Tyler Perry‘s new primetime soap, The Haves and the Have Nots, is everything a nighttime sudser should be: It’s sexy, scandalous, and a little cheesy; filled with a plethora of backstory that could be played out for seasons to come. The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) struck gold for its first foray into scripted television.
Let me start off by admitting I’m not a fan of Mr. Perry’s work. I’ve felt a lot of his work has perpetuated some pretty awful stereotypes about African-Americans, women and men in general, so I came into The Haves and the Have Nots fully prepared to hate it, but still very eager to see the premiere. Much to my surprise, my fears were unfounded. Mr. Perry crafted two hours of damn good primetime soap opera, infused with classic soap clichés with a modern twist.
Not since NBC’s short-lived Generations has a soap opera featured an African-American family as the focal point of the series. Perry’s series is also the first primetime soap to feature a predominantly African-American cast. The show tapped some familiar faces from daytime soaps to make up the cast – One Life to Live alum Tika Sumpter (ex-Layla, OLTL) as Candace Young, As the World Turns’ Peter Parros (ex-Ben, ATWT) as David Harrington, Passions‘ Eva Tomargo (ex-Pilar, PSNS) as Celine Gonzales and Guiding Light’s Gavin Houston (ex-Remy, GL) as Jeffrey Harrington.
Rounding out the cast is Dukes of Hazzard and Smallville star John Schneider as Jim Cryer, In the Heat of the Night’s Crystal R. Fox as Hanna Young, Angela Robinson as Veronica Harrington; and newcomers Renee Lawless, Aaron O’Connell, Jaclyn Betham and Tyler Lepley as Katheryn Cryer, Wyatt Cryer, Amanda Cryer and Benny Young, respectively.
The series follows the complicated dynamic between the rich and powerful Cryers and the hired help that work in their lavish Georgia mansion. On the surface, the Cryers look like the quintessential wealthy family, but underneath the facade is a family that’s unraveling amidst scandalous secrets. During the two-hour premiere, we learn a bit about the characters and the many skeletons in their closet.
Cryer family patriarch Jim is a judge with big political ambitions, but has a proclivity for any pretty thing in a skirt. It’s there that college student by day, escort by night, Candace Young enacts part of her plan to infiltrate the Cryers. Their one-night stand sets forth the main potential scandal for the family – and it’s just the beginning.
Unbeknownst to Candace, her mother Hanna, was just hired as the Cryers’ newest maid. Hanna proves her professionalism to Cryer matriarch Katheryn when she refuses to divulge details about the life of her previous employer. “My family’s been known to have a few skeletons in our closet. It is very important to me that they stay there,” said Katheryn, pleased with Hanna’s stonewalling. Hanna reunites with friend and fellow maid Celine, who put in a good word for her to get an interview with the Cryers.
Candace comes face to face with Jim while visiting the estate as a guest of his daughter Amanda. Later, at Jim’s birthday party, Candace mingles with the Cyers and their guests, the Harringtons, who learn that Candace is in law school with Amanda. During the party, Candace ignores her mother and later declares that her mother died after spinning tales of an upbringing that featured a doctor for a father. Candice boldly declares her mother died, devastating Hanna in front of everyone. A mishap with a drink ensues with Hanna, resulting in a scolding from Katheryn.
Later in the night, Jim sneaks out of bed and confronts Candace for showing up. She makes it clear what her price is for keeping quiet about their sexual interaction — $100,000 and a new sports car. Unbeknownst to them, Wyatt happens to overhear them discuss their tryst while sneaking some booze. After discovering this tidbit of information, Wyatt makes snide comments about Candace and older men, and decides to use this to his advantage (More on that later…).
Meanwhile, Jim and David discuss plans for Jim to ascend to higher political office, but must deal with their Candace problem first. Jim realizes that Candace has been planning her scheme for months and assures David that he has a plan to contain the issue, as nothing will derail their plans. Later, Jim tries to intimidate Candace with a story about a former convict who owes him a favor, but Candace calls his bluff, locks the door and then mounts him like he was a pony.
The Cryer children, Wyatt and Amanda, have their own things going on. Wyatt, the attractive, drug addicted jock, spiraling out of control, returns home after 47 days clean in rehab. It’s not the warmest homecoming for Wyatt, who returns to the estate with rehab coach/counselor Jeffrey, who happens to be the son of the Harringtons. When told he can’t even attend the bathroom alone, Wyatt drops trou in front of his mother, Jeffrey and Veronica and proceeds to walk throughout the house bare ass naked.
Wyatt also begins to suspect Jeffrey may be gay after a comment from his sister (thanks to Candace). He sets up his laptop to record and waits for Jeffrey to come to his room. He pretends to be sleeping when Jeffrey calls him, briefly “waking” only to pretend to go back to sleep. Before leaving, Jeffrey casts a seductive, slightly creepy and stalkerish-like gaze upon Wyatt, checking him up and down and licking his lips like Wyatt was a piece of cake. Not only did Jeffrey want Wyatt’s cakes, but be wanted to lick the bowl, the spatula, batter and everything else.
Meanwhile, Amanda seems to have self-confidence issues and is apparently a cutter. Overall, I found her to be of little interest. Maybe that’ll change as the weeks go on. Also, Katheryn maybe suffering from an illness.
Candace is the quintessential soap vixen. She’s a brazen woman, undaunted by just how much havoc her actions could wreak on the Cryers, who just so happen to be the family of her friend Amanda. In many ways, Candace reminds me a lot of the young versions of All My Children’s Kendall Hart and General Hospital’s Carly Roberts. Like Candace, those women were determined to create chaos wherever their feet touched, often leaving behind scorched earth in their wake – obliterating the personal and professional lives of anyone who dared be in their sights.
Like her daytime counterparts, Candace’s relationship with her mother, Hanna, is one full of complication and mutual resentment. Hanna feels her daughter brings shame to the family with her schemes; whereas Candace resents Hanna for not providing the kind of life she believes she’s entitled. It’s an interesting dynamic that serves to humanize Candace while also showcasing the source of Hanna’s parental stress. Candace is the wild child, content with running cons and looking for an easy way to the top; whereas her brother Benny, at least by appearances, seems to have his life together.
Candace’s deep rooted resentment towards her mother boils to the surface when Hanna discovers her in the master bedroom. Hanna confronts her daughter’s “thuggish ass” for scheming against the Cryers. Ignoring her mother, Candace continues exploring the walk-in closets and more, describing what she sees as so unfair. She then details all the spoils and luxuries Amanda was given as a child – not having to eat leftovers, bug free existence, attending fancy restaurants, lavish gifts and exotic vacations. Seeped in her words is a jealousy and bitterness offset by a determination to live like the Cryers someday. “I want to live like this,” she says as she tries on Katheryn’s jewelry.
When Hanna coldly tells her she’ll never have a house like the Cryers, Candace corrects her mother. “I didn’t say I want a house like this. I want this house.” Sumpter perfectly delivered her line with just the right about snark and declaration. Back and forth banter ensues, and after Candace cruelly mocks her mother in a slave-like voice, Hanna smacks her across the face. But it didn’t end there! Candace had the audacity to raise her hand to her own mother! Clearly the lord reached down and touched the common sense in that girl for just a second, as she foresaw the ass kicking that would come her way if she dared hit her.
“You are so pathetic,” she viciously spewed. Taunting her mother with losing her job if she exposed their relationship. When Hanna tells Candace she’s lost her mind, Candace retorts, “No. I never found it mama, after growing up in a house with your crazy ass.” She then tears the sheets and pillows off the bed, telling her mother to do her job and clean it up. WOW.
Apparently, Candace has a son. Good lord! That baby probably came out with horns and a tail given how deliciously evil his mother is.
In other parent/child wars, Wyatt’s struggle with addiction is the main source of contention between him and his parents. He’s a rich, entitled and spoiled son – believing that somehow his life is so bad that it necessitates his bad behavior. Wyatt’s like a cross between Passions‘ Fox Crane and All My Children‘s JR Chandler. Both men were in the shadows of their ruthless, driven and highly successful fathers – expected to live up to the unattainable expectations bestowed upon them.
Wyatt also learned the hard way that he can’t bully his way into getting what he wants. After throwing shade at Candace for most of the day, he confronts her about her relationship with his father. He tries to blackmail her into doing a drug run for him but instead, Candice insults him by laughing in his face and mocking him.
When he gets physical, she continues to taunt him. “What? You gonna hit me? Do it. Do it you, bitch ass punk. That’s what I thought. Now if you wanna get high, you do it on your own time. If you wanna be cool with me, then be cool. But don’t you ever, ever threaten me again. Because I will destroy you worse than heroin.” She mushes him in the face and then asks him if she wants more, effectively making him her bitch for the foreseeable future.
Manipulative daughter aside, Hanna is a hardworking, church-going, God-fearing Christian woman, who just wants her children to have a better life than she had. It’s clear she’s tired; tired of being sick and tired. Tired of having to put up with rich folks like the Cryers, but also knowing she can’t stop working as the bills don’t stop simply because you don’t feel like working. She considers her daughter to be a colossal disappointment; content with scheming her way to success and embracing the devil inside of her.
There’s a scene where Hanna smugly goes off about Candace lying about being enrolled in college, only to learn from her son, Benny, that she really is enrolled. It was a representation of just how badly her relationship is with her daughter, something that bubbles over during the confrontation mentioned above.
Meanwhile, her son is the apple of her eye, using the Christian values she instilled in him and It’s working out for him. Hanna fails to realize that her disdain for her daughter only fuels Candace’s hate for her. It’s a twisted, soapy cycle.
The Haves and the Have Nots is good, soapy fun. Though it’s a primetime soap, its production values are a step about daytime soaps. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s noticeable to the viewer used to slick production. The show doesn’t re-invent the wheel, but it does prove that you can take daytime in the nighttime and deliver a highly entertaining product.