BY TONI KAN
So, we finally saw the premiere of Mo Abudu’s Ebony Life-produced Desperate Wives Africa. (And did you see all those adverts from Airtel to Ariel to LG to Universal furniture. Looked like a Super Bowl night.)
The opening scene where Rume Bello takes her own life was gripping because right up until the whole of Hibiscus lane turns up in Aso Ebi for her wake, I kept saying to myself, surely she survived it when the chandelier came off and crashed on her.
But let me not get too far ahead of myself; what did you think? The story line is the same as the original right? All the way down to the dead-all-seeing-narrator poking her nose in every one’s business; and the riveting cast of a bunch of married women residing in close proximity and living out their marital angst and sexual fantasies in many different ways.
It seemed like we were watching the original almost down to the soundtrack and now I hear that folks are up in arms accusing Ebony Life of being too faithful to the original and generally doing a shoddy ‘cut and paste’ job out of it.
Well, what did folks expect; a completely different story? Excuse me. Would it still be called Desperate Housewives?
Haven’t you seen ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ Haven’t you followed ‘Deal or No Deal?’ Haven’t you watched ‘Big Brother Africa?’ Did you catch ‘Apprentice Africa?’ To get a franchise for your region, you get a Bible from the original owners and what that Bible harps on is fidelity; the look and feel and texture of it must be like the original even if the cast is different. And yes I know my examples are all television shows, thank you, which is why we must applaud Ebony Life for this very bold step because the closest to what she has done would be Shuga which was transplanted from Nairobi to Lagos albeit be the same producers.
What did people expect? A Village Headmaster like setting for Desperate Housewives Africa? Haba. Give these guys kudos for pulling it off, for creating a Wisteria lane here in Lagos even though it’s called Hibiscus lane. Let’s applaud them for the crisp picture quality, for finding a row of houses that approximate the original and for that cast of sexy, smart and talented actresses from Marcy Dolapo Oni to Michelle Dede, Kehinde Bankole to Omotu Bissong, Linda Osifo to Nini Wacera. (Oh, how I wish Linda Ejiofor was in this though.)
Did you see Miss Ice Queen aka Ese De Souza aka Nini Wacera who plays the African version of Bree van de kamp? When her husband tells her that the marriage isn’t working, she takes a deep breath and says “the food will get cold.”
Bree has nothing on Ese!
Let’s give some credit to the team for successfully ‘glocalizing’ the series. Mrs. Bello the Amebo of Hibiscus lane is a clear ‘local colorization’ of the series and did you catch the scene where the unruly Lawal children almost drive their mother up the wall with their antics at Rume Bello’s wake keep?
This is the first episode and I was enthralled. Curiosity was a big reason why I got home early and sat before my TV to see what Ebony Life would put on. The Director, Achor Yusuf, displayed a light and deft touch which is important when re-telling a well-known story on screen; think of Argo or American Sniper or Gone Girl. Adapting a true life story or a novel to the screen presents its own peculiar challenges and I think the directors and producers of DWA managed the challenges of expectation very well.
In the first episode, my prize for the best realised character goes to Kehinde Bankole and then Joseph Benjamin as Kiki and Chika Obi.
Bankole smoulders and sizzles. She is the loving and dutiful wife who is also shagging her fitness instructor. (Gardener in the original, o ye cut and paste critics.) Every married person going through a crisis will connect with her “Love and marriage don’t always go together.”
But the best line from the first episode goes to the understated Nonso Odogwu who as Kayode De Souza is the African version of Rex Van De Kamp.
In the dining table scene, his cold and proper wife spends close to 5 minutes haranguing their children and turning the feast almost into a wake and then when her son responds in anger she looks up to her husband and says “Can’t you see how your son speaks to me. Won’t you say something?” to which the long suffering husband offers “Pass the salt.”
And that’s my one liner to all those throwing rotten tomatoes at the first episode of Desperate Housewives Africa – pass the salt, please.
As I await the second episode, I have two complaints; Jason Nwoga who plays Larry Izama looks plastic, as if he is in there just for his looks, his size and the voice. His acting is wooden.
Secondly, Femi Branch, the bad guy of the series spends the first episode saying almost nothing, just watching and stewing in his own secrets and it is with him that the first episode ends on the famous Desperate Housewives cliff hanger where he is digging up the ‘family secret.’
Now my thing is this; the way Hibiscus Lane is built, burying ‘whatever’ would be difficult. The houses are not fenced and neighbours can see (Tari’s daughter can see Larry on his balcony).
But hey, let’s wait and see how well they pull that off but in the meantime, I like.