Saturday, November 26, 2011

From The Blackpool Of Style: Amen

This post is a long time coming. The SABC has been grappling with financial woes for the past 3 years. Consequently, this has left the corporation in a bad way, so much so that its programming has become redundant and desultory. Honestly, I don't know why I have to pay my TV license when two episodes of Everybody Hates Chris are foisted on me twice a week. One is enough, really. But then again as the viewing audience what do we expect from a corporation that made losses totaling R910 million in one financial year. Word is, there is some semblance of financial improvement. I'll believe it, however, when I see it. Which means the programming must once again be attractive, interesting and consistent. Just because there's talk of improvement, especially in its finances, doesn't mean that success is fait accompli.

I'm sure everyone remembers TV shows such as Good Times, 227, Diff'rent Strokes, The Jefferson's, Sanford and Son, The Cosby Show, ADifferent World, etc. These are all shows I grew up on. Some were first aired in the 70s, however, I got a taste of them in the 80s. The SABC's programming was pretty much satisfactory in those days, even though media freedom was fettered and to an extent controlled. In its impecunious state the present day SABC literally went for broke and brought us AMEN! Twice a week, from 11:30 am to 12pm, we are treated to half an hour of wit, humour and sartorial brilliance. The cast and acting aside, this show is probably the most sartorially stimulating I have ever witnessed. The wardrobe is nothing short of impeccable and indelible. The main character and star of the show is Sherman Hemsley. Yes, the one and only 'Mr. Jefferson' from 'The Jefferson's'. In this role he plays the character of Ernest Frye, church deacon, shrewd lawyer, single father, cunning friend, austere father-in-law, serial seducer, and an all round funny guy. Mr. Hemsley's transition from George Jefferson to deacon Frye is so mellifluous, as if this and other roles he's played were tailor made for him. Even though the show is set around the First Community Church of Philadelphia, it doesn't come off as preachy or pious. In fact, in as much as there are scenes shot inside the church, actual church service scenes are very sparse.

The show also stars Clifton Davis who plays the moral and upright Reverend Reuben Gregory. A young and likeable Anna Maria Horsford playing the role of Thelma Frye, daughter to deacon Frye, and later, Reuben’s love interest. A pair of loud, chattering sisters is played by Roz Ryan (you may remember her as Anthony Anderson’s mother on ‘All About the Anderson’s) and Barbara Montgomery. They play Amelia and Cassietta Hetebrink, respectively. They are always on hand to help with church matters and also proffer relationship advice to Thelma whenever she is in need. The incisive, reasonable and stoic Rolly Forbes is played by Jester Hairston. Already a senior citizen in the show, he is a beacon of equanimity whenever the whole crew is faced with a stressful situation.  A perpetually sharp and smart dresser, you will never see him without a pocket square, it forms an integral part of his attire. In my book, he is my pick for best dressed on the show.

Sartorially the wardrobe seems to be well arranged and each male character has his own unique style. Rolly Forbes is always in a single breasted suit, if not a three piece; well proportioned and balanced. The reverend Gregory has a penchant for mixing and matching. He hardly wears a suit, but prefers rather to mix sport jackets with trousers and then accessorise appropriately with a tie and pocket handkerchief.  Because he is always visiting the Frye’s at their home there are many scenes where he is entering or leaving, therefore a trench coat or some form of overcoat is always utilised. In as far as the deacon is concerned; the character straddles deacon and attorney quite deftly. Maybe as a sign of the times he has a particular interest in double breasted suits, the 6x2 kind. This, I surmise, denotes his position of power, both in the church and professionally. He also dabbles in mixing and matching, albeit rare.

There is a scene where they wore tuxedos and the attire was on point; replete with white folded pocket squares and boutonnieres.  Another scene depicted them as high rollers attending a live show featuring one of their own, Amelia Hetebrink. Set in a night club, deacon Frye was in a top coat with a fur collar, white french cuff shirt, a hat, and an ebullient pocket handkerchief.

The show also features prominent black actors and actresses in cameo roles, all of them having a thing or two to do with the Frye’s and their close circle. One character with a recurring role is the Reverend Didymo, played by Eric Christmas, who also played Father Francis on Days of our Lives (talk about being typecast). He plays the gullible reverend Didymo who always falls victim to the deacon’s scheming which results in them landing in precarious situations. RichardRoundtree also features playing a strict, abrasive and steely army drill sergeant. When reverend Gregory is perpetually undecided about marrying Thelma, especially after he faints at the altar just before saying ‘I do’, Thelma bolts for the army in order to forget about him, his inveterate indecisiveness and nurse her broken heart. Needless to say, Thelma and the drill sergeant butt heads on more than one occasion, to the chagrin of her father and fiancé. Their attempts at intervening in the situation, however, fall through even when they disguise themselves as women coming to Thelma’s rescue.  More cameos can be evinced in the pictures below.

There’s something I lionize with the Thelma character; it is the consistency in her inflection. This can be found in a myriad of roles Horsford has played over her acting career. And only the ‘pious’ reverend Gregory manages to be impervious to the mawkish advances of a lovesick Thelma, during their courtship and marriage. This is something natural in her voice, but I feel that she is able to use it in such a way that the characters she plays are believable and honest.

The recycling of actors or actresses in the film industry is often decried because this closes the door on new, young, up and coming ones. I feel, however, that in some instances this is needed so that there this continuity in quality TV shows. This is also the case in the South African context, but that’s a post for another day. I absolutely love this show because it embodies what is lacking in contemporary TV shows. As for the sartorial aspect; AMEN is a perennial winner.

 Believe it or not this is James Avery with a toupee. At some point in the show he, playing the part of Rev. Crawford, and the deacon were competing, vying for a senor position in the church after the impending retirement of Rev. Didymo. The toupee blew me away because it seemed to denote that he's been balding for a long time.

Old man Rolly Forbes doesn't have much lines in each episode, however, he has the most sardonic rebuttals and one liners I have ever heard. Although the voice of reason no one is exempt from his sarcasm. The lady in this particular frame I recognised from an episode of the Steve Harvey, wherein she played a judge.

 This gentleman played a role on The Cosby Show was Dr. Huxtable's father. Note the 2 inch cuff, double breasted pin stripe suit, and the white point collar shirt.

 I love this kid, lil' Chris, always getting thrown out...

 ...for sticking his nose in grown folks' business and doing it in a caustic manner.

 The First Community Church of Philadelphia. Incredibly dramatic scenes were shot in the church, including a little dabbling with televangelism.

                                                              The beautiful...

The exuberant...

  ...loud, earsplitting, deafening, sonorous, incomparable, inimitable, Jackée Harry.

                                             PG: Man to man, generation to generation

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