she too continues to bring more of our many layers to the light. BMJ has become the catalyst to a lot of necessary conversations that may not have happened had it not been portrayed on national television. We needed this and we need more of this.

  • Val

    I’m angry with you, PJ, for making me want to watch BET.

    • panamajackson

      Don’t blame me! I’m as surprised as you are.

    • I didn’t get hip until halfway through the first season. I love the show and Gabbi does a beautiful job of portraying Mary Jane

  • Jennifer

    Can I also say how glad I am Gabrielle has graduated from the tired “siddity black woman who learns how to keep it real from the love of a blue-collar black man” archetype? BMJ has proven her depth as an actress. I’m glad she’s gotten the opportunity to shine. As annoying as “love to hate” characters can be for an audience, it takes a good actor make those roles so love/hateable.

    • ShayBryson

      See Gabby is the part of the show that keeps it from being as great as it has the potential to be in my opinion. I agree with PJ’s critic of last week’s episode and this season thus far, I do believe they have stepped it up and their are some award worthy performances going on. But MJ is just not likeable to me. I understand what she is suppose to represent, but I don’t think Gabby has the chops to create her as a love/hateable character, I only dislike her. MJ just comes off as a bish most of the time. Gabby has admitted in the past that her ability to emote in character is limited, and this may have to do with things that have happened to her in her own life. I keep waiting for growth on MJ’s part, and here we are three seasons in and I don’t see her really growing (though I will see what happens this season). I watch the show for the other characters at this point.

      • Ari

        “But MJ is just not likeable to me. I understand what she is suppose to represent, but I don’t think Gabby has the chops to create her as a love/hateable character, I only dislike her. MJ just comes off as a bish most of the time.”

        This is the problem my S/O has with her, hence why he can’t sit through episodes with me. This was also mentioned on this blog a couple of years ago when the show first aired. However, I think those same reasons/characteristics are what make the show great and her character so believable. Mara wrote Gabby’s personality traits into MJ’s character’s make-up and profile.

        • ShayBryson

          For Gabby’s sake, I hope she is more likeable than MJ!lol I think she needs to be softened up a bit, MJ that is. And its ok for her to make good decisions sometimes, like how she delivered her speech at Lisa’s funeral, I thought that was well done.

          • QuirlyGirly

            Yes, MJ did give a great eulogy. She had to tell Lisa’s story because Lisa couldn’t tell it. Also you can see that MJ needed to say it to come to terms with her best friend killing herself.

      • BlueWave1

        “I watch the show for the other characters at this point.”


        I honestly think the other characters make the show. You are right that after two season Mary Jane’s character has had little to no growth. It is still a very good show though.

      • S Emm

        I said this to someone the other day. MJ comes off as cold and unable to deal with anyone else’s emotions. She also comes off super selfish. Even in her last argument with Lisa. I don’t care how mad a friend makes you, certain things you can’t “unsay”. And even after Lisa’s death I felt MJ somehow made it all about her and her feelings. I was annoyed almost the entire time she planned Lisa’s funeral.

        But that episode was a little TOO real for me. Having known someone who committed suicide it bothered me for days.

        • ShayBryson

          Yes she has said some effed up ish to Lisa even before she knew about the David incident. That time she went to her house to check on her and went in by basically telling Lisa she is sorry that she is everything Lisa wishes she was, I was like dayum that’s what u say to ur suicidal friend?!??

          • sharitaatx

            I thought she was extra harsh with Lisa to be as pious as she was at the funeral. I mean you know the girl has mental issues and was kinda of envious of your life. She didn’t have to do her like that. I feel like the show skirted the issue that MJ and that last argument is was sealed the deal for a person who was already struggling with mental health. The mom mentioned it but it was easily struck down.

            • ShayBryson

              I think that is why she snapped on David when he said it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her fault, but MJ has gone in on Lisa on more than one occasion and I found that odd considering she knew how fragile Lisa was, she dogged the girl in her own house! I understand it must have been difficult being friends with someone that had as much baggage as Lisa, but there are better ways of dealing with the person.

              • sharitaatx

                Right it was not her fault yet she def wen it too hard about something she was even clear about. She went for the jugular with Lisa but it took that statement for her to go off on David?! And when she did go off it wasn’t a the level/tone she took with Lisa.

                • Jennifer

                  But, I think that was realistic and totally in character for MJ. She takes care of everyone in her life and resents them at the same time. Some people don’t know how to deal with loved ones who are struggling with mental illness. She loved Lisa, but grew sick of the baggage involved–and when that included David, her F***s to give dried out. Her self-righteous tendencies are what “saved” her during the funeral prep. Instead of concentrating on the end of her relationship with her friend, she could keep herself busy with the drama around Lisa’s parents and dressing down David.

      • SimplePseudonym

        I don’t think that MJ is supposed to be a character that viewers like. Or- at least- I hope she isn’t supposed to be liked. If she is supposed to be liked and it’s working, then we’re in trouble.

        I watch the show for Gabrielle Union’s outfits- no lie. And the sexy black men in season 1. The biggest turn off for me is the fact that the “black people stereotypes” scenes often go off the deep end and into Tyler Perry territory.

        P.S. Are we ever going to address those times when her brother was snoring cocaine in his momma’s house?

        • ShayBryson

          Likeable in the sense that ppl connect with her because they relate to her.

          • Jennifer

            Meh. I didn’t relate to Walter White (wanted/wished for him to die), Tony Soprano, or Don Draper (wanted him to leave his family be or die), but their stories were compelling.

      • Crystal

        You’re too kind. I’m not. Gabby can’t act.

    • JamesInstagram

      I am sooo glad you compared Mary Jane Paul to Don Draper. I see the similarities as well.

  • mssporadic

    BMJ has always indicated it was more than just a show about MJ and her bad relationship choices. This episode really proved that. I really hurt for Lisa, and hoped she could move past MJ and David. I loved the way they tacked suicide and the stereotypes we have about it.

  • TeeChantel

    I can’t read your article yet, Panama. I’s sorry. I need to catch up on BMJ.

    • I stay playing myself on posts like these. I still haven’t started this season, yet here I am. I stopped reading after the third paragraph and somehow still ventured into the comments section.

      Because I like living dangerously, apparently.

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