By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Until a laudatory article in the Los Angeles Times turned me on to Lifetime‘s Any Day Now three years ago, I hadn’t watched a television program with any degree of loyalty since The Wonderful World of Disney, when I was about 9. The back-to-school doldrums of Sunday night were made bearable by the serial adventures of dogs and horses and prairie kids, by the drawling but impassioned narrations, and the improbable blessings that Tinker Bell bestowed on the proceedings every week with her wand and its streaks of fairy dust. I sat in front of the set with my bowl of ice cream or cinnamon graham crackers (both, if I was lucky) and happily suspended disbelief for an hour, transporting myself not just to the homestead on the screen but to much more rarefied and fantastic places in my head -- a household where I was an only child with my own room, for instance. Back when I was young, and the age of irony and cable programming was miles into the future, television was a far more logical conduit for imagination and wishful thinking than it is now, and though no substitute for books, it was a reasonable proxy. In my mind, The Wonderful World of Disney, with a few exceptions involving Daniel Boone and some other boring boy-driven stuff, was exactly that -- wonderful.
Twenty-five years out of elementary school, blessed with a job that virtually never required me to punch a clock, I liked that Any Day aired Sunday nights. Psychologically, I was still living the workweek of a fourth-grader -- joyous on Fridays after the bell rang, blissful on Saturday, despondent on Sunday as night came on and the tedium of Monday loomed. I needed one last fix of magic and indolence, and though glowing reviews of Any Day Now described it as more earthbound than I would have liked -- it focused a lot on race and social issues, things I considered important but not compatible with ice cream and cookies -- I decided to give it a shot. I loved it almost immediately. I took to the exploits of Annie Potts and Lorraine Toussaint, the two actresses playing best friends M.E. and Rene across the color line in the Deep South, the way I‘d taken to the prairie kids. While I appreciated the show’s nerve and social commentary, I loved the more quotidian plot points -- Rene‘s modulating hairdo and model house, M.E.’s weight gain. Here was an expression of my updated fantasy of race and life mingling unremarkably, all the time; here I could care about love interests and new outfits and Rene‘s death-row clients with equal fervor. That black Rene was the successful lawyer and white M.E. the bored housewife felt like less of a political statement and more a mere fact of friendship.
But I watched Any Day Now not for its progressiveness but for its reassurance of the familiar and its resonance with my own workaday fears and irresolutions. When the show first aired, I was a single woman who admired Rene for being the same, for being happy and productive and a sharp dresser to boot. In Rene, I discovered a woman who could recite every provision of the Civil Rights Act, sew up a discrimination suit with a stirring closing argument and then hit the road in her top-down Mercedes for a shopping and spa weekend with M.E.; a black superwoman who had casually broken clean from the superwoman mold of old: set face, iron will, minimal sense of humor bred by hard circumstances. Week after week, Rene proved to be enviably rounded, not a perfect character but a perfect confluence of all the disparate psychic pieces of black history and scattershot ambitions of the present. She had grown up middle-class and educated but segregated in Birmingham, the ground-zero city of the Movement. She carried her race-consciousness and activist zeal intact into adulthood, but on the show she’s young enough to have lived the second incarnation of the Me decade of the ‘80s and early ’90s. Her hair is never out of place and her crusader cape never far out of reach.
Yet even when she dons the cape she remains largely a heroine by happenstance, prompted into action by the repeated importunities of a homeless woman, or a man with dreadlocks who vociferously complains of being harassed at work because of his hairstyle. Rene knows the blatancy of old injustices and understands the subtleties of the new; her clientele are not merely black but white, Latino, poor, disabled. She can maintain the myriad perspectives demanded by a new age yet never lose herself or the edges of her own racial identity -- a feat worthy of Tinker Bell. Best of all, she gets to bitch about everything to her friend M.E., with whom she forged an improbable, nearly illegal friendship in the fires of racial strife in the South. In one episode Rene, in the midst of campaigning to be Birmingham‘s district attorney, finds herself having to solicit support from a group of influential black women, all of them also exclusively light-skinned; Rene, who is unavoidably brown-skinned, gripes about enduring intraracial hierarchies and the phenomenon of being “colorstruck.” To which M.E. shrugs and says, “I thought you were all just black.”
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