‘Boomerang’ Returns, as a BET Comedy | Modern Society of USA

‘Boomerang’ Returns, as a BET Comedy

‘Boomerang’ Returns, as a BET Comedy

When “Boomerang” came out in 1992 it was both an anomaly and a bit of a relief.

The movie, Reginald Hudlin’s follow-up to his hit comedy “House Party,” arrived in an era defined by social realist films like “Boyz N the Hood” (1991), “New Jack City (1991)” and “Juice” (1992). These taut, violent dramas couldn’t have felt more removed from the black elite advertising world of “Boomerang” and its inhabitants: the smooth-talking, tuxedo-wearing executive Marcus Graham (Eddie Murphy); his friends, Gerard (David Alan Grier) and Tyler (Martin Lawrence); and his colleagues and love interests, Jacqueline (Robin Givens) and Angela (Halle Berry).

Many mainstream critics panned the film (The New York Times said that it appeared to be set in a “strangely retrograde Fantasyland”). But for many of us who came into adulthood with “Boomerang” (it debuted the summer before my first year of college), it made the fantastical feel within our reach. Jacqueline, the hyper-ambitious, glamorous workaholic, and Angela, the graceful, down-to-earth artist, felt like women we were in the process of becoming, or could be.

Rewatching the film now, those characters are too restrictive, the script is too heterosexist and Marcus’s workplace sexual antics are out of step with the current push to increase gender equality in the boardroom and the bedroom. And yet, I still find myself charmed by the beauty and charisma of its ensemble.

In a similar spirit of reverence and revision, Lena Waithe, the Emmy-winning writer and actor (“Master of None”), is producing a 10-episode TV comedy sequel, debuting Tuesday on BET. Also titled “Boomerang,” the series follows Marcus and Angela’s daughter Simone (Tetona Jackson) and Jacqueline’s son Bryson (Tequan Richmond) as they carve out spaces for themselves professionally within their parents’ world of advertising and in the larger social landscape of Atlanta. Berry joined Waithe, who was only 8 when “Boomerang” came out in 1992, as an executive producer.

Unlike the movie, the series has both a male and female lead, while also offering more nuanced stories about religion, mental illness and sexuality. In this way, the new “Boomerang” is more in line with modern black millennial comedies like “Insecure” or “Atlanta,” but with Waithe’s experimental aesthetic familiar to fans of “Master of None” and her Showtime drama “The Chi.”

In a phone interview, Waithe, who wrote the pilot with the showrunner Ben Cory Jones (“Underground,” “Insecure”), talked about the 1990s as a particularly inspiring age of African-American comedy, her instinct to protect the legacy of “Boomerang” and her desire to revel in the heterogeneity of black identity. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Why did you decide to put your own stamp on this really canonical movie from the 1990s?

I heard through the grapevine that Paramount and BET greenlit 10 half-hour episodes, with no writers attached. I couldn’t think of anything more basic or simple than that. So I tried to be the opposite and I said to myself, “Why not do something fresh and interesting?”

Is that when Halle Berry got involved?

That’s when the stars aligned. I was already thinking about “Boomerang” when I went to the GLADD [Media] Awards and Halle Berry presented me with an award for the “Thanksgiving” episode [of “Masters of None”; Waithe also won an Emmy for writing that episode]. So we talked backstage about them making it into a TV show. I told her “I’m thinking about raising my hand to make sure this doesn’t get messed up,” and I asked if she would be down to executive produce to make sure it was legit. She said, “Yeah, I’d love to work with you.” When we jumped on the phone later, she told me “Don’t try to remake what we did. You can’t do that. That was a miracle. You guys have to create a new miracle.”

I started to go deeper into what it means to be young and black and all that goes with that. And I also thought of Jacqueline’s kid, but we don’t know who the father is because she was a rolling stone. The thing about those characters, Jacqueline and Angela but specifically Marcus, is that all the things that make them iconic also make them not such great parents. Marcus Graham is a narcissist. Jacqueline was kind of crazy. Angela was this girl chasing rainbows.

Rather than idolize the characters, why not look at them through a realistic lens, so to speak? Then I realized my characters would be 26 years old — that’s how long ago the movie came out. You are kind of distancing yourself from your parents at 26 and trying to figure out who you are, and also rejecting everything that your parents told you that you are, that you would be. But by the time you get to the second episode, you also realize that these are just young black people trying to figure out their lives, which is really what we wanted to go for. So even if you’ve never seen the movie, you can appreciate the show and see the subtle nuances through which we pay tribute to the original. But we are also trying to create our own lane.

How did you differentiate your show from the other TV comedies on now that also focus on black millennials, like “Atlanta,” “Dear White People” and “Insecure”?

I think the movie was smart to have characters from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Marcus is making good money, but Tyler isn’t. They are homies and represent different kinds of black men. The same for Angela; her apartment is hippie, but we imagine that Jacqueline’s place is probably cold, quiet and empty. So I really want to draw from those characters, create interesting ones around their children, and show variations of black identity. I was very much informed by “Atlanta.” I think a lot of us are. And “Master of None,” where we also will go into dark places. The “Thanksgiving” episode definitely goes in and out of that, but also is comedic.

But your version of Atlanta feels so different than Donald Glover’s.

I can’t ignore the fact that Simone grew up with a little bit of money in her pocket. We’re not going into the neighborhood Earn and Paper Boi go into. But Simone’s friend Tia [Lala Milan] did not [have money] and she’s someone who’s going to have to hustle. And then there’s Crystal [Brittany Inge], who is also from a working class family and resents Simone a little in terms of how things are given to her. But at the end of the day, they’re all black women and are all facing the same issues. My favorite character is Ari [Leland Martin], who is fluid and sometimes dates girls, sometimes deals with guys. And we don’t force the issue — there are no PSAs happening. He’s just a guy who’s masculine and also not afraid to take risks, in terms of his fashion and lifestyle.

Some people will say, “That’s not my version of Atlanta.” That’s fair, everybody has a different experience of their city. But Atlanta is , so fresh and so vibrant, and while filming there, I saw young black people making their own way. They’re not asking permission. So we really tried to capture the young, black, professional version of Atlanta, and be respectful of that.

What aspects unique to their generation were you trying to show?

As a 34-year-old, I’m not that much older than a 26-year-old. But they still grew up with pressures that I didn’t have to deal with — have a stranger attack a choice that you make, or judge you if they saw something you said on Twitter. They also feel like their lives are in even more in danger. Police have always been brutal to African-Americans, but I think it’s even more blatant for this generation. It’s a fear they have when they walk out their door every day. But also a determination that says, “Let me see the world before I die.” That’s more present in this generation, even more so than mine. It’s stressful to be young and black.

Any cameos? Are we going to see Halle or Robin?

I won’t say “No.” But I don’t [want viewers to] look for that. If you are, I didn’t do my job well.

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