The Brothers of Summer
With the new tv show Undercovers premiering next month, starring the already oft-mentioned Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who I know best at Freema Agyeman’s (#1 on my ‘Wifey List’) sister on Dr. Who, and pretty-boy extraordinaire Boris Kodjoe, I thought I’d focus on what seems to be, in a good way, a proliferation of Black men on tv shows lately. Although these guys are supporting characters, they’re playing some pretty intense roles and putting forth some great comedic and dramatic performances. Though none of these are network shows like Undercovers, they are often better (and sometimes better performing) than those.
Coby Bell on BURN NOTICE
Coby Bell has been working non-stop for the past decade. First as a rookie cop on Third Watch, then as team captain & starting running back Jason Pitts on The Game and now as the first cast addition since the show started three years ago – and one of my Top 10 of the past few years – Burn Notice, as ex spy Jesse Porter who unintentionally got burned (discredited and dismissed out of the spy game) by the super-ex spy himself Michael Westen, show star Jeffrey Donovan. While I feel Bell showed a lot more range on the excellently written comedy The Game, he gets to do action along with smarts, much differently from his cop show days, on Burn Notice which could potentially open some doors for him. The first half of Season 4 just ended, but watch the reruns and look for Bell and Burn Notice to return early next year.
Aldis Hodge on LEVERAGE
Whereas other actors on this list get to flex more physical chops, Hodge is the resident computer hacker on Leverage, playing the orange soda guzzling Hardison. Although he plays a criminal, he’s somewhat reformed and half-way on the side of the angels on a team of con men helping people in serious need or retribution. A fun show in itself, unlike the rest of his cohorts who are straight-up thieves, hitters or grifters, Hodge it seems was only a criminal for fun and not (solely) for profit and so he gets to play a lighter and thankfully smarter side along show star, Oscar nominated Timothy Hutton. I’d personally love to get Aldis Hodge to play the star of the screenplay I’m working on as he has a charm that’s hard to match. He’s one to watch.
Quick Trivia: Hodge was actually cast in The Game as Derwin and appeared in the show it was conveniently spun-off from, Girlfriends, as that character but was replaced by Pooch Hall when the actual show went into production.
Larenz Tate & Daniel Sunjata on RESCUE ME
Both grossly underrated talents, both of these brothers have been in hit movies and as recognizable television talent for sometime now.
Tate is more recognizable in the African-American community in fan favorite movies such as the ‘ hood drama Menace II Society, family favorite The Inkwell, as Frankie Lymon in Why Do Fools Fall in Love and in, of course, Love Jones. Definitely a star of the 1990’s, he’s seemed to have issues getting good roles in the millennium having co-starred in some arguably okay movies as Biker Boyz (which I’m in the minority of truly enjoying) and A Man Apart (which most no one enjoyed). When Tate first appeared as Shawn in Rescue Me two seasons ago, as a guest star fireman from another ‘house’ that the crew wanted to join their house because he could help them win a basketball championship, I was excited to see the brother on screen again, especially in a show that’s one of my faves (I seem to have a lot of favorites, I know, but Rescue Me really is up there – at least it used to be). See, I’ve always felt a kinship toward Larenz Tate. We’re the same age and I remember seeing him guest appear on various shows as a child actor, finally getting his due at about 15-16 years of age in The Royal Family, which was poised as a hit for CBS – then star Redd Foxx died. Following that, he starred in South Central, FOX’s ‘experimental’ show about life in the hood of Los Angeles…and the show that turned Tate into a star. So seeing this young brother grow literally, and skill-wise, always made me proud. All the sycophancy aside, I’m kinda disappointed in what his character on Rescue Me has grown into. He used to have a lot of bravado (see: balls) but in the past season of the show he has gotten soft. Really soft. The crew has even resorted to calling him Black Shawn, since there was already another Shawn on the show, something that the character first presented to us NEVER would’ve put up with. I’m well aware characters and roles change along time, but this isn’t working for me.
Daniel Sunjata has been on the show since the beginning though. He plays Puerto Rican firefighter Franco Rivera, the lothario and definitely the smoothest of the crew. So why am I mentioning him on S&A? Well, I’ve got it on good authority that he recognizes himself as a brother, and this is from a trusted source. He can play race-ambiguous too, which I’m sure has landed him a lot of gigs when coming up. Sunjata’s Franco truly is a man whore, and he has a lot of fun with the role. Probably best recently known for co-starring in The Devil Wore Prada, but most notably to the S&A audience as Langston Hughes in Rodney Evans’ Brother To Brother and as homerun hitter Reggie Jackson in the mini-series The Bronx is Burning, he’s also appeared in The Feast of All Saints and as well as a recurring medical expert on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. As Franco, he’s gotten an opportunity to be more than a man whore, but a recurring theme of this show is people that put their lives on the line daily and have to live up to their vices to deal with that pain. It’s a show that when you look past the surface can get very deep, which is why I wish the writers would give Tate more to play off of. Maybe they will soon, though the show only has one more season to go. Rent the past few season on Netflix (or wherever) to see how Tate’s character has changed and how brilliantly Sunjata plays Franco.
Rescue Me has its season finale next Tuesday on FX at 10pm.
Omari Hardwick on DARK BLUE
Of all the shows listed I’m the most unfamiliar with this one (even I can’t watch every episode of everything) but I am familiar with Hardwick’s work as he’s been in a number of movies the past two years and he also appeared on a previous TNT show, SAVED, with Tom Everett Scott a few years back. He was the straight man to Scott’s goofy, irresponsible character on that show and gets to be a lot more mischievous as undercover detective Ty Curtis on DARK BLUE. Okay, I know being an undercover cop isn’t a ‘playful’ job, and this show isn’t a comedy or anything, but getting to play different characters while ‘on the job’ gives all the actors on the show a nice way to avoid the rut that many other ensemble cop shows run.
Hardwick has that leading man look that Boris Kodjoe, I suppose except the height and the light-skinned-ness, but doesn’t come off as having too much pretense to him. Whether that’s good or bad in Hollywood I can’t call but he’s a good actor so I hope it works for him.
Corey Reynolds and Robert Gossett on THE CLOSER
I think of all the dudes on this list that Corey Reynolds has the easiest to like character, Det. Sgt. David Gabriel, the non-official right-hand man of Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson (show star Kyra Sedgwick) on The Closer. Yes, another cop show, but not exactly as a procedural as other popular ones on the air and with a subtle amount of comic relief from a majority of the characters. Yet Sgt. Gabriel is the most straight-laced of the crew, yet not stodgy, and often offers the most sensible point of view. Reynolds brings a big brother feel to the character, but is by no means a spirit-less ‘asexual Black man’ as evidenced by his brief yet ultimately tragic relationship with former squad member Det. Irene Daniels, the extra-sexy Gina Ravera (Soul Food, Showgirls).
Robert Gossett on the other hand, as the egotistical and conniving Commander Taylor has great bite to him. Primarily a theater actor and cousin of, yes, Louis Gossett Jr., this Gossett has mostly been seen by the public-at-large in guest appearances on tv show roles before The Closer began yet hit the floor running with mechanizations of taking away Chief Johnson’s top spot from her. He’d make a terrific villain based on his performance on this show, yet lately, much like the show itself, he’s suffering from stagnation. The writers don’t know what to do with his character so he’s seen kind of bumbling about in the background with only three or five lines an episode. A real shame actually since a power struggle within the LAPD would provide a fascinating dynamic on the show.
The Closer airs Mondays at 9pm on TNT.
Lee Thompson Young on RIZZOLI & ISLES
Yes, okay, this is the LAST cop show that I’ll mention here; its funny how police and doctor shows still are television’s (and advertisers) most popular shows. This one, TNT’s stock in trade, focuses on women in law enforcement (see Amazing Grace and the aforementioned The Closer) with Lee Thompson Young playing the rookie member on the Homicide Squad. One of our writers asked months ago whatever happened to Young…well here he is.
Best known on the Disney show The Famous Jett Jackson, Young is all grown up (beard and all) as Detective Barry Frost and uses the most of the somewhat limited time he has on screen. The great thing about the show is that Young isn’t relegated to the background and is relied upon for his alternate observations (TNT shows actually do a good job overall on utilizing all of their characters). He really does still have a star quality to him and it’d be good for someone to make even better use of his talent…maybe on the silver screen?
Jahmil French on DEGRASSI: THE NEXT GENERATION
And speaking of teen shows, here’s one of the most popular ones – still running after ten years on the air and more cast changes than Law & Order. Yes, I do watch Degrassi, I admit it, I’ve been a fan since its previous incarnations in the late 80’s, Degrassi Junior High & Degrassi High. Two of the young ladies that recently starred on the show, Shanae Grimes and Nina Dobrev, have graduated as the leads to CW shows 90210 and the The Vampire Dairies, respectively, and hip-hop star Drake (real name Aubrey Graham) is an alum as well. Since I ended my cable service years ago, I fell off of this show until recently and they actually have some great new talent on it.
The stand-out, in my opinion, is Jahmil French as the wise-cracking, quick to impress others Dave. With a cool demeanor and good character development into confident young man, his character has become one of the show’s recent leaders. Check out Degrassi on Teen Nick and look out for this young actor. The summer season ends this week (today I believe) but it replays a lot, so check out French doing his thing.
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