What's the best TV show you're not watching this summer? Not OWN's "The Haves and the Have Nots." But if you change that to what's the best guilty pleasure TV drama you're not watching, it's the Tyler Perry-created "Haves and Have Nots," and tonight marks your chance to change all that.
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Critics — both TV and cultural — have knocked both of OWN's new Perry-produced series, "Haves/Have Nots" and the comedy "Love Thy Neighbor," as typical Perry fare that's sullying the good name of Oprah Winfrey's inspirational programming on OWN. And they're right; while "Haves/Have Nots," for instance, set a new ratings record (1.77 million viewers) for a series premiere on OWN, it's 180 degrees from the rest of the network's lineup, which is filled with reality programming featuring Oprah-approved celebrities trying to teach you things, reality programming about dealing with cheating spouses, stressed-out parents, and cluttered households, and reality programming featuring Oprah sidekicks such as Suze Orman, Nate Berkus, and Drs. Phil and Oz.
"The Haves and the Have Nots" probably won't inspire you to do much more than laugh, talk back to the TV, and ask yourself if you really saw or heard what you thought you did — and that's what makes it so much fun, in a gather-all-your-friends, serve-snacks, and make-it-a-viewing-party kind of way.
A few scenes that really happened during the episodes of "The Haves and the Have Nots" (based on a Perry play) that have aired so far:
- The action in the series revolves around the Cryers, a family of wealthy Savannah residents led by patriarch Jim (John Schneider) and matriarch Katheryn (Renee Lawless), who brought her family's wealth to the marriage and turned her poor husband into the city's most powerful judge. The Cryers' marriage is a loveless one — he cheats on her routinely and makes cruel jokes about her weight, and she reminds him of how he was nothing before he met her and, by the way, nothing, or very little, is an accurate description of his manhood and ability to satisfy her. Really.
- The Cryers also have two 20-something children, law student daughter Amanda and son Wyatt (Aaron O'Connell), who's fresh from his third stint in rehab when the show starts. Wyatt's drug and alcohol addictions are so severe Jim and Katheryn are paying a sober companion to be with him 24/7, even following him into the bathroom. To repeat, Wyatt is never to be left alone, not to eat, sleep, or even go to the bathroom, lest he be tempted to use drugs or drink alcohol. So, on the night of a big party at the Cryer manse, Wyatt is sitting on a couch while a servant tidies up after the guests have left. The coffee table in front of Wyatt is littered with half-full glasses of Champagne and wine, which the servant dusts around. Alcohol is sitting right in front of an alcoholic so deep into his addiction that he can't even be allowed to use the bathroom by himself, but glasses of alcohol are left sitting in front of him, while his sober companion, his sister, and her friend turn their backs on him at that exact moment. Yes, of course, he empties all the booze before they turn back around. Really.
- And the best, by which we mean worst/most mockable/most unintentionally funny/most guiltily entertaining, moment of the series so far: Hunky Wyatt suspects his sober companion, Cryer family friend Jeffrey (Gavin Houston), is gay, so he sets up a test. He points his laptop toward his bedroom door, with video camera on record, and then -- clad only in his tight boxer briefs -- lies face-down across his bed, pretending to sleep. Jeffrey comes to the door to wake him up for lunch, and when Wyatt pretends to fall back asleep, Wyatt licks his lips while the camera pans from Wyatt's feet to his butt and buff shoulders. And Wyatt doesn't lick his lips in an "Oh, I could sure use some Chapstick" way. He licks them the way Wile E. Coyote does while he's anticipating making a meal out of Road Runner or Bugs Bunny. Really.
- There's also the blowback from Jim's special 50th birthday present to himself, a session with a hooker who turned out to be his daughter's new classmate and BFF, Candace (Tika Sumpter). Candace, of course, shows up at the Cryer party the evening of her afternoon romp with Jim. Now, she's blackmailing him for cash and a car, while her mom, Hanna, who kicked the plotting Candace out of her house years earlier, has just been hired as the newest member of the housekeeping staff in the Cryer home.
Want more? Perry and Oprah are bringing it. In the weeks ahead, philandering Jim will decide to run for governor, presenting himself as the poster boy for family values and a handsome man who's married to a woman whose looks might not quite match his. Katheryn, meanwhile, is about to confide in Hanna that she has been diagnosed with cancer. Sound familiar, like a scandal from the not-so-distant past involving a philandering Southern politician whose name rhymes with Schmon Schmedwards?
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Perry has created (yet another) series that is over the top, with obvious plot points and cheesy dialogue, a primetime soap that is less like "Dallas" or "Dynasty," and more reminiscent of the old NBC daytime drama "Passions" (and not just because Eva Tamargo, who played "have not" housekeeper Pilar on "Passions" now plays "Have Nots" head housekeeper Celine). It's a perfect little hour of fun, guilty-pleasure summer viewing.
More important for OWN, as network President Erik Logan told TV Guide, the show's success has drawn pitches from producers for other scripted fare. It's bringing more eyeballs to Oprah's fledgling channel, and if they come for the sudsy drama on Tuesday nights, they might come back for "Oprah's Master Class" and "Super Soul Sunday" later in the week.
"The Haves and the Have Nots" airs Tuesdays at 9 PM on OWN.