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'Being Mary Jane' review: Serious drama a good BET

"Being Mary Jane" makes its debut on the

"Being Mary Jane" makes its debut on the BET Network at 10 p.m. EST Jan. 7. The network’s first one-hour scripted drama focuses on the life of successful cable news anchor, Mary Jane Paul (Gabrielle Union). Credit: BET

THE SHOW "Being Mary Jane"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Tuesday night at 10 on BET (after 8 p.m. pilot movie encore)

REASON TO WATCH Here's an adult drama that's not a procedural, not a law/hospital/sicko franchise, not starring a white guy!

WHAT IT'S ABOUT What a concept, right? About as incredible as BET finally delivering a serious character drama, some 30 years after the channel's inception.

They've got a big-name star -- Gabrielle Union, of movies ("Think Like a Man"), TV ("FlashForward," "Night Stalker") and, most recently, of Dwyane Wade engagement bling. They've also got a big-time backstage team, in "Girlfriends"/"The Game" creator Mara Brock Akil and her husband, Salim Akil, who directed "Sparkle."

"Being Mary Jane" has big plans, too, when it comes to covering dramatic territory. Union's character, Mary Jane Paul, is a cable anchor who's a Serious Journalist, having on-set disputes with her best-bud producer (Lisa Vidal, "The Division") over "using" a hunkered-down hurricane couple who are handed a camera to air live what could be their demise.

But offset, Mary Jane's personal conflicts stir up their own Category 5. Her needy mom (Margaret Avery) always calls at the wrong time. Other relatives have emotional imperatives. Her might-be-serious hottie of a lover (Omari Hardwick) shows up at the wrong times. And then there's his "oops, he's married" wife (Robinne Lee), arriving to inquire in graphic terms about her rival's sexual satisfaction. Can't a career woman ever relax?

MY SAY "Being Mary Jane" is busy busy. But a chill pill is likely once tonight's hour re-establishes things from July's hit pilot flick. The episode does find time to sketch rich relationships among lovers and friends, with an appealing cast clearly eager to tackle more full-bodied material. The workplace drama aspires to topical relevance, suiting its ambitious yet principled (yet human) lead. We can't see enough impressive women debating professional ethics to make up for TV's decades-long lack of same.

And they're minorities, too. Which means "Being Mary Jane" stands for a lot of things, in addition to covering a lot of ground. Stretched thin, it can default to glibness like "Gay is the new black." (Yes, gay is in the mix, too.) And while equal time for all shades of naked is nice, Tuesday night's hour goes (much) further with skin/sex than some basic-cable fans may find comfortable.

BOTTOM LINE "Being Mary Jane" has been formulated for being fascinating. Now comes the follow-through.


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