(The Root) — There were a lot of tears from fans and actors alike during last night's emotional premiere of BET's hit dramedy The Game, which returned for its sixth season by saying goodbye to two of the show's main characters.
Since it landed on the cable network in 2011, cheerleaders for the original CW series, which was resurrected by BET after a robust online campaign, have struggled with rooting for the show in its new uniform. The playbook is different, the storylines are more disparate, the jokes are more deadpan and beloved cast members had been cast off. Yet despite criticism, The Game has been a ratings juggernaut for BET. Fans can be forgiving.
Still, even the most devoted diehard's faith was shaken by last night's episode, which waved a final farewell to the show's moral anchor, Derwin Davis. Derwin (played by Pooch Hall) and his roller-coaster relationship with girlfriend-turned-trophy-wife Melanie (played by Tia Mowry) was the central artery of the show's heart.
After convoluted plot twists took Melanie to Baltimore to finally finish her medical residency, the show's producers decided to demote her character to second string, making "Med School" a recurring, not regular, role. In light of that news, Mowry struggled with the decision to renew her contract in front of the cameras on her reality show, Tia & Tamera.
"I feel like I'm in a dilemma because, say I come back to the show as recurring. Then, it could hinder my opportunities of me being able to book another show as a regular," said the former Sister, Sister actress, who eventually chose to leave the show that helped shed her child-star image. In an eyebrow-raising coincidence, the character replacing Mowry's, Keira Whitaker (played by Lauren London), is a child star looking to shed her little-girl persona.
For his part, Hall had already landed another series, Showtime's Ray Donovan, and according to reports, he had planned on popping up on both networks. But The Game producers made other arrangements, making last night Derwin's last stand.
Tweets from fans during the season premiere (and record 100th episode) ranged from outright outrage to quiet acceptance. Some tweeted Hall, claiming that The Game could never be the same without Derwin "Ding Dong" Davis, going so far as to argue that "true" fans should quit the show entirely. On Twitter, Hall doled out plenty of thanks but never once bashed the show's new direction — perhaps after having been cowed by former co-star Hosea Chanchez, who plays bad-boy quarterback Malik Wright.
"I think it's kind of sad that he feels the need to comment, tweet, retweet anything negative about the show that helped him/us become the artist we are today," wrote Chanchez in a lengthy tweet to fans earlier this month. "Everything comes to an end for us all, just like Pooch and Tia, one day it will be time for ME to move on in my career. That's the name of THE GAME we're in called 'ENTERTAINMENT.' "
That post definitely foreshadowed what would be the premise of last night's premiere, with Chanchez the actor echoing his fictional character Malik's aha moment: The game belongs to no one.
"I don't want to leave. Ya'll two are my family, man," Derwin screams with tears in his eyes after learning that he's been traded to another team, summarily dumped "for a younger, hotter dude." Malik, in true form, has little sympathy but spins some ungrammatical sense nonetheless.
"You know this is the game, dog. We ain't got no control over this, Derwin. We are chess pieces, man," Malik says in one of the most depressing pep talks ever. But it was also one of the most poignant scenes in last night's episode. The show's original leading men got to wax comedic over their careers, which, on-screen and off, have taken many a turn. It was a highlight-reel moment.
Sadly, Mowry's Melanie didn't get the same opportunity for a victory lap. A scene featuring Tasha Mack, Melanie and Kelly Pitts cackling over a bottle (or three) of wine would have been a nice touch, a game ball thrown into the stands for those who have stuck by the team through some rocky seasons.
In the end, the saying "The game remains the same" doesn't work here. The players are different — not better or worse — and The Game is, too.