Two episodes into the FOX straight-to-series show Our Kind of People and I’m about ready to crown it as one of the most ridiculous shows of all time. Which is saying something considering that it’s brought to us by Lee Daniels, the same man who brought us The Butler where a solid 80 percent of the movie was entirely untrue and Empire which—if memory serves correct—opened up its second season with Taraji P. Henson in a gorilla suit in a cage. I could be making that last part up (I don’t think I am), but it could also be literally right on the money.
But let’s get into what it is and what it ain’t. Our Kind of People is a show “set” in Oak Bluffs, Mass., which is a town on Martha’s Vineyard, the island commonly thought of as an elite vacation spot for Black Americans, especially from the northeast. It is “inspired by” the controversial book of the same title, Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class, written by Lawrence Otis Graham, published in 1999. I say controversial because apparently for those in the know, the book gets a lot wrong. I first encountered this book when I was a junior in college and true or not, it literally exposed me to a world of people, societies and places I had never heard of. In fact, Morehouse College was really my first exposure to rich Black people, the book at least exposed me to the idea that those rich Black people lived altogether different lives than I even knew existed. Point is, the book is chock full of research and information about things like Martha’s Vineyard, Jack and Jill and high-society families, etc.
The television show, written by Karen Gist and directed by Tasha Smith (thus far; Tasha Smith’s directing on Starz BMF is tremendously better) on the other hand, is with the shits. It stars Yaya DaCosta as Angela Vaughn, a woman from the east side of Boston—I’m really surprised that they didn’t invoke Roxbury here, that seems like a layup—whose mama used to be a maid on Martha’s Vineyard and left her a house in Oak Bluffs when she died. Morris Chestnut and Lance Gross are in it. Joe Morton is in it doing Papa Pope things (from Scandal; I’m legit waiting for B613 to show up at any minute).
Anyway, the show, literally only seems to take the title from the book that it probably paid a handsome fee to license, as short of rich Black people, this show is pure scandal and foolywang. In the first episode alone we get an attempted corporate takeover of a company that either is or isn’t headquartered in Oak Bluffs—I really can’t tell—exposed family secrets that would typically be saved more for mid-season or a season finale cliffhanger, attempted murder (though that isn’t revealed until the second episode), lies, rumors, innuendo, caricatured bougie Blackness, Jack and Jill, something called the Graceties (which is a horrible name under any circumstances) and Black hair and African clothing in a fashion show. And for the life of me I really cannot tell why Yaya’s character wants to be part of the Black social elite of this version of Oak Bluffs. It’s not entirely clear.
The fact that the show is stereotyping rich Black people provides lots of shenanigans and fodder—they must maintain power and wealth after all; but it veers heavily into “what the fuck?” territory since the storyline actually seems to be more or less thrown together as it goes along. You almost can’t see shit coming even with a trailer indicating what’s coming next week. All of the stuff you’d think would land as a proper plot-point gets tossed out by the characters upfront. There is no mystery, some shit went down years ago and Angela has come a’callin’ to address it, even if she doesn’t realize it at first.
I’m a big fan of the show Greenleaf, which lasted for 5 seasons on OWN and was full of so much drama you really needed a scorecard to keep up. Literally EVERY SINGLE POSSIBLE ISSUE you could have in a Black church presented itself on Greenleaf, nearly all spurred by the return of the main character, Grace Greenleaf, who returned to Memphis after something like 20 years for the funeral of her sister, Faith, who committed suicide. It wasn’t short on ridiculousness, but it was high on stellar performances, particularly by Lynn Whitfield as Lady Mae, the Greenleaf family matriarch and Keith David, Bishop James Greenleaf, her husband and lead pastor at Calvary, a megachurch in Memphis. It was with the shits but the cast made it entertaining and the writing was good.
So far, Our Kind of People has a similar set up—Angela comes to Oak Bluffs and shakes shit up, including unearthing family secrets (that nobody seems that surprised by, for the record), and setting shit off. Except the writing thus far on Our Kind of People is horrible and the acting does the best it can but trash material makes for goofy shows. Except, the sheer audacity of Our Kind of People to think we don’t notice that timelines don’t match up or that everybody is having the same family secret revelations at the same time or that Oak Bluffs and Boston really aren’t just next to one another makes it that much more fun to watch; it’s not good, but I’m not even sure it’s supposed to be. I think it’s supposed to just toss scandals and shit at the wall and see who of us sticks around.
I’m sticking around thus far. On the entertainment meter, I’m giving it a 8/10; even some shit makes no sense to me and you lose points for that. But it’s a terrible show thus far. I love it. When shows don’t pretend like they’re supposed to be good I find it much easier to engage and enjoy since well, everybody’s surprised that we’re here from the show-runners on down. And you cannot convince me everybody involved isn’t surprised this shit got to air.
So while the folks on the show ain’t really my kind of people, I’m here for the shits of Bougie Niggadom for as long as it lasts.
Anything less would be uncivilized.