It's all about the hair. In the long-awaited Season 4 premiere of The Game, now born again on BET, the surest way to track any particular character's progress over the last two years is through the tracks on their head.
Girl Melanie (Tia Mowry) has gone from "Med School" to "Mrs." So good riddance to the funky asymmetrical bob she rocked by the end of Season 3. The "side part under" wasn't just your typical cinematic cliché: Girl moves in with boy, boy cheats with B-list pop star, girl gets scissor happy.
More than that, the short do was one of Melanie's first real moves toward becoming truly confident in who she was as a woman. In the Season 3 episode "Side-Part, Under," a philosophical patient in a platinum wig told Melanie that her hair screamed, "Please don't look at me; I'm too scared to change my hairstyle, let alone live."
In that episode, Melanie/Med School finally matched her attitude with her style. None of that is to say that women with long hair aren't sure of themselves, but for Melanie, chopping off her hair had the opposite effect that it had on Samson.
The Game premiered on the CW in 2006 but was canceled after three seasons as the network focused on hour-long single-camera dramas like Gossip Girl and 90210. Fans of the show signed petitions, sent e-mails and clogged message boards as part of "The Change 'The Game' Campaign," started by the cast on Youtube, to keep the show on the air. BET brought the show back after two years with the original cast and writing team.
The show, created by Mara Brock Akil of Girlfriends, is something like a fictional version of what reality-TV shows like Football Wives and Basketball Wives are supposed to be: an inside look at the women behind the players on the field. It focuses primarily on Melanie, who gave up Johns Hopkins medical school to move to San Diego with her then-boyfriend, Derwin (Pooch Hall).
As the newest member of the Sunbeams, the San Diego Sabers' first ladies' club, Melanie meets Tasha (Wendy Raquel Robinson) — "momager" of the team's flashy quarterback, Malik (Hosea Chanchez) — and Kelly (Brittany Daniel), wife of veteran wide receiver and tightwad Jason (Coby Bell). Hopped up on heaping glasses of wine, Melanie, Kelly and Tasha have fueled each other's growth from med school to marriage, from being controlled to taking control.
Which brings us back to Season 4. Now that Melanie's locks are back to Rapunzel proportions, her confidence couldn't have shrunk more. "I'm a good person," she whines. "I chose to postpone my residency to be a good, supportive wife, to give my marriage a shot in this game."
As in, "How he gonna have a natural conk and both his parents come from a long lineage of naps?" a question posed by Melanie's friend Tasha, whose hair is also back to its back-grazing Season 1 length. Back then she had yet to find true love in the form of Rick (dramatic pause) Fox (playing himself) or closure with her superstar son's deadbeat dad. She was admittedly "bitter."
Now she seems less so — but definitely not better, either — especially with the introduction of Dante (BET VJ Terrence Jenkins) as her newfound jailbait. The hair is the same. So perhaps Tasha hasn't changed as much as longtime fans of the show had hoped.
This season Kelly has decided to cut her man right out of her hair. Kelly is now starring in a reality show called Ex Ballers' Wives, and like her new career, her new "Duran Duran" do reeks of desperation rather than independence. Much like her reverse mullet (prom queen in the front, punk in the back), Kelly seems more confused and lost than ever. And since when did her daughter Brittany get a kiddie perm?
A lot can change in two years. Hair comes, it goes; it gets glued and it gets chopped. But I had hoped that in the Season 4 premiere of The Game, the show's roots would peek out a little bit. Because in the end, the series was about relationships. Superstar Derwin, super-saver Jason and selfish Malik might as well be strangers. And it's going to take more than a bottle of Riesling to get Tasha and Kelly back together again after their big blowup.
For her part, Melanie should probably work toward having a real relationship with her stepson before she destroys her relationship with his father. Now, that would be some new growth worth seeing.