How could someone in 2009 actually think the Earth is flat? You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a photograph of our plainly spherical planet? I would guess that even the most virulent creationists acknowledge this basic scientific truth. This bizarre incidence betrayed a lack of intellectual curiosity incongruous with the Sherri I had fallen for – a staunchly traditional Christian, who described deep anguish in reconciling her admittedly literalistic biblical beliefs with her tremendous love and respect for her gay friends.
I had come to know her as a smart, fearless comedian and a person who worked hard to understand the complex contradictions of modern life, not an ignoramus. In the PBS Warhol documentary, Ronald Tavel succinctly defined Art as “a serious examination of the nature of existence.”
Sherri’s no-holds barred, straight-shooting take on a wide range of topics, without ego or vanity, certainly qualifies for the big “A.” I couldn’t write her off because of a handful of inane comments. Aren’t we all guilty of letting some things slide, skipping out on the brainwork now and again? Perhaps Sherri’s shortcomings are just the byproduct of her unbridled honesty and openness.
This heart-on-her-sleeve soul bearing has long been a fixture in her comedy, most notably, the material dealing with her husband’s infidelity and their divorce. It’s not hard to sympathize with someone who speaks so truthfully about the struggles of their own life, and Sherri’s pluck is particularly winning. So, I was instantly intrigued when I began to hear about and see posters on the subway platform for “Sherri,” Shepherd’s new sitcom on Lifetime. The ad slogan, “It’s not just a comedy. It’s her life” promised something that would exploit this very quality that I love in her.
How cool that Lifetime ran a special preview week of the first five episodes five nights in a row – I got to begin my “Sherri” experience with a full immersion marathon. At first, it was weird to watch an old school three-camera sitcom, complete with a laugh track. It added a layer of cheesiness to almost everything that was going on, like the recorded laughter is too over-the-top for the situations and makes me look at what was said in glass-half-empty light, rather than organically experiencing each moment as funny as it is on my own terms. I got used to it though – I guess an entire childhood of four hours of sitcoms per weeknight stays with you – and soon, I was experiencing Sherri on her own terms.
It’s all there – the philandering ex-husband (played by Theo from “The Cosby Show,” Malcolm Jamal Warner), the career as a stand-up comedian, even the recurring role on “30 Rock.” This really is Sherri’s life, minus The View.
There was a scene on the second episode where Sherri had to take time off from her dayjob as a paralegal to audition for something. At the audition, she ran into a colleague/nemesis, another big-boned funny black actress. In their attempts to appear more successful than one another, both Sherri and the other actress character lied about having non-showbiz work waiting elsewhere and Sherri wound up grandly volunteering to let all the other actresses audition before her – since she purportedly didn’t have anywhere she had to rush back to. They had me at “dayjob.”
“Sherri” also hit me where I live with its big-tent all-inclusive pudding pop commercial social values. Sherri is a single mother with two best friends – one a wisecracking blousy blonde Jersey partygirl just wise enough to work the ditz angle without compromising 2009 feminism and the other the beautiful black preacher’s wife who may not drink or swear, but is game for clubbing with the girls.
This kind of multifaceted humanity is prevalent throughout much of the material and indicates a world view far more hip and useful today than most of the crap I learned watching all that primetime in the 80s. It suggests that there’s more to Sherri than the flat earth and big bust we’ve seen on “The View.”