Why ‘Anacostia’ is better than any soap you’ll see on network television
Back in the 1990s when the Internet was just starting to open up to the masses, I discovered an online community of soap opera fans like me. Most of us grew up watching “All My Children,” “As The World Turns,” “Guiding Light,” “One Life To Live,” “General Hospital,” and “Young & Restless” because of our mothers and grandmothers.
I met an intrepid group of fellow soap fans and soap fiction writers at Port Charles Online, now SoapZone.com. I even took on the role of soap columnist for the popular website, covering mostly ABC Daytime news, gossip, and spoilers — a 16-year gig I took seriously until I couldn’t take the rabid fan bases that spoiled the shows and turned them into ship bots.
One of my favorite longtime soap fans/writers was Benjamin Bryant, a communications strategist and journalist out of D.C. We used to dream about the day a soap opera would feature true diversity and true stories about the human condition, free of network provisos and backstage politics. We’d even half-joke around about doing it ourselves.
It turns out that one of us did. Bryant put his money where he mouth is and became a co-executive producer of one of the hottest online soaps around, the award-winning “Anacostia,” also based out of D.C.
Anthony Anderson lovingly built this web series from the ground up Oct. 15, 2009, with a core group of enormously talented, effortlessly charismatic black actors. Stories about the characters’ lives in the real-life Anacostia, D.C. organically grew into must-see YouTube viewing in short order.
But the fifth and current season transported “Anacostia’s” cast into primetime, Emmy-worthy category, toe to toe with the best of TV out there.
Bryant, along with the rest of us hardcore soap fans, yearned for the kind of truth-telling sorely missing in network daytime. We used to bemoan all that PC pussyfooting around, as well as the usual ego-driven antics of soaps’ bigger, entrenched stars who thought showing up was good enough.
Wouldn’t it be cool if the characters talked the way real people did? Wouldn’t it be cool if they dropped the bullshit and showed all their true colors — even if half the people watching had to leave the room because they couldn’t take it?
Just be real! That’s all we asked.
Nothing out there is as real as Anthony Anderson’s “Anacostia,” a web series he created out of a dream of his own. His nuts-and-bolts web series is full of humor, heart, drama, and all the soap bells and whistles — complex villains, ugly truths, touching revelations, soulful connections, explosive cliffhangers — we’ve come to love.
Over Christmas break, I binge-watched “Anacostia” on YouTube from start to finish, while nursing fresh wounds from an emotional break-up. I wanted to get to know and then fall in love with these main characters first before I saw their world blow to bits in the much-talked-about fifth and current season.
Mission accomplished — in the very first scene.
As soon as I saw Anderson’s Sean wise-cracking and gossiping about new neighbor Nicole (Kena Hodges) with his childhood friends, Tamieka Chavis’ Mia and Chanté Bowser’s Salina, I was hella hooked.
Sean made me laugh my ass off. He always had a quip for every occasion.
Sensitive Mia represented full-figured girls like me, and Salina didn’t take anybody’s shit, least of all her dutiful husband Scott’s.
Even Nicole seemed down to earth.
What was there not to love?
I enjoyed following the fictional (but never fake) lives of Sean, the show’s heart and soul; Mia, perennially dumped on by toxic men; Salina, the tortured alcoholic; and Nicole, a former model hiding her own addictive past. They were childhood best friends who became mine, too.
It didn’t take me long to cling to them like a life raft, especially Sean, especially in this fifth season after he suffered back-to-back heartbreak, losing his husband on their wedding day and then rape.
While my own best friend abandoned and then violated me emotionally, I watched Sean refuse to leave Scott in a bar drowning his sorrows after his wife fell off the wagon and then drowned in a swimming pool trying to save a young boy she was babysitting. (You seriously had to be there. That pool scene was no joke. My friend Ben Bryant said he froze his ass off working the camera underwater.)
While I grappled with the possibility that my best friend never cared for me, I watched Sean demand that people stop with the bullshit and give a damn.
The scene where he poured his heart out to best friend Mia about wanting to die after the rape and losing his husband to death (twice, mind you)… just about killed me.
Sean’s rapist, Carlos, chilled me to the bone when he boasted of how much he enjoyed violating that “faggot” to a horrified Nancy — right before bludgeoning her repeatedly with his fists.
Or how about what happened to Salina after her father tried to rape her (again), and her psycho mother blamed her daughter for inviting the “fuck?”
“Anacostia” doesn’t play.
Except for a few exceptional indies out there, I haven’t seen any TV shows or movies that can touch the raw, brutal, uncomfortable, unflinching honesty of “Anacostia.”
You want real? “Anacostia” is as real as it gets.
It’s a shame Anderson’s web series doesn’t receive more respect from mainstream Hollywood or its wag-the-dog media whores.
But then look what happened to “Sense8,” the two-season, Wachowski special celebrating our supernatural connections. Netflix canceled that gem of a series to blow the Will Smith box office bomb, “Bright.”