Last Week at the Too Close to Home premiere, we’re curious about the identity of Anna’s mystery lover but not for long. Owing to an unfortunate and untimely presidential heart attack, we soon find out that President Thomas has been cheating on his wife. None too convenient that the first lady who has been waiting in the hallway while her husband, privacy protected by a Secret Service agent, is boffing Anna the intern. It might be thought a cheesy TV gambit –except that it’s all too real. Forget the Monica Lewinsky – Bill Clinton scandal. Cut to the current on-going third sexting (and who knows what else) scandal involving New York politician Anthony Weiner and close Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Politics is apparently an aphrodisiac for some people.
In the current episode of Too Close to Home Highway 16, In this weeks episode, strong performances by Bonnie (Kelly Sullivan), Anna (Danielle Savre), and Valerie (Ashley Love-Mills) make up for some predictable and weak dialogue. Charles Justo and Nick Ballard as Victor and boyfriend Dax make up for the rest in a scene that forces the staff members of the Presidential Social Office to take sides against Anna.
Anna’s been disgraced when it leaks out she was the woman with the president when he nearly died of a heart attack. The press is hounding her and she’s sought refuge in the apartment of a man she met in a bar where Washingtonian political types gather. That man is ‘John,’ played with oily smoothness by Christian Ochoa.
John finally reveals he is a reporter for the Washington Sun. He’s summoned his boss to see if they can get an exclusive with Anna but she is horrified at the notion. The Washington Sun boss lady is a real kick. She mimics Barbara Walters with voice, vocal inflections and posturing. It’s funny even if you don’t know who Barbara Walters is.
It’s one of the high points in the episode when Anna flees to Dax’ apartment. Victor, Valerie and Dax are sheltering in place from the mob of press camped outside. The battle lines are drawn. Led by the sharp-tongued Valerie, everyone is at first lined up against the fallen Anna. Mean girl Valerie has had “just about enough of this bitch” when she breaks it down for you, describing Anna as “the backwoods whore who fooled an entire staff of decent hardworking people by screwing the president.” Being with Anna and the scandal she created could destroy their own careers.
Valerie’s rightly worried about the White House Social Staff if it’s found out that they are sheltering the ruined woman. But it’s Victor who shows some heart, understanding that naïve Anna is victim, albeit of herself, and needs an ally. He is the brave one, offering to help get Anna back to Happy, Alabama where she can hide.
This puts Victor against Valerie and boyfriend Dax in some very sharp arguments that causes a split between the two men. The scene brings up a compelling ethical question. Are the employment seeking young people who flock to D.C. and federal service victims of powerful predators or are they victims of their own selves?
The scene then shifts back to Happy, Alabama where things are very different. This is where the ‘backwoods whore’ comes from. Sister Bonnie is the good guy, taking care of Brody’s senile dad who wanders off. Brody finally accepts that Bonnie is the best caretaker of his father and accepts her offer of help in exchange for Bonnie’s mother’s mobile home rent.
Brody’s a little wooden in the acting department but still an interesting character. His inexperience as an actor is forgivable because he is a complete novice, hired after a viral YouTube video. Besides, all he’s got to do is ride a motorcycle and look good – which he manages without effort.
Then we’re at May Sally’s roadside diner in Happy Alabama where everyone knows everyone else. It’s established that Bonnie and Anna are sisters, and that they have another drug-addicted sister named Shelby. Shelby is a part-time hooker and a full-time hustler. She’s stolen J.B.’s tractor-trailer and sold it and its cargo to some southern thugs who deal drugs. If only Shelby knew the cargo included some bricks of cocaine!
There are some campy scenes when Sheriff Mobley shows up to help J.B. find his truck. This may remind older viewers of ‘Mayberry’ and the Andy Griffith Show (with violence added) but it’s funny even if a bit drawn out. The Sheriff’s fat deputy shows up to describe Shelby as ‘that girl (who) can do anything’ before he’s reprimanded for what he’s implying.
But what’s a poor girl to do? Run, don’t walk, back to Alabama and the small town Anna once wanted so desperately to escape. There’s enough excitement and charm in Too Close to Home to keep me watching it. It doesn’t always avoid clichés but there’s enough that’s fresh in Tyler Perry’s creative mind to keep me interested.
One of the odd things about Too Close to Home is that producer/creator Tyler Perry, who has hired hundreds of African American actors for other productions, is being criticized for casting a show with mostly white characters. It’s rather sad that Tyler Perry, a socially conscious and creative man, should be criticized by filmmaker Spike Lee who called “Madea” (one of Perry’s comic characters) ‘coonery.’
The word “coon” is an old word once used by white racists but which has now been revived and often used as a pejorative among African-Americans to enforce a form of political correctness upon free thinkers and creators like Perry.
Spike Lee is an interesting filmmaker. I applaud his efforts at widening opportunities for African-American actors in film and TV. But creativity and individual freedom can’t be restricted to plantations of approved filmmakers. To suggest that a black director shouldn’t create and cast a film about mostly white people in a southern Alabama town is patently ridiculous.