“Reed Between the Lines” – New sitcom celebrates family
by Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud
No one would fault you if, upon seeing the new Black Entertainment Television series “Reed Between the Lines,” you drew an immediate and instinctual comparison between it and the classic “The Cosby Show.”
The association might have something to do with the fact that Malcolm-Jamal Warner, who entered the public eye more than a quarter-century ago in the role of Theo Huxtable, is now portraying Dr. Alex Reed, father and husband of the new sitcom’s titular clan. Also in the cast is Tracee Ellis Ross (“Girlfriends”), who portrays his wife, Dr. Carla Reed. Like “Cosby,” “Reed Between The Lines” provides an essential modern-day depiction of the black family.
“We are honored to be in the same breath as ‘The Cosby Show.’ It was groundbreaking, and we hope to live up to being something that good,” says actress Melissa De Sousa (“The Best Man”), who plays Gabby, Carla’s best friend from childhood. “We probably wouldn’t be compared so much to the show if Malcolm weren’t playing the father; but maybe we would, because there really isn’t any other black family show like this on television. Nevertheless, our show also has a lot of differences, because it is a much younger and modern version. The world is different now, with different issues. For example, Carla is a psychologist who addresses issues in the world of psychology that we don’t always talk about in real life.”
De Sousa sees diversity as another value central to the show’s relatability. “I have been asked many times why my character on the show is Puerto Rican,” reveals the actress, the daughter of Panamanian parents. “I tell people that it takes place in New York City — and what is New York without a Latin character? That is what I loved about growing up in New York. It is a melting pot with many different cultures and people. The president of programming for BET and creator of the … series, Loretha Jones, is from the Bronx in New York — and definitely wanted an Afro-Latina character in the show.”
Cast member Anna Marie Horsford (“227”) says the creators and performers make a conscious choice to present real-life situations from a positive angle. “There is functional and dysfunctional, and our series shows how a modern, blended family … can be functional and really work with everyone being happy,” says Horsford, who portrays Ms. Helen, Carla’s receptionist by default. “We need to know that these good examples of the black family exist, even if some only see it on television. There is a lot of drama going on in the world today, and sometimes everyone needs a little room to exhale. And that is where we need to see a healthy family, and know that it is possible.”
Horsford finds her character easy to portray, because it carries a heavy dose of familiarity: She developed it based on the black women she grew up admiring as a child.
“I grew up in Harlem in New York City, and I realize every day now how brilliant my mother was,” she says. “She didn’t have any degrees — but there was laughter, common sense … etiquette, and grace that she embodied. The ladies that I grew up admiring didn’t have a lot of money, but taught their daughters how to be ladies, cross their legs, and have pinkies up when drinking tea. They demanded that we say, ‘Thank you,’ and ‘Please’ — because it was a code of etiquette that we had to have, as (important) as education. I built my character … on all of those wonderful memories of those ladies — who told you the truth even if you didn’t want to necessarily hear it.”
Sousa — who will soon be working on a sequel to “The Best Man” — is thrilled about both the series and the network on which it airs.
“I think BET in general is promoting empowerment,” she says, “exposing people to see their options in life, and encouraging discussions about mental and physical health issues, and contributing to making lives more positive and progressive.”