Real Husbands Of Hollywood debuts tonight on BET at 10 p.m. Eastern.
It says something that Real Husbands of Hollywood, “the fakest reality show ever,” feels equally as false as its source material, namely the The Real Housewives of Whatever Place Bravo Can Find Women Willing to Sell Their Dignity. Trust me, that’s much more of a knock against the Housewives than it is about the Husbands. Comedian Kevin Hart and five of his friends—stand-up J.B. Smoove, actor Boris Kodjoe (late of Undercovers), singer Robin Thicke, actor/real estate mogul Duane Martin, and man-about-Hollywood Nick Cannon—hang out, snipe at each other, and wink and nod while plugging their clothing lines.
The Real Housewives formula is based on pairing moments of stunning banality with moments of intense rage or other artificially heightened emotion. A lunch date is following by a table-flipping freakout, played out by women dressed expensively enough that their outbursts should (keyword there is should) be out of place, but tastelessly enough that it’s somehow funnier. Real Husbands follows that same formula, except the best parts are flipped. The Husbands are funnier when they aren't tasked with doing anything. In the source material, no one wants to see the shopping trips or the manicure appointments. That’s just filler until we get to voyeuristically cheer on the hair pulling and bitch slaps. No one wants to watch the Real Housewives be real housewives. But Real Husbands is at its best when it feels genuine, which is weird to say about a sitcom mocking reality television. Since these men are purportedly all friends in real life, when they are just riffing off of each other, the show is it at its funniest. Forcing the characters into insignificant plotines felt forced. But then again, so do most “plots” the Housewives partake in. While one could chalk the forced feeling of some scenes to a grander meta-commentary on the nature of constructed reality soap operas, like the Housewives franchise. Alas, I don’t think it’s the case with Real Husbands, but that doesn’t means it’s not funny. The humor is not complicated on this show. But, hey, if you don't think a grown man getting kicked in the nuts isn't funny, you probably shouldn't be watching this show in the first place.
What’s key to the success of The Real Husbands is that genuine core because these guys all feel natural working off each other. It allows the show to be fast, loose and funny without any need for more grandiosity than that. Some cast members are stronger hitting their beats than others. Nick Cannon skates by on charm alone, and he feels wooden compared to the fluidity of a guy like J.B. Smoove, whose excellent work on Curb Your Enthusiasm shouldn’t make that a surprise.
Smoove gets the best scene of the group, and it would have remained the best even if he hadn’t spoken, based on reaction shots alone. It begins with Martin pitching his newest investment, a breakaway suit. What happens if your suit gets sullied? Why rip off a sleeve or a pant leg and it’s good as new! It’s gag on par with Ben Fox’s ideas, but it’s Smoove’s reaction that elevates the scene. Smoove begins with simple facial displays of amazement, graduates to a spit-take, and offers lines like “I’ve been trying to find a breakaway suit forever!” (His reaction to the low, low price of $99 killed me as well.) The biggest surprise of the cast is Robin Thicke, who plays the Brandi Glanville of the bunch, the outsider brought in to cause drama even though she has no real connection to the group of wives. Thicke is invited to Hart’s house to play poker by Nelly (Nelly!), one of a litany of guest stars cropping up throughout the series. Maybe it’s because Thicke not only looks like his dad, Hall of Fame TV dad Alan, but sounds like him as well. It’s like having a smarmier Jason Seaver back on my TV screen. If Jason Seaver wore gold chains, blew back his hair and Maggie Seaver looked liked Thicke’s smokin’ hot wife Paula Patton.
Hart only makes nice with Thicke after learning that he’s married to Patton, the only wife supposedly shown on camera, although her image is so fleeting it might not even be her. It may be a small gesture, but a group of men defining themselves by their wives is perfectly antithetical to The Real Housewives, where men are either partaking in the drama or on the sidelines shaking their heads at their crazy wives. These men are all married to successful, beautiful women who do more than shop and fight. They’re married to singers (J.B. Smoove is married to Shahidah Omar, while Nick Cannon has the most high profile marriage with Mariah Carey) and actresses (Boris Kodjoe is married to Nicole Ari Parker and Duane Martin gets Tisha Campbell). Hart is the recently divorced guy, a plot discussed in the show’s YouTube beginnings, a plotpoint true to life and one he already recreated in Think Like a Man. Due to his single status, Hart's friends wives are clearly in love with him, if only in his own mind.
It’s sad how heartening it is to see men defined by their wives, rather than the other way around. More often than not, the examples of strong women in reality television come in the form of something like Hollywood Exes, a VH1 show that attempted to ape The Real Housewives formula, featuring famous ex-wives/girlfriends of Hollywood B-listers. But even as the women strove to get out of their former spouses’ shadows, they were continually presented through that lens. If not for years of reality television numbing my moral core, I would be disturbed. It’s not like Real Husbands is a feminist statement on Kevin Hart’s part, but the simple acknowledgement that these men’s wives also have their own careers is certainly a positive one. Also, I really want a Mariah Carey cameo.
But none of this would work without Kevin Hart. Hart’s shtick is the Napoleonic Complex writ large. He plays the baller, the most successful, the funniest, the greatest, but only so he can be the butt of everyone else’s jokes. In the opening scene, he lists his 2012 accomplishments—hit movie Think Like a Man, well-received stand-up film Laugh at My Pain, another sold out stand-up tour called Let Me Explain, soon to be at a theater near you—followed by a shot of a bird shitting on his face. A major arc of the new episode features Hart getting beat up by Cannon’s cousin, a chubby pre-teen, after Hart calls the kid’s pie subpar. (Cannon’s one great moment comes when he says, “There’s two things all Cannon men can do: We can bake, and we can fight. We’re sweet in the ring and in the kitchen.”)
I always thought Hart would have done well in a sitcom, if only because I don’t find this shtick tiresome after repeated viewings, and I’ll always laugh at jokes about how short he is. (Shaquille O’Neal is also slated for an appearance, and I’m already giggling thinking about Shaq and Hart’s height disparity.) But knowing how Hollywood works, he would have ended up the token minority friend of some hapless sitcom dad (see: Hart’s stint on Modern Family). The type of black sitcom that Hart would have dominated in the ’80s or early ’90s doesn’t exist anymore (read Todd VanDerWerff’s recent dissection of A Different World’s for a more nuanced explanation). Instead, Hart got into movies first, including cameos with the Apatow Gang, and focused on selling out arenas rather than selling pitches. His success on the stand-up circuit gives Hart a sense of freedom and fluidity, allowing him to create his own material that serves his persona best. I’m excited to see what he comes up with next.
- Fun fact: There was another attempt at a Real Househusbands Of Hollywood reality show. I admittedly have not seen it.
- You know that sound that always goes off when something dramatic happens on a reality show? The Boom. I call it The Sound of Doom. I got unnaturally excited when they used The Sound of Doom in the Hart versus Thicke fight.