TV Recap and Review: Daytime Divas – Pilot

Title: Pilot
Show: Daytime Divas
Season: 1
Episode: 1
Sidereel Rating (Average): 4.17
Sidereel Rating (Mine): 5

Based on: Satan’s Sisters by Star Jones

Notes: Series Premiere

Cast:

  1. Vanessa Williams – Maxine Robinson
  2. Camille Guaty – Nina Sandoval
  3. Tichina Arnold – Mo Evans
  4. Chloe Bridges – Kibbie Ainsley
  5. Fiona Gubelmann – Heather Flynn-Kellogg
  6. McKinley Freeman – Shawn Robinson

Series Description: In a spoof of The View, and with former The View co-host Star Jones as executive producer, comes Daytime Divas. The show is about The Lunch Hour, a daytime talk show led by Maxine Robinson, long time news anchor and journalist. Her co-hosts are Nina, a Pulitzer prize winning war correspondent with secrets in her past, Mo, a stand up comedian who can be unscrupulous when it comes to getting ahead, Kibbie, a former child star struggling with addiction and Heather, a former pageant queen and devout Christian. Maxine’s adoptive son (and biological nephew) Shawn works with as a producer on the show.

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Vanessa Williams as Maxine Robinson

Plot Highlights: Maxine and Mo clash on air about a joke made at Maxine’s expense. Mo worries that Heather’s husband may be abusing her. Mo is having an affair with her PA, Leon. Maxine goes into a coma during a routine facelift procedure, something Shawn quickly spins as minor throat surgery. Leon the PA wants to take their relationship to the next level, but Mo dumps him. Nina and her husband Andrew find out that that they cannot have children. Nina and Shawn turn out to be having an affair. In Maxine’s absence, the other co-hosts vie for Maxine’s “left chair.” Brad and Heather argue about their daughter Ella (who is trans). Leon blackmails Mo, resuming their relationship and getting a promotion. Mo finds Maxine’s medical records and blackmails Shawn into giving her the “left chair.” Kibby falls off the wagon and is nearly arrested. Maxine wakes up during the airing of the show and decides to delay announcing the details of her recovery.

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From L to R: Tichina Arnold, Chloe Briges, Camille Guaty and Fiona Gubelmann as Mo, Kibbie, Nina and Heather.

Phew. Who’d have thought that one episode would have so much happening in it?

The episode does a great job of introducing the characters and displaying their various quirks – as if the Lunch Hour introductory sequence alone wasn’t enough to do that. And while the drama falls neatly into the requisite spaces, plenty of space is also reserved for a WHOLE lot of depth. In essence, Daytime Divas is The Lunch Hour plus the dishy backstage deets.

The show opens with Maxine cancelling her appearance at a corporate retreat because: “It’s a boy’s club. I refuse to be paraded around as the token female in a leadership role.” There is no doubt that she’s a diva, through and through – as she walks from her office to the set, she’s seen telling a costume designer to take a jacket out of rotation because she’d already worn it once six months ago. She then goes on to tell the woman to have the jacket wrapped up so Maxine could give it to her cleaning lady as a birthday present. Maxine also seems to have an ongoing rivalry with Oprah that Oprah probably knows nothing about.

Full disclosure: I’ve already watched multiple episodes of this show. Yes, I know the pilot just aired, but I work in closed captioning and subtitling, and we often get new movies or TV shows before they begin airing. Interestingly, this is also how I ended up watching the currently airing final segment of Pretty Little Liars several months ago. (That’s right, I know who A is. No, I’m not telling – I’ll get sued.) But I digress. My point is, I already know this is a very good, very solid show. It’s the whole reason why I decided to start tracking it in my personal capacity as a fan. And while the pilot is a very good representation of what the rest of the show is going to be like, I assure you it gets even better from here.

Having watched other episodes in this season is a major reason why I’m already in love with Shawn Robinson. McKinley Freeman does a great job portraying a sensitive, yet professional young man who is in tune with the needs of a show like The Lunch Hour (especially considering the kind of co-hosts it has). Shawn loves his mom, he also puts his duty to her above everything else. When Heather (catchphrase: “Modest is hottest”) complains about the temperature being too cold, he matter-of-factly calls for nipple covers for her without missing a beat. After Maxine goes into a coma, Shawn is at the hospital dictating a press release when the doctor informs him that he can go in to see his mother. He gestures for the co-hosts to go ahead, and goes back to the press release. When the next episode airs, Shawn chooses to direct the episode from Maxine’s hospital room. With everyone else, Shawn is grounded, responsible and professional; in moments when he’s alone with his mother – or with Nina, he’s emotionally vulnerable.

The first scenes from The Lunch Hour depict a swimsuit segment because Maxine feels it an appropriate way to kick off swimsuit season. Kibbie feels that it will be empowering for women to feel comfortable in their own skin. Mo thinks that the sight of Kibbie in her swimsuit is going to jump start a generation of eating disorders.

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“Hey, hey, careful. They’re real.”

Like with Mo and Kibby clashing over the swimsuits, on air, the co-hosts constantly interrupt each other as they argue their diverse perspectives. None of them can be said to be one-dimensional stereotypes. For instance, Heather worries about being modest and insists on praying all the time, finds it offensive when people take the Lord’s name in vain, and is promoting a book that Kibby sarcastically calls “The Subservient Wife.” [“It’s “The Fulfilled Wife,” Heather snaps back.] At the same time, she furiously defends her daughter Ella to her husband, insisting that the Lord made her the way she was, and the Lord doesn’t make mistakes.

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Heather with her children Savannah (L) and Ella (R).

Maxine has sort of taken Kibby under her wing, encouraging her to stay off the drugs and alcohol. Kibby is chirpy, cheerful and deeply sensitive, and Maxine’s coma affects her more than anyone else (with the obvious exception of Shawn.) In a hilarious scene, all the co-hosts end up at the hospital and claim they’re there to visit Maxine, when in reality Nina was visiting Shawn, and Mo and Heather came exclusively to make a play for the left chair. Only Kibby turns up because she actually wants to visit Maxine, and is visibly confused when Shawn asks her if she’s here for the chair too. An encounter with her mother also makes it clear that Kibby is still trying to escape a long standing abusive relationship.

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Kibby and her girlfriend Nick.

Heather is a budding fashion designer, and models her own design in the swimsuit segment. When Maxine, while promoting it, mentions that the swimsuit is inexpensive as well as stylish, Nina jumps in with a comment about sweatshop manufacture and child labour, causing Heather to snap back about the unions having “ruined” manufacturing in the US. Nina is pretty standard fare, but she’s also the character I relate to the most on this show. It’s only her affair with Shawn and the news that her husband Andrew is infertile that begins to set her apart.

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Nina and Shawn after Maxine’s accident

Mo Evans does the most to challenge Maxine’s authority and place her outside her comfort zone. She is the most confrontational and unapologetic of the show’s cast, and the opening scenes have Mo making a joke about Maxine’s age (she claims that she slipped on Maxine’s vagina, referencing pelvic organ prolapse). She’s been having a sexual relationship with Leon, her PA, but is disinterested in emotional connections, as is evidenced by the fact that she promptly dumps Leon when he asks to take their relationship to the next level.
Mo gains evidence of Maxine undergoing cosmetic surgery and blackmails Shawn with it to gain the “left chair” position, but loses out to network representative Jason Abel’s demand that Nina take that position. This does nothing to deter Mo, who takes the seat anyway, physically unseating Nina in the process. But her abrasive demeanour doesn’t prevent her from reaching out to those she cares about.
Her complete control over her sexuality is something else I love about Mo. “If you don’t know how to talk dirty, don’t talk at all,” she tells Leon while they’re in the midst of boning. “But don’t stop.” Mo sex is loud, raunchy, questionably ethical exhibitionist sex, and she does it while watching a video of herself going viral.

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“Alright, y’all. Stay beautiful, stay black. Except for the white people. Please stop trying to be black.” – Mo doing stand up.

Body image is constantly referenced in Daytime Divas. Maxine Robinson’s “brand” includes the notion that she’s never had any cosmetic surgery done, but in the course of the pilot it becomes clear that this is patently untrue. Maxine’s lie, which could be seen as being hypocritical, is placed in context in the aftermath of Mo’s viral joke about her age, as she talks about how men at her age are referred to as “distinguished and wise,” while she’s going to be seen as “irrelevant, old and foolish.” But Maxine’s arguments do ring a bit hollow, and it is clear that she has internalized these ideas about appearance to a certain degree when she body shames Mo.

Daytime Divas also addresses race both explicitly as well as in the low key, subtle ways that matter more. A shot of the production team reveals a row of black women. Maxine calls out a man holding a roll of blue gel, reminding him that they have black ladies on camera, and that he should know better than that. (I had to do some research on this one: Color gel is explained here, and this article discusses the nuances of lighting with dark skinned subjects.) When Shawn tells Jason Abel that he wants to put Mo in the left chair, Jason tells him to put Nina instead, because Mo is too “urban.” The conversation is punctuated with a lot of awkward, forced laughter on part of both men, with Shawn attempting to disguise his distaste (“Oh, you did not just say that”), and Jason being obliviously entitled. (Reference: Stop Calling Black People Urban)

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Shawn and Jason Abel

As far as comedy goes, Daytime Divas is gold. This show flawlessly combines the vapidity associated with being a diva with the immense depth and multidimensionality associated with being a human being. Whether it’s Heather and Nina arguing about the economics of textile manufacture while dressed in swimsuits, all the women arguing while standing over Maxine’s comatose body in the hospital, or the show ending in fisticuffs on air, the over the top nature of this show does not fail to elicit laughs.

Next Review: The Blackcoat Rebellion #3 – Queen

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