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Back in 2006, The Game was one of the first TV shows that debuted with the newly merged CW network. The series centers on a trio of football players who play for the San Diego Sabers, and the women who support them. Derwin Davis is the engaged rookie receiver who's trying to resist the temptation filled life the NFL offers, while veteran quarterback Malik Wright already indulged into those same perks by building his own strip club and sleeping with enough women to fill a personal library of amateur porn (no, really). Aging wide receiver Jason Pitts has already experienced his fair share of the high life, but with his years in the league being numbered, he’s obsessed with winning an NFL championship ring to escape his father’s shadow. Jason’s also determined to avoid bankruptcy that affected his father and indirectly, himself, even though his actions are placing a strain on his own family.
The women are various modes of supportive, even when going through their own personal crises. Melanie Barnett, like fiance Derwin, is practically wide-eyed when adapting to the world of professional sports, along with the additional pressure of finishing medical school and eventually practice medicine. Former teen mom Tasha Mac doubles as Malik's manager, and often puts herself in compromising situations to support her troubled dating life, her career, and her son. Ex-cheerleader Kelly Pitts is often forced to balance her family life with husband Jason and their daughter Brittany, while navigating her way back into the working world and becoming more independent. However, obligations to her family and the Sabers organization often impede her in the worst ways.
As The Game progresses, it becomes clear that being involved in the professional sports world comes with a personal price. All three couples get into conflicts between family and business. Fallouts between friends and even loved ones are pretty common, and the ubiquitous media presence sometimes catches too many unauthorized glimpses of the resulting carnage. Ironically enough, The Game preceded several reality shows that focus on famous athletes and the women behind them, which makes the show all the more prophetic, if not necessarily surprising.
However, The Game isn’t perfect. It often suffers from an overabundance of guest stars, mainly used as plot conveniences (Rick Fox’s extended role comes to mind). Also, its declarations against the controversial real life sports stories are anything but subtle, its portrayal of the male-centric and/or racist administrative side of the sports world isn’t handled very deftly, and most of the non-primary white characters are portrayed rather idiotically. The Wire of the sports world, it is not. But overall, The Game shows a surprising amount of depth with the professional sports world’s uglier side. One could make a case that beyond the glitz and glam, it’s a dog-eat-dog cutthroat environment.
For some, The Game reminds viewers of the ill-fated but scarily realistic ESPN drama Playmakers (which also involves NFL players and their controversial lives), even though it avoids the grimness of Playmakers by mixing a good balance of drama and humor. The third and (especially) fourth seasons get progressively darker, but never quite extinguish the lighter elements that made the show a delight for fans early on. It might be a reason why The Game didn’t offend the NFL the way Playmakers did. Then again, The Game didn’t get much attention in the sports media world, possibly because of the other major football show on NBC or perhaps because of the ugly stigma that often follows shows with mostly black casts).
Alas, that attitude was present within CW itself, and it eventually caused The Game’s cancellation after three seasons. Many black viewers feared that might happen after the WB merged with UPN – the only network rife with black casted comedies – because the WB side might whitewash the UPN side. Three seasons after the CW and The Game debuted, that’s exactly what happened. Hence, minority viewers’ backlash against the big networks for the lack of racial balance with their shows (Everybody Hates Chris getting canceled with The Game and ABC’s Ugly Betty getting canceled months later didn’t help).
Fortunately for The Game, BET wasn’t deaf to the acrimony, and met with the show’s producers to resurrect the canceled sitcom. Thanks to the growing interest in cable programming, BET already re-structured its schedule to re-air black sitcoms for reruns, and that included The Game. BET’s reruns of The Game consistently got higher ratings than its original CW airings, and the fanbase grew exponentially during this period. The network also needed a vehicle for its own original scripted programming - with sitcom Let’s Stay Together being the first – which made The Game a perfect candidate. When The Game finally returned with new episodes on Jan 11th, 2011, nineteen months since CW’s cancellation, the ratings hit an unprecedented ‘’7.7 million’’ viewers during the premier, the largest viewing audience in cable history. The numbers dwindled to a steadier 4.4 million, come the season four finale, but it’s still much higher than the CW days. In fact, The Game’s current ratings often match or even surpass the CW’s current lineup.
Moral of the Story: treat your audience like they matter, and they’ll reward you.
- Aborted Arc: At the end of season three, Kelly started falling in love with Jason again after he fought off her crazy boyfriend. Even with Jason's new relationship souring any possibility of the divorced couple re-uniting, the door was still open. Come season four, Kelly's happily divorced and shows no signs of wanting to be married to Jason again.
- Abuse Is Okay When Its Female On Male: Unfortunately, played straight when Tasha visits Malik's baby daddy, Chauncey. When Tasha visits his place one too many times, Chauncey's wife thinks he's cheating on her. When he runs outside and tries to explain that he didn't, she punches him in the face. He comes back, holding his left eye, and the Laugh Track comes on, portraying this as humorous.
- All Men Are Perverts: The reason many ballers' wives claim they have to be that much better in bed in order to keep their men from straying, because of all the temptation out there for the picking. Malik pretty much screws anything that walks, except for the few attempts at having a dedicated relationship. On the other hand...
- All Women Are Lustful: ...the women aren't exactly chaste either, especially in season four. The wife of the Sabers owner regularly cheats on her husband with Malik, and threatened to blackmail him when he refused her advances overtime. Women in lingerie often appear in Derwin's hotel rooms. The girlfriend of TT, Malik's best friend, screws Malik behind TT's back one day. The Game is pretty much one of the only shows that exhibit lusty behavior on both genders.
- Break the Cutie: Poor Kelly. Jason's authoritative attitude and insecurities keep rubbing off on her throughout the first two seasons. During one season one episode, she was so exhausted from Jason's repeated demands, she had an anxiety attack.
- Break the Haughty: Jason in season 2, Malik in season 4. Both of them get better though, despite avoiding Suddenly Humble (their Jerkass simply got toned down). Derwin seems to be headed this direction in season 5 after he intentionally missed a tackle and exposed the Sabers' rookie quarterback to a season ending, and possibly career ending, injury. Despite Derwin denying the act, the press and fans savaged him for his presumed actions.
- Character Development: A fair amount overall.
- Chivalrous Pervert: Malik may be a womanizer, have his own built-in strip club, and prides himself on his own library of amateur porn, but he doesn't take lightly to women being treated like dogs by other men. When Malik's half-sister was about to be taken advantage of by men more lecherous than himself, he brought in her father to help get her away from the guys. When Malik witnessed the Sabers owner dis his own wife in public because of her Stripperific outfit, despite the fact that she planned to blackmail Malik, he still felt bad for her.
- Cool Old Guy: Jason in season 4 (he's much younger than most examples). Before that he was the The Obi Wrong.
- Convicted by Public Opinion: Given how the show is focused around the NFL, the press and fans often perceive the players' actions differently from what viewers see them do in their everyday lives, or assume the worst of their actions when things go wrong for the players and/or their respective Sabers team. In the latter category, this is taken to the extreme when Derwin left the Sabers' rookie quarterback vulnerable to a knee injury by blatantly missing an easy tackle. The media and Sabers fans intensely express their disdain for Derwin afterward, especially when some reporters brought up the disagreements between Derwin and the QB prior to the injury. Ironically enough, this happened during a post-interview game the Sabers won, despite the team getting trounced in a Curb Stomp Battle before Malik came in as the backup QB.
- Crap Saccharine World: One of the better examples portrayed in scripted TV. The world of professional sports looks very sheen and high class on the surface, but on the business end, questionable practices and shady internal politics often rear their ugly heads. The San Diego setting also brings home a high quotient of beautiful women, which makes it hell for the engaged/married players. But even these temptresses come with their own agenda, as many of them aspire to get impregnated by a Sabers player for child support. Backstabbing is quite common amongst businessman and players, simply to reach their aspiring goals (and may come with a cost for those who abandon their friends along the way). For players who act wisely on and off the field, they won't have many regrets come retirement time, but with the number of people chewed up and spit out by the perils of the professional sports life, it's the exception more than the norm.
- Darker and Edgier: The fourth season, most notably, and even then, it's not too drastic. Still, it's one reason the fanbase got upset with the show after it returned from a near two-year hiatus.
- Perhaps most noticeable with Malik's friend Terrence (or T.T) who practically never had a serious, dramatic line pre-cancellation, received a subplot where his girlfriend cheats on him with Malik.
- Season five, if the premier is any indication, seems to be going even further in this direction.
- Depraved Bisexual: Averted. The only bisexual woman shown so far turned out to be pretty modest and respectful, even with her open-minded sexuality.
- Double Standard Rape (Female on Male): Happened in season 4 when Parker (played by Meagan Good) blackmailed Malik into sleeping with her by saying she would tell everyone he raped her if he didn't. As you know, Malik is a football player, and this would likely destroy his life completely, especially since he has done many questionable things already. Anyway, after they slept together(the show never acknowledges that this is rape, even with the look of despair on his face) she hits him in the back of the head and makes him go another round. Cue Laugh Track... She never got called out on this, got a Freudian Excuse, and even walked out of it relatively cleanly, much cleaner than Malik himself did.
- Not quite a Karma Houdini, since season five revealed that Parker was divorced and financially cut off from her husband.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Malik is a Jerk Jock and womanizer, but he's very close with his mother, Tasha.
- Fan Service: Good lord, yes. The gratuitousness goes to extremes at times, and makes one wish that The Game aired on HBO or Showtime. Viewers of both genders can scope out a reasonable amount of eye candy, though the male viewers have more to pick from.
- Flanderization: One reason, among several, that the fourth season bugged fans. Kelly acted vapid for her reality show and threw away all sense of dignified independence that she fought too hard for seasons earlier, daughter Brittany became much brattier than her younger self, and Malik became the resident Jerk Sue. In contrast, Jason, who used to be the Jerk Sue, became the most chivalrous, selfless reasonable character in the cast.
- Hide Your Gays: Subverted by the Sabers organization when they found out one of their players is gay. The feeling of camaraderie becomes less fuzzy when the viewer realizes most of them are doing it for a publicity boost instead of truly accepting his sexuality. Malik comes around, despite him getting hit on by the player while he was also accused of being gay.
- I Didn't Mean to Turn You On: Tasha (episode Breakthrough) takes a celibacy class so she can avoid having sex with a man she is attempting to build a relationship with. Pookie, however, is unaware and attempts to be romantic, all the while Tasha is confusing him with her body language and comical displays of avoidance.
- Jerk Jock: Malik is the best example.
- Laugh Track: Used here just as often as other TV comedies. The fourth season, however, doesn't use it as often.
- Manipulative Bitch: Melanie. Tasha even calls her out on this.
- Mind Screw: The opening minute of season five, which shows a flash forward of Derwin, Malik and Jason's circumstances. Derwin's plot picks up from finding out about Melanie's abortion last season, Malik thinks his model girlfriend died from a drug overdose, and Jason suddenly wakes up in Mexico and finds out that he's now married. Needless to say, this made many fans go "WTF?", especially with Jason's plot.
- Mood Dissonance: T.T. has a habit of jumping in with a humorous line at the end of otherwise serious scenes.
- Plot-Relevant Age-Up: Brittany was about eight or nine years old at the end of season three. In season four, now she's closer to thirteen or fourteen, and barely resembles her previous self.
- Put on a Bus: Kelly went off to "find herself" halfway through season 4. No hints as to whether or not she will return.
- No signs for her return in season five, either. The actress is absent in the credits for season five, and The Game's season five promos have Kelly inexplicably absent.
- The Bus Came Back: She finally returns in season 7.
- Shoo Out the Clowns: The biggest complaint of season 4.
- Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome: Interesting example, since at the end of season 3, Brittany was about nine (she was six in the pilot episode). After the two year timeskip, she should be 11, but instead, she's 13 with no explanation given. This is because Brittany's new actor is older than the old Brittany, and the fact that there is no possible way the new Brittany could possibly pass for an 11 year old. Not that she passes for a 13 year old any better...
- Special Guest: Done frequently with one shot appearances, though Rick Fox stars in 13 episodes as Tasha's business-partner-turned-love-interest.
- Straight Gay: The sole gay Sabers player who eventually outed himself comes off as this.
- Stripperific: Justified, since many females prowl the beach with skimpy bikinis, or are rap-video vixens or actual strippers. Good luck staying faithful with these women all around.
- Team Mom: Tasha. Not that she tries to be but considering she's the only middle aged female in a cast consisting primarily of 20 and 30 year olds she usually falls into this role.
- This Is For Emphasis, Bitch!: For a show devoid of N-Word Privileges, this word gets uttered quite often. Debase racial language? Unacceptable. Sexist insults? A-okay.
- Though BET cuts off the word during reruns of seasons one through three, and then eliminated the word entirely after season three, the seasons produced by the network itself.
- In season four and five, the characters mostly tip toe using the word directly, but the viewers can fill in the blanks themselves. Averted in one season five episode, with Melanie and Tasha gratuitously using the word in a heated argument, though later rectified via an Anvilicious statement about how the ladies shouldn't use a word debasing their gender as a passive greeting.
- Though BET cuts off the word during reruns of seasons one through three, and then eliminated the word entirely after season three, the seasons produced by the network itself.
- Time Skip: Because of the show's almost two year delay between the end of season three and the start of season four, there's an eighteen month skip between them. There's some since of Canon Dis Continuity though, since not all of the storylines made it intact.
- Token White: Kelly.
- Tsundere: Tasha Mack. A large part of her tsuntsun personality comes from her younger days as a single mother surviving on her own, so being fierce was her defense. Although this works when she is going up against people she doesn't intend to have a relationship with, it sort of backfires when she wants to pursue a relationship.
- What Could Have Been: The creators wanted it to be a hour long drama when the network became The CW since they were axing all of their sitcoms for hour long dramas. But the network refused, thus cancelling the show.
- With Friends Like These...: Seriously. How are Melanie, Tasha and Kelly still on speaking terms after all their arguments and underhanded actions? Kelly even got so pissed at Tasha once, she knocked her out cold.
- Not so much the case in season five between Tasha and Melanie. After Melanie (through Derwin's request) cut her business ties with Tasha because of Malik's behavior, they didn't let the incident go. They get better though.
- Your Cheating Heart: Derwin cheats on Melanie with Drew Sidora in the interim between seasons 1 and 2, leading Melanie to dump him for a while.
- In season six, Tasha cheats on Pookie with Rick Fox. Same deal.