Born from the minds of Angela Burt-Murray and Tracey Edmonds, BET’s new series Games People Play explores the tumultuous lives of three ambitious women navigating the highly competitive world of professional sports.
High school sweethearts Vanessa and Marques King, played by a pair of familiar faces in Lauren London and Insecure alumnus Sarunas J. Jackson, serve as the nucleus of this high stakes world of sex, money and glamour—which threatens to throw their relationship into turmoil as they struggle to adapt to Marques’ life as a professional basketball player.
“There’s a price you have to pay for living this so-called ‘perfect life.’ What goes on inside the homes of these people?” Edmonds tells The Root. “When they’re outside smiling in public, what do they have to face when they go home to their husband or wife? What are the obstacles? What are the challenges?”
The lure of temptation appears to be an underlying theme of the show. It is something Jackson—who’s broken hearts and tested the boundaries of marriage before as the polarizing Dro on Insecure—has a level of familiarity with. But in exploring the perils of infidelity as Marques, what challenges does that present?
“The dishonesty,” the 29-year-old actor said bluntly, noting that Dro was transparent in his extramarital affairs. “For Marques to be married and for him to really test the waters like that [...] having a lot of access and not being mature enough to handle that is dangerous and a lot of mistakes could be made.”
The cast is rounded out by Karen Obilom, who plays savvy blogger Nia Bullock; Parker McKenna as seductress Laila James; and Jackie Long as Kareem Johnson, a former college basketball standout who’s begrudgingly relegated to the sidelines as Marques’ best friend and assistant.
“I think everybody can relate to him. In a good way and a bad way,” Long said. “Everybody has a friend that they started with and you’re moving up in the world and he’s not. He might smile in your face and invite you to the party, but low key he might talk behind your back or do something disrespectful. That’s Kareem Johnson. He loves Marques, but deep down inside he’s hurt because Marques is living his life.”
In discussing her role as Laila, 23-year-old Parker said, “I think it’s really important for women to see that even though social media is important in this day and age, you can use it to your advantage but it may break you.”
Being broken by the pursuit of our desires isn’t a theme relegated to Laila, however. Nia has aspirations to become a respected journalist but finds herself plunged into the cesspool of celebrity gossip instead.
“I think a lot of people will be able to relate to Nia because she’s professional and lives a pretty normal life, but just so happened to get sucked into all of that because her best friend just so happens to be Vanessa King,” Obilom said.
And when asked what Games People Play adds to the ongoing Black Renaissance we’ve all had the luxury of living to partake in, the cast got straight to the point.
“The name says it,” Long said. “We’re giving you a real life story.”
“I usually don’t compare because I think everything has its lane,” Jackson said. “But you have Atlanta, which is different in itself. Then with Black-ish you get that sitcom feel. But this just adds a more stylized flavor that’s not necessarily there right now.”
“This is a black millennial story that is not being told,” Edmonds added. “And it’s funny. With the type of humor in a scene that just sneaks up on you.”
BET’s Games People Play airs on Tuesday nights at 9 PM ET/PT.