The 1992 romantic comedy Boomerang was the last big hit of Eddie Murphy’s remarkable 10-year run as one of the world’s biggest movie stars. In it, Murphy plays Marcus Graham, a commitment-phobic ad executive with impossibly high standards for his conquests (he rejects one gorgeous woman because her feet have bunions), who falls into a love triangle with the similarly ruthless Jacqueline (Robin Givens) and the sweet Angela (Halle Berry). The film isn’t one of the best of that period for Murphy. But it was one of the few where he got to move through a predominantly black world rather than be an outcast in a mostly white one, and it made a star out of Halle Berry (whose character — spoiler alert — eventually lands the elusive Marcus, though not before several humiliations at his hands).
That puts Boomerang in the sweet spot for TV’s current obsession with remakes, revivals and reboots, as it arrives on BET tomorrow night in series form — a half-hour dramedy executive produced by Berry and Lena Waithe (Master of None, The Chi). The name is familiar enough to attract attention in the crowded Peak TV marketplace, but the original is not so sacred that Waithe couldn’t make significant changes in perspective and tone, even as the show is designed to be a second-generation sequel to the movie.
The main characters this time are Simone (Tetona Jackson), daughter of Marcus and Angela, and Bryson (Tequan Richmond), who is the son of Jacqueline. (None of the movie’s leads appear in the two episodes BET made available for review, though right before Simone screens a call from her dad, you can see a face that looks like Murphy’s pop up on her phone.) It’s a bit of a gender flip, in that Simone is the one who doesn’t want to be tied down (in the premiere, a celebrity booty call walks out on her because he wants a real relationship that she won’t give), while Bryson is a nice guy who keeps letting his pal Simone take advantage of his obvious crush on her.
But even though there’s clear heat between the two leads, Boomerang feels less like a rom-com unnecessarily stretched out to series length than a warm and smartly observed look at black millennials looking to separate themselves from the generation that came before. In the series’ opening scene, Simone quits her father’s ad agency in frustration while watching an older exec film an energy drink ad with actors sporting dated, early-Nineties hair and clothes. (The look is more House Party than the original Boomerang; Waithe doesn’t beat you too hard over the head with the idea.) Later, Bryson goes full Don Draper by improvising a more demographically appropriate pitch where he argues, “Being young, gifted and black is cool, but it’s exhausting.”
Bryson and Simone flirt and try to manipulate one another, but Boomerang quickly turns itself into more of an ensemble. We’re introduced to a quartet of friends with complicated shared history, including Tia (Instagram star Lala Milan), an exotic dancer who performs with woke messages like “I’M WITH KAP” and “#METOO” scrawled across her body; Crystal (Brittany Inge), who still works at the agency with Bryson while funneling intel to Simone; David (RJ Walker), a preacher who once dated Crystal; and Ari (Leland Martin), a would-be director who gets triggered if anyone describes his work as a “web series.” It’s a well-drawn and appealing group, and the second episode wisely just puts them all in Bryson’s living room for a game night that gradually goes awry due to various old rivalries and jealousies.
The vibe here is much more laid-back than the film’s — Tia and Ari are the only characters the show consistently tries to generate laughs from — but the world feels instantly realized and immersive. (The plotting on The Chi eventually failed to hold me, but that show and this one suggest Waithe and her collaborators are great at creating atmosphere.) And the chemistry between Jackson and Richmond is at the right level for whatever slow play Waithe has in mind. There’s just enough recognizable DNA to appease fans of the original work, even as it feels distinct and modern enough (including more sexually frank scenes and conversations between the members of the group) to draw in the Simones and Brysons of the world who are sick of hearing Gen-Xers drone on about how great things were back in the day. Boomerang isn’t the first title you might think of for Waithe to adapt, but the combination quickly makes a lot of sense.