Not long before the debut of The Game, I graduated from college in 2006. A young, dumb kid, full of ambition, lacking any discernable skills of value. I thought I had all the answers and that the employers who were interested in my services would genuflect toward me for the rest of my career.
Wow! What I didn’t know.
The Game premiered soon thereafter. It was largely a story about a couple, fresh out of college, on top of the world, thinking the populace would bow to their every whim. Derwin, an Ivy League graduate, and football player, had been drafted to move across the country and play for the San Diego football team. Melanie, Derwin’s girlfriend, decides to forgo John Hopkins Medical School to move to San Diego with Derwin. Having given up all of her plans to embrace being a professional football player’s girlfriend, she was now somewhat lost, realizing she didn’t have the value in her post-collegiate life that she thought she would have, and that the real world doesn’t love you all that much when you don’t have value.
Melanie was my emotional TV doppelganger.
Despite the similarities to mine, having played Ivy League football and the dashing good looks, Derwin’s journey wasn’t as representative of how I felt after school as Melanie’s pathway to adulting was. Better yet, this was happening in real-time–Melanie was going through all of these grown-up moments on television at the same time I was experiencing them in real life. So for me, and likely a generation of black millennials who entered adulthood watching The Game, this show resonated in a deep way that is hard to let go of.
So as not to bury the lead for much longer, it excites me greatly to see that The Game is being revived as a drama series for the re-branded Paramount Plus streaming service. I don’t believe there is much in the way of information out about when it will drop, but I think it will be fun to explore where the show has been already and what we should be excited about, especially for those of us (mostly black millennials) that were there at the beginning!
Let’s start with the first few seasons when the show was on The CW–you know, that network that simultaneously replaced the two once black-centric networks, The WB and UPN, but we won’t get into that–today. The first season was great, for a few reasons.
One, it was an old-school broadcast season, so it had 22 episodes–something our best black television shows (including this upcoming The Game reboot) don’t do anymore.
Two, this was really the first modern millennial story. Yes, it was focused on the privileged life of football players, their wives, and their girlfriends. However, the incorporation of text messaging, social media, clout-chasing, TMZ, black culture, and the increasing social power of individual athletes, were all such a large part of the 2000’s and what black millennials of that time were dealing with–and embracing.
Three, The Game really did borrow on the HBO stylings of Curb, Arliss and Entourage, using famous celebrities, and in their case, black celebrities, to curry favor among those seeking to see stars and realism in their scripted television.
And speaking of realism, that brings me to the fourth and final point about the inaugural season of this show, which is that it was trying to do reality TV before reality TV was really a thing. That’s right, The Game, albeit scripted, was trying to bring you into all of these new millennial ways of life, love triangles, career flops, and self-doubt issues. However, it brought you to these serious matters under the guise of a reality-TV-like circus tent. Their use of celebrity cameos, coupled with right out of the TMZ headlines story arcs, like Singer X is caught out at dinner with Athlete Y, were the embodiment of scripted “tea” before “tea” was really a thing. After all, the show promptly followed what can probably be described as the first black millennial reality show: Flavor of Love. Hot off the heels of that crazy-ass, but widely popular, reality series about Flava-Flave’s so-called dating life, The Game’s introduction of reality-like storylines was a trendsetter, well before The Housewives franchise was all the rage, every C-list actor had a reality show, and even before the Kardashians were on TV.
As for those story arcs, one of my favorite episodes from Season 1 was the season finale, which packed in a lot of those trends. It sadly resulted in Derwin cheating on Melanie with an R&B sensation (remember those?) and lying to Melanie about it after his friends told him he shouldn’t tell Melanie the truth about his infidelity. Melanie accepts the lie–that it was just a kiss–and tries to convince herself that she’s comfortable with the lifestyle she’s chosen, but all the while, she’s been heavily considering going back home, becoming independent of Derwin. Meanwhile, Malik, the self-centered quarterback, is frantically trying to figure out if his feelings for a plus-sized woman are okay to have, as he’s scared of what the media will say about a top quarterback dating somebody who doesn’t fit the mold of who he’s supposed to be with. And when he does decide to go after the woman he “loves”, the media and blog coverage ignite an army of plus-sized women who are enthralled by Malik and his so-called recognition of women that don’t fit the stereotype. And of course, there’s Jason, the veteran football player, who tries to see what retirement could look like and is quickly humbled by an opportunity to interview people for ESPN. But it all ends in Melanie figuring out that Derwin actually did sleep with the R&B singer, and she tells him their engagement is over. A blow for black millennial love everywhere!
Season 2 is where things really take a turn. Yes, obviously, there is the “will they or won’t they” aspect to Derwin and Melanie’s story, but after the well-received performances the other characters put on in Season 1, the producers knew they had to incorporate the rest of the cast even more so. Jason is struggling with his football mortality and dips into the world of fake bible-study sessions and steroids, which was all the talk during this decade in sports. Malik is struggling with women left and right, including Robin Givens (essentially, playing herself) and his mom, who he ends up firing as his “momager”–another prominent theme of the 2000’s. And speaking of his mom, Tasha is trying her best to get her management company off the ground, but much to no avail as she goes through athlete (cameo) after athlete (cameo).
As for our favorite couple, Derwin sadly becomes the embodiment of the pro athlete stereotype, dating aggressively, displaying wild emotions, partying and eventually getting someone he’s not committed to pregnant. Melanie, however, is about as millennial as she can be. She’s struggling to find work, can’t pay her medical school tuition, and is couch surfing like a vagabond while finding it hard to move past life with Derwin. Season 3 was much of the same shenanigans but ends with Jason and Kelly (Jason’s ex-cheerleader wife) going through a divorce, while Melanie and Derwin rekindle their love and end up at the altar.
But after season 3, The Game was canceled. The CBS and Warner Brothers overlords noticed that the show’s struggling viewership and ratings (remember when those used to matter) had fallen from about 2.5 million viewers per show to 1.7 million, and they decide that was too much to bear. And as the network was yet again moving away from comedies, they also canceled Everybody Hates Chris. We’ll talk another day about how and why The Game was killed and came back to life, but thankfully, as BET decided to get into the original scripted series game, ever so tepidly, The Game would return after 20 months of being off the air. That’s a long time for a sitcom. Still less than some of the long stints between episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Sopranos, so not unheard of. But if you were a diehard The Game fan, the wait was exhausting.
The Game came back in January 2011, and it was a blur. We were getting caught up on Melanie’s life, Derwin’s son is now an integral part of their story, which includes their brand new marriage and an attempt at having a child of their own. Now we’re past a lot of the bumps in the road that couples go through leading up to their marriage, and we’re witnessing black millennial marriage on TV in a way that was both terrifying and lovely. Meanwhile, everyone around them was going crazy. Malik is spiraling. Jason’s career is ending. And Tasha, well, she is both getting her business into gear and kicks off her own “will they or won’t they” relationship with the infamous Rick Fox (again, playing himself). This first season on BET also meant the season wasn’t going to be its usual 21 episodes, but instead just a mere 13. But those 13 episodes killed it, with each episode being seen by more people than in any other episode from the first 3 seasons on The CW. In fact, the BET premiere of The Game was one of the biggest scripted premieres in cable history, with 7.7 million viewers watching. It would be the most-watched episode of the entire series.
After season 4, the series begins to take a big turn. Melanie grows into her own. Derwin gets more popular. The supporting characters, such that they are, get bigger or lesser roles–depending on who you are. For example, Malik is constantly going through it, playing the role of a super talented athlete that makes poor decisions, while Jason is in and out of the storyline as he searches for a post-football career. Tasha, however, keeps steady, continuing to be a stalwart, playing the emerging black businesswoman who is unlucky in love. Eventually, Derwin and Melanie get taken off the show, because in real life, those actors moved on to other projects. They’re replaced by Keira (Lauren London) and Blue (Jay Ellis, of Insecure fame), who took on the role of the “will they or won’t they” couple that the show was always predicated on.
In the end, it’s a story about ups and downs in black life when money and social status are not your biggest worries every single day. To some extent, it was befitting of the times. The show established itself and then reached its heights during the first term of Barack Obama, a time in which, yeah, black people knew the fight wasn’t over, but it sure did seem like it was getting manageable as the Obama administration led us out of a recession and into somewhat of a new reality in which black people were achieving new milestones every day–at the highest levels of American society. But at the same time, the abrupt (it started just 3 months after the end of the penultimate season) and shaky end to the series happened in the middle of 2015, the same time we got the announcement that Donal Trump was running for President. What a harbinger that was.
Still, shaky ending and all, The Game was a show that black millennials really got behind. Its survival on The CW for 3 years was driven by the thirst black people had for black sitcoms after the 90’s black sitcom awakening had seemingly gone away with almost no explanation. The return to BET was definitely driven by black millennials, as a few really big, black-led, social media groups and pages supporting the show are what kept the cable channel interested in bringing it back to life. And the fact that they were able to take out my favorite character, Girl Melanie, from the roster and replace her and Derwin with the new, young, couple is a testament that they had really hooked us with their storytelling.
Thus, I’m incredibly excited about what this could mean for a new, drama-oriented season of The Game. As of right now, the details on this forthcoming season are very scant–heck, it could’ve been canceled by the time I actually end up posing this piece. But if it brings back our favorite characters, a few years removed from what it had been, it could be a real game-changer, and it will likely mean a lot of new (black) subscribers for the new Paramount Plus streaming service.
As a black millennial who became an adult while watching this show, I know I’ll be subscribing. Yet I think there is a market beyond me. Now the show will undoubtedly embrace Black Gen Z culture, 15 years after it embraced Black Millennial culture so well in 2006. Surely, the Gen Y and Gen Z worlds will collide. Now the millennials are the old heads, pushing 40, hanging on to the good old days of 2008, and looking down on these Gen Z’ers with their TikToks and OnlyFans. Yes, I’m sure the writers for this new version of The Game will have some of these serious intergenerational dynamics at play. After all, it’s supposed to be a drama this go-around, but something tells me, they’ll find it hard to stay away from the humor, and reality, of the times we live in.
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