Full disclosure: I am not a huge Tyler Perry fan.
You might have been able to gleam that from the title, but I thought it was still worth mentioning.
Anyway, despite my dislike for his work, I do want his show The Haves and the Have Nots to succeed. I want it to succeed for the show’s channel OWN, run by Oprah Winfrey. It’s been reported repeatedly since its launch how the network is struggling, and I really don’t want to live in a world where Oprah isn’t winning (in a relative sense, since she is a billionaire and all). The Haves and the Have Nots is OWN’s most successful show by far and could really push the network into the big leagues.
That said, there is a really big problem with the show: the writing is pretty bad.
The show’s plots aren’t the problem. Actually, for the tawdry soap opera that it is (and that’s not a dig), they are quite engaging, as are the characters, especially Candace Young (played to bitchy perfection by soap alum Tika Sumpter). Where the writing falls horribly short is the dialogue.
Anyone who has taken even one creative writing class (even if they did as a goof or to get an easy A) could tell you that one of the golden rules is “show, not tell”. Meaning, you should spend more time using the setting and dialogue to get a point across instead of telling us what the point is. Clearly Perry didn’t learn that lesson, because the show’s scenes are filled with irritating, expository dialogue that hits you over the head with a brick, as if the viewer is unable to understand that isn’t shouted from the mountaintops.
Take the season premiere that aired on Tuesday. One of the major plots surrounds Benny Young, who was mowed down in the street by rich kid Wyatt, who was strung out on heroin. Hanna is at the hospital, waiting to hear news, but she is dealing with a county hospital, with overworked staff and numerous patients. It’s clear to see how county hospitals work in the scene alone, which would’ve given the writers an opportunity to reveal Hanna’s fears for her son’s life, or lament how unfair her life is compared to her employers (one of whom may have just killed her only son). Instead, we hear, repeatedly, how awful county hospitals are, how self-destructive people in the hood are and how no one with real power cares about the poor.
Yes, these are important pieces of commentary on society, especially in the black community, and that may very well be the point. However, a more masterful writer would’ve allowed the surroundings and the characters’ experiences to say these things. Repeating exposition about social ills doesn’t make it any more impactful; it’s just gets really annoying.
Why this flaw is so fatal to The Haves and the Have Nots is because it reveals a serious problem to the show’s purpose. Is this show supposed to be a guilt pleasure filled with fun debauchery? Or is it supposed to be a teachable commentary on society’s failings? Soaps have a history of socially conscious storylines, sure, but they never forget their purpose as entertainment, particularly as melodramas. They also tend to be written better, so that the lessons are learned through the characters the viewers care about.
The Haves and the Have Nots has the potential to be a really entertaining guilty pleasure that could serve as a major boon. However, the show’s dialogue needs to be worked on and improved, focusing more on the characters and plots and less on the world’s problems overall. I get that Tyler Perry may want to use his work to make social commentary, but his typical heavy-handed approach does not a good soap opera make, and it will only hurt the show in the long run.