This So-Called Post-Post-Racial Life

April 8, 2009

“Something Else”: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — pprscribe @ 1:01 am

As I have said here previously, what I love so much (so far) about the HBO series, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is its difference. An all-Black cast: different. Set and filmed in Africa (Botswana): different. A leading lady who is sexy and smart and “traditionally-figured”: different. A relatively slow-paced and relatively sweetly-written plot: different. There is just a lot here that we do not often get to see on our small screens at home (or on the big screen either).

This week’s episode revealed more of this difference.


One has to do with the developing relationship between the two female leads. Fairly well-known working Black female actors in Hollywood probably have stacks and stacks of scripts in which they were slated to play the sassy Black friend to the White female lead. Or, if there were multiple Black female leads, likely the script called for them to be waiting for a man in order to exhale. But two Black female leads who are depicted in an employee-employer working relationship? Talking about work expenses and life and human nature?

Now that is “something else.”

Also different is that each of these women has been given a complex back story–even in such a (on the surface) simple and sweet story as No. 1 Ladies. We already saw some of Precious Ramotswe‘s back story last week in her marriage to a jazz musician, experience of domestic violence by his hand, and resulting death of their baby. But this week we also see that there is more to Grace Makutsi‘s past than just a near-perfect score at secretarial school.

That these two women’s paths have intersected is clearly going to be the impetus for each of them growing in different ways. In episode two it is not yet clear how this will come about, but the hints are there.

This week we also get an interesting and heated exchange between BK, the hairdresser and Grace. Sexual orientation is never explicitly brought up in the exchange. But BK does accuse Grace of having been words away from calling him “something else”–that something else being, I guess, “gay” or some slur for gay–and thinking that there is something wrong in being something else. Later BK and mild-mannered Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni engage in a joint display of macho stage play to assist Mma Ramotswe on a case. Mr. Matekoni compliments the normally flamboyant BK, and BK then says something like, “Yes, not bad for a ‘something else.'”

Again, I am withholding judgment on how the BK character is treated here. When I first saw him last week, I wracked my brain to remember him from the books but could not. Well, it turns out that the character was created specifically for the series. In the “Making of” behind-the-scenes program he is described as adding “comic relief.” A flamboyantly gay hairdresser as comic relief? Not so different. We’ve seen it a million times before.

But perhaps there is something here that will develop into something else. Perhaps BK will also be given a more complex backstory and get to be more than the sassy BFF. (Yet another character type that is always the best friend but rarely the lead.) I am hopeful.

In the meantime, I hope that the adorable Wellington returns.

****Elsewhere, on The No. 1 Ladies’:

Claudia of The Bottom of Heaven comments on the lovely Jill Scott’s portrayal of a lovely fully-figured woman:

Maybe this is what Stanley Crouch had in mind when he wrote that Scott’s character “embodies Bessie Smith’s proud claim of being a big fat mama with the meat just a-shaking off her bones.” But I don’t think Crouch quite gets it. Mma Ramotswe doesn’t strike me as a blueswoman, though she can be as forthright, perceptive and as sensual as one. As a plus-size woman myself, I’m just delighted to watch “No. 1 Ladies” and know that there isn’t a role in this series that Tyler Perry is qualified to play.

I agree 100%!

****Please, if you are blogging about The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, tag your post with the full title and drop me a line if possible. Thanks!

1 Comment »

  1. Thanks for the link! And I’m so glad you mentioned the small storyline that appeared in last week’s episode about Grace’s home life. I am really intrigued by what they might do with her character.

    Comment by Claudia — April 8, 2009 @ 9:54 am

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