by Charles Kirkland Jr.
The OWN network presents an unusually mature look at African-American romance in “Love Is ___”.
Yasir (Will Catlett) and Nuri (Michelle Weaver) are both struggling writers when they first meet each other in a coffee shop. Yasir impresses Nuri in their encounter and Yasir is vexed with her beauty and intelligence yet they go their own ways. One year later, a down and out Yasir has just finished his third unsold script and wants to celebrate and Nuri is a staff writer on a successful television comedy when they meet again.
“Love is___” is a romantic drama from producers Mara Brock Akil (Girlfriends, Being Mary Jane, The Game) and Salim Akil (Black Lightning) and is loosely based upon their lives. The show documents the story of the colliding lives of the two writers in Los Angeles during the late 1990s as they try to find success both professionally and personally. Their story is told by the reflections of the couple on their 20th anniversary (21st if you ask Yasir). The reflecting couple is played by Clarke Peters (The Wire) and Wendy Davis (Army Wives).
“Love Is” paints a portrait of African-American love that has been largely unseen in our culture. Where most visions have shown romantic (and most often smart) couples who head for the bed immediately, “Love Is__” shows the slow, thoughtful courtship of two intelligent and driven people who have goals and respect for themselves and God. The theme is of lasting love being more than sex, more than romance and more complex.
Additionally, the story is impressive in showing the growth that comes with time and experience. Michelle Weaver’s Nuri is playful and exuberant. She is experiencing life through her job and her numerous (non-sexual) relationships with men who provide different roles in her life. Wendy Davis’ Nuri is much more grounded and focused which she attributes to Yasir. Will Catlett’s Yasir is much more serious and intense than his Clarke Peters counterpart who seems to have found a way to smirk about the world he lives in.
Will Catlett (Black Lightning) does a stellar job in playing the stoic and prideful Yasir who has the weight of the world upon his shoulders. Michele Waters (Illicit, Switched At Birth) is perfection in playing Nuri, the carefree girl who is trying to find out how to continue to be carefree and deal with true love.
Also of note, the characters in the show are Muslim. While this may not seem as such a big thing, it is the portrayal of the culture that is different and important. While many earlier portrayals have painted those of Muslim faith to be radical and militant, this show allows us to see believers who struggle to honor a God that is relevant and not just a side note in their lives. In this age of diverging cultures, it is good to see something that can start communication and conversation hopefully in more than just African-American circles and narrow the divide.
In “Love Is__”, the Oprah Winfrey Network appears to have added another jewel to join the outstanding dramas Queen Sugar and Greenleaf in its crown. The aptly named show proves the most important part of the title is the blank. True love is not just one thing but anything and everything that comes along the journey. For a truly mature look at romance, this is one show not to miss.