BET // 2007 // 400 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // August 28th, 2008
The life of the young, black, and fab.
Baldwin Hills: The Complete First Season is really a combination of two shows. One addresses issues of class, race, and stereotypes within the black community. The other is a teen soap about kids, some of whom act like spoiled brats, in an upper-class L.A. suburb. Unfortunately, the needs of good TV mean that the latter is emphasized frequently at the expense of the former. For every interesting insight about black life, the series has at least two scenes of cast members making fools of themselves for the camera. Even when BET claims to make an informative show, the needs of TV reality for loud voices and shocking commotion still take precedence.
The premise of Baldwin Hills is similar to that of other teen reality series such as Laguna Beach and The Hills. Eleven teenagers from the Baldwin Hills suburb and surrounding areas of Los Angeles are filmed as they hang out, form friendships, date, and prepare for graduation. Here are the cast members:
* Ashley: Aspiring actress, daughter of an actress, and a doctor.
* Moriah: Son of a basketball star and would-be basketball player
* Garnette: Self-proclaimed future CEO
* Roqui: Daughter of a basketball coach who dreams of hosting her own talk show.
* Sal: A resident of one of the rougher neighborhoods around Baldwin Hills, he hopes of being a rapper.
* Staci: Sal's childhood friend, smart-tongued and assertive.
* Gaven: Senior class president of his high school.
* Jordan: "The Next Diddy," as he labels himself, who promotes parties at nightclubs.
* Willie: Arty, gentle hippie who loves photography.
* Gerren: Already a teen model who has been profiled on Oprah
* Daymeon: Class clown and wannabe comedian.
This two-disc set contains all ten episodes from the first season, and they make clear that while the idea behind the show (to examine an aspect of black America that is rarely shown in mainstream TV) is worthy, the execution leaves plenty to be desired. By far the biggest problem is that the cast is just way too big. Eleven cast members (as well as about three or four additional teens, not counting family members) are just too many for a show in which each episode only lasts 22 minutes. For instance, after the first two or three episodes, Gaven, who's smart and likable, disappears completely until a very brief cameo in the last episode. Other teens get storylines that start interestingly and then fade away as the show progresses. Willie, whose story is the most interesting, only gets a brief storyline when she photographs Sal for his album cover, and then is reduced to a sidekick for Garnette. The opening intro, in which each cast member states his or her dream, is promising; still, be warned that we only get to see about half the cast members actually working towards their goals.
Unfortunately, what we do see is a lot of pointless sound and fury. The producers evidently decided early on to position Garnette as the series' mini-Omarosa, and she does her part, coming off as bossy, arrogant, and somewhat humorless. While her tantrums and surliness may have seemed entertaining during filming, they quickly become tiresome and even dull as the series wears on. She must actually have some good qualities for her to be seen with such a wide circle of friends, but they're never shown, and once we get the point about how much of a diva she is, she becomes a bore. Similarly, way too much time is spent on Daymeon's attempts at being a stand-up comic. One episode spends several minutes on Daymeon's routine at an open mic night at a comedy club, but within seconds it becomes apparent how appallingly untalented he is. His routine, involving jokes about anal bleeding and why dark-skinned blacks are not as smart as light-skinned blacks (even though he himself is dark-skinned) is thunderously unfunny, yet the show includes every last excruciating minute of it. Yes, his crude and dreadful routine makes for train-wreck TV, but it would have been better to show more of the other neglected cast members instead.
Baldwin Hills' failures are all the more disappointing because on occasion the show does tell some interesting truths about black culture. In one episode, several of the girls discuss the pros and cons of going to a predominantly black college like Howard versus a more diverse school like USC. This is the sort of discussion that's immensely fascinating, with no real right or wrong answers, just differing perspectives. It's the type of real-life conversation the show should have more of. Similarly, in another episode, Staci launches into a rant against "white black girls," meaning "black girls who talk white." Like Daymeon's anti-dark-skinned jokes, this could have served as an interesting jumping-off point for discussions of racial divisions within the black community itself. Instead, the show just dumps this venomous tirade without any comment, and then cuts away to something unrelated without ever bringing it up again. What's the point of incorporating such controversial ideas if they're not actually going to be debated?
In that regard, some of the DVD extras are more revealing. Not the ones on Disc One, "Ashley's Home Tour" (5:10) and "Hangin' With Sal" (10:12), both of which are just genial puff pieces for viewers who liked those particular cast members. Disc Two, however, contains "Casting Tapes" (26:09), "Cast Interviews" (23:08), and "The Creators" (12:10). The casting tapes consist of the interviews that landed the cast members their slots on the show, and all of the teens, even Garnette and Daymeon, reveal themselves as far more intelligent and self-aware here than on the episodes themselves. On the interviews, the cast members discuss the effects the show has had on their lives and admit that despite what the credits would have viewers believe, several of them didn't know each other before the show. The creators interview the show's producers and directors, who cop to manufacturing several key moments (like asking the cast to invite others to parties) for dramatic purposes. All of which underlines just how much TV-friendly contrivance goes into making a supposedly realistic show like this one. At least the full-screen transfer and stereo mix are satisfactory.
Ultimately, Baldwin Hills: The Complete First Season is hard to recommend. Even by reality-TV standards, there's just far too much TV and too little reality here. Watch a few episodes on BET if you're curious, but there's not much reason to buy this set. Someday someone will make a truly insightful show about upper middle-class black life in America, but Baldwin Hills simply isn't it. Guilty.
Review content copyright © 2008 Victor Valdivia; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 400 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Ashley's Home Tour
* Hangin' With Sal
* Casting Tapes
* Cast Interviews
* The Creators
* Official Site