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On TV, Interracial Couples In A Too-Perfect World

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On TV, Interracial Couples In A Too-Perfect World

Opinion

On TV, Interracial Couples In A Too-Perfect World

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The census data also shows that Americans are in racially mixed marriages, more of them than ever before. One in seven new marriages now takes place between people of different races or ethnicities. There are more interracial couples on network television, as well. They are on shows such as NBC's "Parenthood," Fox's "Traffic Light" and ABC's "Mr. Sunshine."

Still, TV critic Eric Deggans finds those shows rarely reflect the real drama of mixed marriage.

ERIC DEGGANS: On "Parenthood," Crosby Braverman and his fiancee Jasmine are so mismatched, they can't even load a dishwasher without getting in a fight.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Parenthood")

Mr. DAX SHEPARD (Actor): (as Crosby Braverman) I can't marry someone who will not let me make any decisions. Okay, I'm starting to realize that you are very controlling. I mean, how we load the dishwasher.

DEGGANS: He's flighty. She's focused. He's non-committal. She's makes long-range plans. Oh, and she's African-American, while he's a white guy. But like so many interracial couples on network TV these days, their racial and cultural differences almost never come up, even in this awkward moment, which came during a pre-marriage counseling session in Jasmine's mom's church.

Unidentified Man: Who takes the lead when it comes to decisions about your child's education?

Ms. JOY BRYANT (Actor): (as Jasmine) I do.

Unidentified Man: Have both considered what religious instruction you'll give your child?

Mr. SHEPARD: (as Crosby Braverman) Well, I think we're going to probably encourage him to decide.

Ms. BRYANT: (as Jasmine) Yeah. But he's a child. So in the meantime, he'll go to church here and go to Sunday school and, yeah.

DEGGANS: We never learn if the church is a black church or if Crosby feels uncomfortable there. He's more focused on their communication issues. Now, on its face, this seems like tremendous progress. It's a world where interracial couples face no disappointed parents, no odd questions from neighbors, and no total strangers asking why their kids are different colors. But as a black man who's been married to a white woman for nearly 20 years, I have to say, a world where interracial couples almost never discuss race doesn't feel real. What it feels like is avoidance.

That's why I loved this scene from an episode of "Mr. Sunshine," the new sitcom featuring "Friends" star Matthew Perry. Here, Allison Janney from the "West Wing" plays a clueless boss.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Mr. Sunshine")

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ALLISON JANNEY (Actor): (as Crystal) There you two are.

DEGGANS: And she's got an odd proposition for an interracial couple working in her office: a double date.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Mr. Sunshine")

Ms. JANNEY: (as Crystal) That's my fella's name, Darius Washington. Ring a bell, Alonzo?

Mr. JAMES LESURE (Actor): (as Alonzo) Mm, no. Should it?

Ms. JANNEY: (as Crystal) Well, I just assumed all you brothers knew each other.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DEGGANS: But what really sold this scene for me, was what the couple said after the boss walked away.

Ms. ANDREA ANDERS (Actor): (Alice) Did you just pick up on what was going on there?

Mr. LESURE: (as Alonzo) Yeah. As subtle as it was, I got it.

Ms. ANDERS: (Alice) She obviously just asked us out because she's dating a black man, and then assumed that you would know him because he's a brother.

Mr. LESURE: (as Alonzo) Look, it's no surprise Crystal is insensitive. This is the woman who handed Yo-Yo Ma her dry cleaning. But the point is, she wants to have dinner with us. She's trying. I think we should have said yes.

Ms. ANDERS: (Alice) Really?

Mr. LESURE: (as Alonzo) Yeah. And who knows, she spends time with us, the next time, she won't ask the guys from Los Lobos to park her car.

DEGGANS: I've had that talk too many times. The can-you-believe-it debriefing that happens after someone has said something either clueless or condescending. And that's what I see too many of these couples lacking on television. Race difference is an elephant in the room, instead of a window into a new experience.

It's time for network TV to fully tap the potential of these couples. Let them talk about the issues we're already tackling in the real world.

MONTAGNE: Eric Deggans is the TV and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: And you're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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