Dewayne Wayne is back on television in a 90s show, Love Is ___. Okay, it’s not Dewayne from A Different World, but it is Kadeem Hardison starring as the eccentric boss of 1997 Nuri (played by Michele Weaver). He is not the only throwback in the show. The clothes, music, and much of the joke references all hail from the late 90s. The decade is not the star, though. Like Hardison, its only one of the characters that propel this romance forward.
This romance created by Mara Brock Akil (produced by Salim Akil and Oprah) and is successful. Akil’s previous hits Girlfriends and The Game were revolutionary in how black romance was portrayed in a comedic sitcom. Now, we have Akil working her magic in the hour-long dramatic romance genre. In Love Is __, the whole narrative is being told by the couple on the day they are celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary. A wiser Nuri is played by Wendy Davis while Clarke Peters is her wiser husband Yasir. The couple fuss and bicker, but the tone remains loving and playful. It is evident that they are just as in love as they were the first day they met.
Back in 1997, Nuri meets Yasir, played by Will Catlett in a coffee shop. They have a meaningful conversation but don’t actually date until a year later. That first time, Nuri was struggling to realize her dream as a writer. A year later, she has a steady gig on a comedy show helmed by Hardison’s character Norman. The show is all kinds of problematic, points that I am happy to see pointed out by Nuri’s friend Angela. Despite the issues, Nuri ‘s gig has bought her a house and student loans that are almost paid off. Yasir, however, is living with an ex-girlfriend, driving a Geo that’s on its last leg and is desperate for a job. Nuri is living her best life and trying to find a guy who was as well. Meanwhile, Yasir was trying to survive Ramadan with a roof over his head.
Here’s the show’s trailer.
That’s another thing I love about Love Is ___ The show centers a Muslim man and his religious traditions, without “othering” him or his beliefs. We see in a later episode how Yasir is trying to hide his eventual homelessness from Nuri by waiting for her call near a payphone. But, when the phone rings, he does not hear it. Yasir is deep in prayer, which he must do in a parking lot after cleansing himself from a jug of water he bought from a store. Ramadan fasting and the sacrifices that Muslim worshippers make during that time also become a point of discussion but are never portrayed as abnormal. In fact, Nuri is familiar with the traditions. Seeing her respect for his religion only makes this tale perfect for today’s world. Yasir’s religion is never treated like an eccentricity. It is as normal and a part of him as the hair on his chest, just as it should be.
Love Is __ also comments on the equitable treatment of sexual lifestyles in women and in men. As a result, anyone who questions Nuri’s complex relationships with multiple men is unreasonable, irrational—as they should be portrayed. From the complex platonic love that Yasir has with his ex, Ruby to the undefined arrangement that Yasir’s friend is living, the characters in Love Is __ all cover the complicated ways that people become entangled. It focuses hard on how life becomes real when poverty, love, and chasing dreams are the foremost things on a young person’s mind. In other words, this is the life of people in their 20s and 30s trying to find their purpose in life. The honest reactions are and even the situations that Yasir and his friend find themselves in are authentic. I especially love how the show captures the 90s naivete of the internet: “It’s safe. It’s the internet.”
The love story of how Nuri and Yasir came together is the central narrative. However, the plot is riddled with 90s references. It’s the race relations (a meeting with a white exec who touches Angela’s hair without permission is humorous), and the realities of being broke that make some of the best scenes along the way to this romantic union. The show explores the difficulties that come from relationships where the income in unequal and so is the place that each person is in on the way to their dreams. And, at work, how much of your blackness can you compromise before you completely sell out for a dream?
I believe that this show has so much for the 18 to 50 crowd. For most, it will cause nostalgia for an era long gone. For others, it comes right when they are facing the same complex problems.
It’s about time we got a black romance that tackles black love and the struggles that make that love possible. I look forward to watching the young couple make their way to the cute, familiar older people who wear love like its an old hat one slips on without thinking. How do they realize their dreams? How does Yasir finally overcome poverty?
I have so many more questions so I’ll be watching every week. I hope you are too.
Love Is ___ airs on Tuesdays at on OWN.
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Jonita Davis is a writer, mother, a certified nerd, and writer of Black Girl Nerds. Davis is a critic and journalist. She has been writing for 13 years about the way pop culture and politics affect our lives as parents, women, black women, nerds, and people of this planet.