The show Being Mary Jane did not necessarily require much in the way of revamping. However, with the show’s creators and executive producers, Mara Brock and Salim Akil, leaving for a production deal with Warner Bros. TV, a shift was likely unavoidable. Mara Brock Akil spoke for many when she told Fader earlier this year that she was “neutrally curious” about where the show would go. At the time, she didn’t know that Will Packer and Erica Shelton Kodish would go on to be placed in charge of her creative brainchild.
As for what Packer and Kodish have done with the show now that it’s out of its original caretaker’s hands, if the season premiere is any indication, the Akils and longtime fans needn’t fret. Yes, several changes have been made to Being Mary Jane, but the spirit of the show is very much intact. If anything, these changes—namely in setting—have proved vital as the show moves into its fourth season.
When we last saw Mary Jane Paul, she had finally escaped the wrath of a conniving woman seeking to exploit her guilt from a car accident and was regaining her professional footing. Even so, her on-again, off-again “situationship” with David was remaindered off in the wake of his starting a family with another woman. Then there was her brother, Patrick, who finally found work but seemed primed for a return to substance abuse. And of course, those last moments of the third season concluded with Mary Jane’s niece, Niecy, finding herself the victim of racial profiling and police brutality.
The new season of Being Mary Jane is set one year later. While some aspects stick—the sublime score largely sourced in black female singers like Beyoncé and Lion Babe, the infamous quotes splattered across the screen—we meet Mary Jane in new terrain. She is no longer a prime-time anchor for a hot cable news network based in Atlanta. These days, Mary Jane is in the No. 1 media market in America, New York City, working as a correspondent for a morning news show.
What prompted the change is revealed by Mary Jane herself—though, if one is itching for a clue, there’s a cost to speaking with conviction. Mary Jane would love to return to the anchor’s chair, but we learn very quickly that this will be a journey for her. She finds herself working with a black female anchor she grew up idolizing. So far, so good, in terms of their relationship, but with the way news works, who knows how that will go?
Thankfully, Kara, her friend and longtime producer, is with her in New York. As the two celebrate new beginnings, Kara tells Mary Jane, “We rose from the ashes to get to where we are.” She also pushes Mary Jane to recognize that with a new city comes a slew of new men.
Mary Jane is indeed looking for love, but her strategy in attaining that goal, too, has shifted. But what’s always kept Mary Jane close to, though not actually attaining, sincere romantic happiness surfaces minutes into the season premiere. Bless her heart, Mary Jane is so self-destructive.
She does deserve credit for taking new risks and making real efforts to find what she knows she deserves. That said, at one point she is told, “I’m not a miracle worker.”
As for her family, Niecy is suing the police department in the wake of what happened to her, though she is struggling with trying to reconcile not only the trauma of what happened to her but also the horror of her son having to watch it happen. Mary Jane is typically leading the charge of her family, although it’s Niecy’s dad, Patrick, who's taking the reins for his daughter. That’s a testament to his growth. We see less of the family in the premiere, though, and for a reintroduction of the show, fewer sights of them make sense.
After all, this show is about Mary Jane Paul and Mary Jane Paul’s professional and personal journey. And what makes this show continue to work so well is that it still incorporates into her story issues related to race, gender, sex and politics. I used to find Mary Jane such an unbearable character—to the point where I would refer to the show as Being Debbie Downer. Not every character has to be likable, but it was bewildering to see her do things like store semen in her freezer.
If nothing else, though, Mary Jane is a complicated figure. The complexity makes for good television, although, if the premiere is any suggestion, a new town is going to push Mary Jane to make a choice about whether or not she’ll change her life to yield the results she wants or keep making the same mistakes.
I can’t wait to see how her choice unfolds.
Check out this season 4 clip:
Editor's note: Because of President Barack Obama's farewell address, Being Mary Jane will air at 10 p.m. ET on Jan. 10 and return to its regular 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT schedule on BET next week.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.