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FW: Any Day Now [tv series]

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  • A.J. Wright
    This article about the Lifetime cable tv network series Any Day Now , set in Birmingham, appeared in today s NY Times...aj wright // ajwright@uab.edu ...
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 16, 2001
      This article about the Lifetime cable tv network series "Any Day Now", set
      in Birmingham, appeared in today's NY Times...aj wright // ajwright@...

      Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company

      March 16, 2001



      The N-Word on Trial for Manslaughter" is the blaring newspaper headline
      in the two-hour season finale of "Any Day Now." This Lifetime series
      about two friends who grew up together in Birmingham, Ala., -- Rene
      (Lorraine Toussaint), a black single lawyer, and M. E. (Annie Potts), a
      white wife and mother -- has grown stronger over its three seasons,
      examining the complexities of interracial love and friendship, including
      the hidden or unconscious biases that plague even the most genuine of
      these relationships. Now, with television language changing quickly to
      reflect the rude realities of life, this thoughtful, provocative drama
      examines how racial slurs function in society, how insidiously they creep
      into common use.

      In Sunday's episode Rene defends a black high school student who
      accidentally causes the death of a white student who had called him a
      name, starting a brawl after a football game.

      "He called him the `n' word?" a horrified M. E. asks Rene, who explodes
      into one of the smartest statements yet about the stupidity of

      "Why do you say that?" Rene asks in anger about the phrase. "It's just a
      diluted version of a horrible word that was invented during the O. J.
      trial and now suddenly white people feel you've got the freedom to just
      throw it around at cocktail parties."

      Rene's legal defense of Richie, the student accused of manslaughter, is
      that he heard the word as a threat and feared for his life. The show does
      not shy away from the harsh language and images of racism: at one point
      Rene recites a litany of racial epithets, and in the courtroom displays
      photographs of lynchings.

      But this approach is the opposite of inflammatory. As Rene says in court,
      the dead student "didn't call Richie an `n' word, he called him a
      nigger," and the blunt use of that word is necessary; anything less would
      be coy. One of the show's points, after all, is how easily the slur can
      be hidden beneath a supposedly polite attempt to avoid it. (The word also
      popped up on "N.Y.P.D. Blue" this week, when a witness told police how it
      similarly set off a deadly fight. Because that episode dealt with racism
      but not specifically with language, it raises a thornier question about
      television dialogue. Does using a slur to enhance realism simply open the
      way to its wider acceptance?)

      "Any Day Now" is a drama of broad strokes, not subtle touches. This
      season M. E.'s teenage daughter, Kelly, became pregnant by her black
      boyfriend, Ajoni, whom she married. In Sunday's episode, Kelly's health
      and that of her unborn child are threatened. Though the series is too
      melodramatic to be truly first-rate, it has nonetheless created a fully
      realized world and distinct characters who are more intriguing than those
      on most network dramas.

      And beneath the bluntness of its plots the series realistically depicts
      the murkiness of race relations. When Kelly became pregnant, M. E. saw
      her daughter repeating her pattern; her usually tolerant husband,
      Collier, could only see that his daughter was sleeping with a black man.

      The series also relies on flashbacks to the 1960's, when Rene, M. E. and
      Collier were children, in scenes that chart the changes and lack of
      changes in social attitudes. M. E.'s parents, who refused to let Rene in
      the house when she was a girl, have grown to accept though not embrace
      her. A recurring character in those flashbacks has been M. E.'s Uncle
      Jimmy, a sheriff and a proud member of the Ku Klux Klan. In Sunday's
      episode, Uncle Jimmy dies and M. E. sings, "Ding-dong, the wizard's dead"
      when she gets the news. The flashbacks reveal the independence it took
      for M. E. to reject him, when the rest of her family saw him as the
      kindly uncle.

      The acting is often more subtle than the writing. Ms. Toussaint is
      especially good at handling her sometimes declamatory lines and Chris
      Mulkey is terrific as Collier, who is not racist but is often
      thoughtless. Even Ms. Potts's whiny character grows on you.

      Sunday's first hour, the more pointed of the two, was written by Nancy
      Miller, one of the show's executive producers. The second, clumsier half,
      by Denitria Harris-Lawrence, too often turns the courtroom into a
      classroom. But even when it flags dramatically, the show is never boring
      because it raises so many bold questions. It considers how a single word
      is used differently by blacks and whites, by rappers and comedians.

      Sarcastically, the white prosecutor (John Rubinstein) asks a witness,
      "When comedians like Chris Rock or Eddie Murphy use the `n' word in their
      comedy routine, are white people allowed to laugh?" As the rules for
      acceptable television language relax, "Any Day Now" has put this freedom
      to the best possible use, examining language itself with great care and

      Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company

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