'Single Ladies'? Must We?

Single-Minded: VH1 is stepping into scripted territory with the "urban Sex and the City." Lord help us all.


Last weekend I was coaxed into the club despite my popular post-30 hook, "Grown women don't dance; we ... sit the hell down." Over the years, my hooves have done more than enough Electric Sliding, strolling and two-stepping. So I've been boycotting the club since I stopped buying my going-out clothes at Bebe.

"That chick over there clearly doesn't have any friends," I yelled over the music on Saturday. Because friends don't let friends dance in a spandex diaper. Unless, of course, they're the fictional stars of VH1's first hour-long dramedy, Single Ladies, which premiered earlier this week.

There are exactly two cultural touchstones that the post-1990s unmarried woman can't seem to two-step away from: HBO's Sex and the City and Beyoncé's hit "Single Ladies." If your tax filing status is single and you're female and of color, then you absolutely live in the big city with at least 2.5 BFFs, each of whom wants somebody in a suit to "put a ring on it." At least, that's how we get depicted in pop culture. And to Single Ladies, the TV show, not the song, you shop at Forever 21 non-ironically.

The sheer number of shiny spandex see-through minidresses on parade during the debut episode made me question my own definition of "grown and sexy," which has always skewed Mad Men. It seems as if any story (fictional or otherwise) based on women, friendship, career and love must exist within the sexy shorthand that is SATC. Sexiness these days lacks all subtlety, and Single Ladies is no different. It's knock-you-over-the-head obvious. Starring Stacey Dash, LisaRaye McCoy and Charity Shea (the only actress not in her 40s), the show is more street lit-turned-sitcom than "urban Sex and the City."

Here the adjective "urban," which has been used repeatedly in reviews of the show, must be a euphemism for "black," since the original HBO series took place in one of the largest "urban" environments in the world, New York City. Executive producer Queen Latifah has reportedly described the show as an "urban" iteration of SATC, although I'm sure she was asked to view her show in that context. Just a slightly less ridiculous step up from "chocolate," "urban" says less about Single Ladies than the characters themselves do. And they do a lot of talking.

Throughout the hour-long premiere, each BFF got her soliloquy in the sun, explaining point blank why she wasn't bitter or why she was. "Y'all bitches got drama," exclaimed the "prereq" gay sidekick at the turn of another melodramatic plot point. Thing is, that's the one thing the show is truly missing (besides extra yards of fabric): drama.

Sure, Val had a pregnancy scare and a potential Maury moment. April (played by Shea) is a white woman who's juggling her own husband plus somebody else's. And Keisha (played by McCoy) is an aging video vixen with sticky fingers and an even trickier love life.

All the drama is just a Basketball Wives reunion (another VH1 "urban" offering) that probably already happened. So all the fun gets sucked out of actually trying to untangle the webs these women weave because those wigs have been yanked off already.

If the old adage "The truth is better than fiction" is, in fact, true, then can a network dominated by "truthiness" tell a real story? Does reality TV -- the push-up bra of modern entertainment -- make everything else look flat by comparison? For now, Single Ladies needs all the help it can get, but hopefully soon, the shoulder pads will come out and a real story will be somewhere underneath it all.

A previous version of this article misidentified Charity Shea.