Being Mary Jane / Screen

Nobody’s Perfect: Being Mary Jane ‘Storm Advisory’ Review

Following the Being Mary Jane pilot episode/movie that aired last summer, I’ve been excited to watch Mary Jane Paul navigate her tricky lifestyle, and its first episode “Storm Advisory” was worth the wait and a welcome start to its eight-episode run.  The show has a lot going for it: a talented (and attractive) cast led by the superb Gabrielle Union, quality stories and  a great soundtrack, but most impressive is its main character.  Mary Jane Paul is so much fun that, despite her flaws, spending an hour with her on a Tuesday night is genuinely enjoyable.

“Storm Advisory” opened with Mary Jane rushing to a friend’s house to find her unconscious in bed after she overdosed on pills, breaking in through the window and setting off the security alarm, and getting upstairs to force he friend into throwing up the pills.   It’s a strange and fast-paced opening to the episode, particularly because Lisa hadn’t been seen in the movie and was basically a stranger, but it was quick proof of Mary Jane’s decency, determination and ferocity when it comes to people she cares about.  The entire show could be considered a character study for Mary Jane who is an undeniably decent person (also evidenced by her discomfort at exploiting a stubborn couple sitting out a hurricane for ratings on her talk show), but she’s also undeniably flawed which the show is happy to emphasize as one of the tagline’s is “Beautifully Flawed”.  There’s nothing more indicative of that than Mary Jane’s episode ending romp with the married Andre.

Despite Mary Jane’s own rules on the matter (married men being strictly off-limits) and her guilt and hatred of the position Andre put her in,  Mary Jane did it all again.  Reeling from the news of her other suitor, ex-boyfriend David (also known as Never Answer) seeing other women, Mary Jane did exactly what she was so broken up about before.  By the end of “Storm Advisory” it’s clear that neither of these men is an ideal suitor.  What Andre lacks in availability he makes up for in apparent devotedness to Mary Jane, and David is the opposite.  Still, Mary Jane is drawn to them both, an attraction compounded by her increasing apprehension that she’s running out of time to have marriage and a family.  It was this same anxiety that led Mary Jane to make the wild decision at the end of the movie to steal David’s sperm for a rainy day, a development which wasn’t mentioned in “Storm Advisory” but appears to be coming back up next week.

Also unseen was Mary Jane’s huge family. Her mother Helen (Margaret Avery) appeared briefly, but the remainder of Mary Jane’s family – including father,  brothers and niece –  were absent.  However, this wasn’t a huge issue for an episode which focused itself on Mary Jane’s career and romantic life.  Part of the appeal of the giant Being Mary Jane movie was that it threw itself into establishing all of Mary Jane’s life, from complicated family dynamics to her career to her romantic life, and had the time to do so.   The same isn’t true for the hour-long episodes we’ll be getting, so the focus will have to shift at times.

Considering that “Storm Advisory” was one day in Mary Jane’s busy life, it served well to focus on Mary Jane’s worrying about her job after the sudden firing of an anchor and Kara’s insistence on proving her and Mary Jane’s abilities by reporting on Hurricane Kenny.   Being Mary Jane doesn’t flow in the way of a typical narrative.  The episode doesn’t have much in the way of beginning, middle or end, at least not in the traditional ways.   “Storm Advisory” started in the very early morning and railed forward until late in the night with a recurring timestamp marking how various events occur in Mary Jane’s life.  Though it’s unclear if whether or not Being Mary Jane is going to keep the day-to-day sense of the show or not, this episode was a successful dive into what a day in the life of Mary Jane Paul looks like.

And it’s not necessarily a flattering day for her,  but it goes the route as many other people’s days where their emotions vary considering their circumstances which makes Mary Jane likable despite her flaws.  She’s flirtatious and goofy with David, annoyed and put-upon by her mother, angry with Andre, and anxious  work.

But no scene is more indicative of Being Mary Jane‘s strengths than Mary Jane’s meeting with Andre’s wife.  When Avery (Robinne Lee) questioned Mary Jane about her relationship with Andre, the questions were graphic and personal (questioning the frequency of Mary Jane’s orgasms during sex with Andre, whether or not he performs oral sex on her, if Mary Jane’s breasts are real, if Andre loves her, etc), but Mary Jane answered them, and the scene was elevated by Lee’s and Union’s performances but especially Union’s.  Mary Jane was deeply aware of Avery’s right to confront her but was also annoyed by it, insulted by some of her questions and then understanding and ashamed of her role in hurting Avery and her family.

Whatever happens in Being Mary Jane, the show could float along on the charisma of its main character whose life is a delightful mess to fall into.   Though there have been comparisons to ABC show, Scandal, mostly due to the presence of a black woman as a lead, Being Mary Jane is quite obviously not Scandal.  Mary Jane’s life is far more run-of-the-mill despite its more dramatic moments (sperm theft!) and could easily belong to any other black woman. The same can’t be said for Olivia Pope’s web of political and personal intrigue which involves spies, homicidal politicians and terrorist parents.  The charm of Being Mary Jane is that the life of Mary Jane Paul is easy to watch and relate to because of Mary Jane’s lifestyle that’s imbued with equal amounts of drama and comedy (not to mention Mary Jane’s quiet moments of boredom and solitude), making it closer in tone to reality.

Random observations:

  • The reason Kara’s never seen Mary Jane in the rain is one word: edges.  It’s always nice to hear about black hair.
  • Mary Jane on oral sex being performed on her: “It’s required.”
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