'Boomerang': TV Review
BET's dramedy, a sequel to the 1992 Eddie Murphy film, is a sharp and witty take on millennial gender politics.
A man in a flat top and a trippy Steven Land sweater sidles up to a woman clad in a banana yellow blazer standing by a bar. It is the '90s, y'all. Moments later, he slinks off to follow a statuesque beauty who's just strutted past them — suddenly, "Cut!" Ad exec Simone (Tetona Jackson) stops the film shoot, a retro-aesthetic promo for an energy drink. "We can't have the lead of our commercial ditch a brown-skinned girl for a light-skinned chick. Black Twitter will eat us for breakfast!"
That was the moment I knew Boomerang had bite. Luckily, it was two minutes into the pilot. The brightly staged opening tableau pays homage to the film on which this BET half-hour dramedy is based, a progressive-for-1992 rom-com with all sorts of mixed messages about how men and women should behave. The original Boomerang starred Eddie Murphy as a womanizing hotshot ad agent, Robin Givens as the vixen boss who turns all his selfish behavior right back on him and Halle Berry as the plucky girl-next-door type whose nurturing charm wins his heart. Set in present-day Atlanta, the TV sequel follows cocky Simone, the daughter of Murphy and Berry's characters, and irresolute Bryson (Tequan Richmond), the son of Givens' character, as they navigate romance, professional ambition and life as black millennials in 2019. In its favor, the show feels less Boomerang: The Second Generation than Boomerang by way of Friends.
There's no doubt this is a tale of upper middle-class yuppie hustlers. Self-assured (and petulant) Simone rails against her "narcissist" father, dreaming of starting her own agency to wedge her way out from under daddy's thumb. But childhood bestie and fellow agency rep Bryson reminds her that "everybody wasn't born with a rose gold spoon in their mouth and kente cloth wrapped around their head." ("Don't make fun of my birth announcement," she snipes back.) Absorbed in their own aspirations and artificial swagger, they take for granted their respectively staid roommates: colleague Crystal (Brittany Inge), whom Simone dismisses as a corporate "house negro" after quitting her father's business in a huff, and nascent pastor David (RJ Walker), who still harbors feelings for ex Crystal.
I've come to expect that anything helmed by Emmy-winning writer-actress Lena Waithe (The Chi, Master of None) is going to be smart, funny and emotionally searing, and her latest effort is no exception. Boomerang is sharply detailed, a relatable portrait of young friendship 20 years into the 21st century. As exemplified by the joke ("joke") about Twitter subcultures, Waithe has bejeweled her comical and rapid-fire dialogue with enough modern-day commentary to tell me this comedy isn't here to just play around with musty Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus stereotypes.
Instead, Waithe, along with fellow exec producer Halle Berry and showrunner Ben Cory Jones (Insecure), uses the advertising agency setting to elucidate how the black community tells stories about itself in the Digital Age. Hungry Bryson aches for a chance to prove himself at work and gets his own Don Draper monologue in the premiere: "You know what black Millennials want?" ("Someone to pay their student loans," Crystal deadpans.) "We want it all. We want to be great at work. We want to have the perfect partner. We want the fly crib, we want the dope view. We wanna buy our mama a house. We want to show up at church every week just to make sure that we get into heaven. If we want to be great at everything, we have to be present for everything. … Because being young, gifted and black is cool, but it's also exhausting." And that's how you sell an energy drink! (Sorta.)
I was afraid Boomerang was going to be another conference-room story, but the series really vibrates in the second episode, which takes place during the friend group's game night. Although only two episodes were available to critics, I got the sense that this episode might be closer to the intended spirit of the show than the first, highlighting the complex relationships between the players. Simone's first client as an independent broker is outrageous dancer Tia (Lala Milan), a zany Cardi B stand-in with lots of personality on the stripping pole. When Simone forces Tia to post an Instagram story during a round of Celebrity, Tia resists and ends up recording a hilariously peevish video expressing her boredom. These are the small moments that will hook you.
Truth be told, I might end up watching this show solely for social media phenomenon Milan, a natural and fervid comedienne. After all, Simone and Bryson are a somewhat wan pair, tangled in a will-they-or-won't-they chewing gum wad. My favorite moment from the premiere might be when geek-chic Bryson, sure of his wunderkind status, gets a dressing down from his supervisor (Paula Newsome) that begins with, "That's the problem with you young bucks." The two are going to have to fight for the experience to match their confidence.
However, if the show is meant to flip toxic masculinity back on its mullet, much like the original film sought to do, then the writers need to pull back from framing Bryson's romantic fixation on Simone as a sympathetic waiting game. David tries to share some wisdom with his friend about patience: "Your and Simone's time will come." But since she's given clear signals to him that she doesn't want that time to come, his longing comes off as entitlement, as though he has a claim on her merely because they've known each other since childhood. Maybe humble the hubris a little, dude, and read more about the Westermarck effect.
Cast: Tetona Jackson, Tequan Richmond, RJ Walker, Brittany Inge, Leland Martin, Lala Milan, Paula Newsome
Executive producers: Lena Waithe, Halle Berry, Ben Cory Jones, Rishi Rajani
Premieres: Tuesday, 10 p.m. ET/PT (BET)