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Case Number 13137

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Girlfriends: The Third Season

Paramount // 2002 // 523 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // March 5th, 2008

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All Rise...

Judge Victor Valdivia is developing a sitcom based on himself and his friends. It's called Everybody Loves Some Creepy Guy Who Posts on Internet Message Boards.

Editor's Note

Our review of Girlfriends, published December 16th, 2005, is also available.

The Charge

Joan: Toni had botox.
Maya: She botoxed?
Joan: Uh-huh.
Maya: Child, now you did it, now you live with it. Let me see. Lift your head up.
(Toni lifts her head up)
Maya: Oh, my God. Um, maybe we can Scotch-tape the other eyebrow up, so they match. Have you thought of auditioning for the Kabuki?
—from "Secrets and Eyes"

Opening Statement

Girlfriends: The Third Season compiles the episodes that many feel are the show's peak in both popularity and creativity. If the show was only a shadow of itself in its last seasons, fans get a chance to see the series at its prime with this set.

Facts of the Case

Joan Clayton (Tracee Ellis Ross) is a lawyer at a high-priced Los Angeles law firm. Maya Wilkes (Golden Brooks, Beauty Shop) is her administrative assistant, a former teenage mother from South Central. Toni Childs (Jill Marie Jones), who sells high-priced real estate, is Joan's childhood friend. Lynn Searcy (Persia White, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), an unemployed free spirit, was Joan's college roommate. Together, neurotic mother hen Joan, narcissistic Toni, blunt and feisty Maya, and flighty and impulsive Lynn, along with Joan's laid-back coworker William Dent (Reggie Hayes), go through difficult trials and challenges but still find time to come together. Here are the 25 episodes from this season:

Disc One
• "Coming to Terms"
Joan throws a singles party to meet a man, and fails miserably. Her failure prompts her to train for running in a marathon. Meanwhile, after admitting that she was unfaithful to her husband Darnell (Khalil Kain, Juice), Maya is living at Joan's house.

• "Getting Our Act Together"
Maya and Darnell attend couples counseling with a minister who is somewhat less than helpful. Lynn tries her hand at being a bartender.

• "Secrets and Eyes"
Joan plans a birthday party for Toni and winds up inadvertently revealing a secret Toni had been desperately trying to keep. Toni meets Dr. Todd Garrett (Jason Pace), a plastic surgeon who is just as impudent as she is.

• "Star Craving Mad"
Joan meets Ellis (Adrian Lester), an actor who turns out to be less irritating and egotistical than she first thought. William's sister asks him to be the sperm donor for her lesbian partner.

• "Don't Leave Me a Loan"
Lynn's adoptive parents beg her to get a real job after their credit rating is ruined when she defaults on her college loans. Meanwhile, William meets Monica (Keesha Sharp), a ruthless and aggressive go-getter who instantly clashes with the girls.

• "Invasion of the Gold Digger"
The girls decide that Monica, William's abrasive and ambitious new girlfriend, has to go, especially after she convinces William to dump Joan from a big case they were both going to work on. Toni and Todd run into each other repeatedly and Toni begins to wonder about him.

Disc Two
• "Blinded by the Lights"
Ellis invites Joan to attend his new movie's premiere, but then leaves her behind at the red carpet at his publicist's urging. To make up for it, he then attempts to give an interview with her at his side.

• "Handling Baggage"
Darnell is seen with another woman just as Maya still thinks there is hope for salvaging her marriage. The two of them are forced to decide what the future of their relationship will be, both for them and for their son Jabari (Tanner Scott Richards).

• "The Mommy Returns"
Lynn's biological mother, who gave her up for adoption shortly after she was born, returns and turns out to be even more free-spirited than Lynn. She inspires Lynn to quit her job and begin a documentary film.

• "A Little Romance"
When Todd protects Toni from an aggressive motorist who threatens her, she begins to realize her growing attraction for him. But she wonders if she can forge a relationship with a man who is white, Jewish, and short.

• "Santa v. Monica"
William agrees to play Santa Claus for Jabari's Christmas party. That's until Monica urges him to host his bosses at a lavish party of his own where he can network and score points with rich clients.

• "Take this Poem and Call Me in the Morning"
The girls still haven't forgiven William for abandoning Jabari at Christmas. Lynn meets a poet who urges her to practice celibacy.

Disc Three
• "Howdy Partner"
Joan and William compete to be named senior partner at their law firm, and are then shocked when Sharon (Anne-Marie Johnson, In Living Color), an outsider, is chosen instead. William decides his time at the firm is over.

• "Single Mama Drama"
Maya meets another single mother while working late at the firm, but her lack of ethics make the others wonder if she will hurt Maya's chances at retaining custody of Jabari.

• "Happy Valentine's Day…Baby?"
Todd's attempts at celebrating Valentine's Day with Toni fall flat as she begins to think that maybe he's just involved with her for her race. Ellis tries a romantic surprise for Joan, but is interrupted when his ex-girlfriend shows up with their newborn son.

• "Sex, Lies & Books"
Maya's divorce is finalized, leaving her feeling vulnerable and depressed, even as Toni and Todd try to set her up with one of his friends. Joan's attempts at befriending the snippy and sharp-tongued Sharon fail miserably.

• "A Stiff Good Man is Easy to Find"
Todd and Toni's stab at discussing possible marriage plans ends in disaster as Toni disappears, leaving Todd to ask the other girls about their future. William discovers possible feelings for Sharon that may imperil his relationship with Monica.

• "Runaway Bridesmaid"
Joan won't admit that's she's beginning to feel jealous over Toni's impeding wedding.

Disc Four
• "The Pact"
Joan is outraged when Toni asks Reesie (Kimberly Elise, Diary of a Mad Black Woman), their friend from college, to be her bridesmaid, since Joan is convinced that Reesie stole Joan's boyfriend away and married him. Reesie shocks them all, however, when she reveals that, as a result of her husband's unfaithfulness, she has developed full-blown AIDS.

• "Where Everyone Knows My Name"
Maya begs her friends for a girls' night out at the soul food place where she and Darnell used to go, but discovers that Darnell's life has changed for the better.

• "Too Much Sharin'"
Joan finds out that William and Sharon, who is now his boss, are having a steamy affair.

• "Blood is Thicker than Liquor"
Toni worries that her alcoholic mother (Jenifer Lewis, What's Love Got to do with It? will embarrass her as she meets Todd and his family for the first time. Toni's father (Isaac Hayes, Shaft) struggles to hold the family together.

• "The Fast Track and the Furious"
Lynn uses Reesie's story as the basis for her documentary about AIDS in the black community, and applies for a grant to get public funding for it. In doing so, she discovers the real story of how and why her biological mother gave her up for adoption. Meanwhile, Maya, seeing that William has been given an astronomical raise, decides to get some career security for herself.

• "The Wedding, Part 1"
Toni invites her friends to an expensive mansion for her wedding, and is infuriated when Joan, distracted over problems with her relationship with Ellis, is absent. Sensing Joan's jealousy, Toni uninvites her to the wedding.

• "The Wedding, Part 2"
Toni's wedding falls apart as her self-indulgence drives Todd away. Joan confronts her jealousy of Toni and tries to make amends. Toni finally realizes all that she really needs to make her wedding dream come true.

The Evidence

Frequently dismissed as a cheap CW sitcom, or a black Sex and the City, Girlfriends is actually a lot smarter and funnier. By tackling such hot-button topics as interracial and interfaith relationships, the skyrocketing AIDS crisis amongst young black women, mental illness, alcoholism, and divorce, the show showed it was far more ambitious than it was made out to be. Good writing has to be the foundation of a sitcom, and Girlfriends has sharper, smarter writing than most CW shows.

The third season of Girlfriends is one that many fans of the show agree is the best. After this season, the show began to slide into soapiness and mean-spiritedness, but here the show found a perfect balance between humor and heart. In fact, what sets it apart from most of the other shows it is frequently lumped in with is that in addition to delivering many funny jokes, Girlfriends actually spent time with carefully laid-out character development. This meant that themes and scenes from episodes over various seasons would not pay off immediately, as is usually the case, but over a longer time.

In the previous two seasons, for instance, the character of Maya was particularly developed. As a teenager, she was impregnated by her high-school boyfriend and married young. Insecure over her status as the only one of the friends who has never been to college, she's now aware of a far wider world than her childhood in South Central Los Angeles would have exposed her to and she has been outgrowing her relationships to her past, especially Darnell. Earlier, hurt by Darnell's refusal to allow her to attend college, she sought the attention of another man. This season begins as Maya and Darnell struggle to repair the damage her infidelity has caused to her family, and the continuing story arc pays off well here. "Handling Baggage," in which Maya and Darnell finally accept that their marriage is broken beyond repair, is arguably the season's best episode. Both Brooks and Kain give great performances, and while the episode has some very funny lines, it also avoids the typical sitcom trap of creating an artificial crisis and then resolving it. Here, not only is the ending poignant, but it conforms perfectly to the character development that has been carefully built up since the beginning.

Also great is "The Fast Track and the Furious." Although the title refers to Maya's story, the real heart of the episode is the relationship between Lynn and her biological mother, and how Lynn handles her blossoming career as a documentarian. It also serves to conclude the arc dealing with AIDS in a manner that is both heartbreaking and honest without stooping to cheap manipulation. This is the kind of story that no other show has ever done, and it's a shame that this episode didn't get more attention than it did.

The cast is appealing and charming, not to mention funny. True, the show doesn't shy away from taking advantage of the women's good looks; Jones and Brooks, in particular, rarely look less than glamorous. But that doesn't negate the fact that the women have crack comic timing and can deliver one-liners impeccably. No one does cheerful self-absorption like Jones. She can sell Toni's most egotistical moments with likeability. Brooks gets to deliver plenty of tossed-off asides, but also gets the season's most dramatic scenes. Ross' self-deprecating charm makes even the most neurotic Joan moments entertaining. White, who has sometimes been underused, actually gets plenty of great chances this season to show off her skills with the documentary and AIDS storylines. While Hayes might have been dismissed as the show's token man, he's actually a gifted comic actor, equally adept at verbal sparring and physical bits.

The show really comes together for the climactic two-part wedding episode. All of the storylines of the season are carefully weaved together. Joan is forced to confront her jealousy over Toni's relationship, and her problem's with Ellis' newborn son (Ross is really at her best here). Maya finally recovers after a painful divorce and begins to feel her oats when she meets Toni's younger brother, an aspiring doctor she finds intriguing (and Brooks gets the episode's funniest scene when she launches into a pitch-perfect Angela Bassett impersonation). Lynn has found a place for herself that satisfies her both professionally and personally. Toni, whose selfishness and arrogance were so pronounced earlier that at one point before this season, she and Joan were estranged, has accepted how love and marriage can make sacrifice not only necessary but even welcome. It's a fitting closer to what would turn out to be the show's most consistently enjoyable season.

Girlfriends is shown in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Since the original shows were shot and broadcast in full-screen, this may explain the note on the back of the package that parts of the show are edited out. The transfer is good, with some minor grain showing up here and there. The Dolby Digital stereo mix is crisp and clear.

The extras are a decent mix, though not as thorough as they could have been. On Disc Two is "It's What You Wear That Counts" (17:24), a look at the fashion and wardrobe. Executive producer Mara Brock Akil says here that wardrobe is very important to a woman, and judging by this featurette, that's true, as all of the cast (minus Brooks and Hayes) has a lot to say about their clothing, as do Akil and the show's costume supervisor. Fashion junkies may love this, but anyone else can skip it. The better featurette, "Here Comes the Bride: An Invitation inside the Wedding" (20:52), is on Disc Four. It's a look at the filming of the wedding episode, and how the rest of the season related to it. In addition to the cast (with Hayes, but still without Brooks), there's also input from Akil and Akil's husband Salim, who directed the wedding episode. All have some insights into the darker tone of the season and how the characters developed considerably. They also address some of the controversies that erupted over the show as it tackled such weighty topics this season, especially over Toni's interracial and interfaith relationship. Since Girlfriends so rarely gets any press coverage, this is an excellent place for fans to finally get to hear about the show in any depth. It's a shame there's not more features. Commentaries on the best episodes would have been interesting to hear.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

It seems like a strange complaint to make against a sitcom, but there are certain points where the show maybe could have cut a little deeper. In the storyline about Todd and Toni's relationship, it seems that there are several aspects that were not really fully explored. Apart from some tart one-liners from Maya and Toni's mother, there really isn't much attention given to the possible controversy over a black woman dating a white man. This may have been a topic that could have been a little weighty for any sitcom, but given that Girlfriends hasn't shied away from addressing even more serious topics like AIDS, it seems rather strange that this wasn't dealt with in more detail. In fact, this is the season where Lynn learns that she herself is the product of an interracial relationship, and yet she doesn't seem to have anything to say about Toni's and Todd's marriage, or any challenges that their possible offspring might face. Similarly, Reesie is given plenty of attention in the two episodes devoted to her story, but in order for it to really pack the dramatic punch that it deserves, she really should have appeared more in the series. There are times, in short, when it becomes apparent that the show may have tried to cram too much into one season. It's possible to argue that maybe some of these story arcs should have been spread out more over other seasons.

Closing Statement

Girlfriends is an underrated show, much smarter and funnier than it's been given credit for. This is the show's best season, hitting its creative peak before less realistic storylines took over. Viewers looking for a good sitcom with great comic acting and more depth than usual should give it a look.

The Verdict

An overabundance of ambitions is by far the most forgivable crime, especially for a sitcom on the CW. Girlfriends: The Third Season is found not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 80
Audio: 80
Extras: 75
Acting: 90
Story: 85
Judgment: 95

Perp Profile

Studio: Paramount
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 523 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genres:
• Comedy
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• "It's What You Wear That Counts"
• "Here Comes the Bride: An Invitation Inside the Wedding"

Accomplices

• IMDb
• Official Site








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