The Best Man: The Final Chapters (2022)
The wait is finally over people! Part three is finally here. Actually, part three is really parts one through eight. What are we talking about? The triumphant return of The Best Man franchise, of course! For those of us who fell in love with this devoted group of black university friends back in 1999 when The Best Man was released and made The Best Man Holiday (2013) our go-to Christmas movie, we’ve been waiting nine long years for this new installment to be released. Now back as a limited series created by the streaming platform Peacock and directed by Malcom D. Lee, The Best Man: The Final Chapters unfolds across eight glorious, one-hour episodes allowing us to catch up on what Harper, Robyn, Jordan, Lance, Quentin, Shelby, Candace, and Murch have been up to for the last decade. The answer is, well, a lot!
When we first encounter this group of devoted friends, they reunite in the fictional Caribbean island of San Pierre (really the Dominican Republic). This breathtaking backdrop in the first two episodes is accompanied by an upbeat Reggae soundtrack featuring Sean Paul’s Like Glue (what what Jamaica)! Why have they gathered at this stunning Spivey Hotel owned by Quentin’s mogul father? Well, for his son’s wedding of course. Recall, The Best Man Holiday ended with Quentin’s impromptu over the phone announcement to Harper and Lance that he was getting married. Enter Xiomara, self-absorbed actress, musician, wellness aficionado, and Quentin’s fiancé (played by the stunning and talented Nicole Ari Parker). Her overwhelming presence and its impact on a seemingly cowed Quentin (who no longer indulges in weed for example) throws the friends completely off guard and gets them wondering (behind Quentin’s back, mainly) if he has completely lost his mind and his identity. But all hell soon breaks loose in the form of Shelby Taylor (played with mischievous abandon by Melissa de Sousa). Why has she flown to San Pierre for a wedding to which she was most definitely not invited? To stir things up of course! But what initially appears to be an attempt at inciting pure mayhem turns out to be true love when Quentin and Shelby’s twenty-year, will-they-won’t-they tango finally ends in nuptials – for the two of them, not Quentin and Xiomara!
What else is going on? Dramatic life changes are placed side-by-side with common life transitions, profound life challenges, and life affirming transformations. From the start we see that Lance (played by the versatile and six-packed Morris Chestnut) is still, understandably struggling after the death of his beloved Mia at the end of The Best Man Holiday (2013). As he proclaims to his concerned friends, he has gotten in the habit of avoiding his home and his four children because they remind him too much of his dearly departed wife. His solution to the pain, “banging” a variety of gorgeous, but random black women, is no longer working and perhaps never did. (We say banging because the sex Lance indulges in has nothing to do with love or connection.) Post football, Lance is lost, rudderless and frankly depressed. His attempt at broadcasting ends in a rather hilarious on-air argument with the cameo-making Stephen A. Smith. Lance is self-medicating, and the “medication” is no longer working, and it is Jasmine alone, the lovely Caribbean concierge assigned to the Quentin-Xiomara wedding party at the Spivey Hotel, that seems capable of pulling him out of the pain of his loss and towards the potential of a new future. But she lives in San Pierre, and Lance lives outside of NYC – at least at the beginning of the series…
The other married couples – Murch and Candace and Harper and Robyn – are still married at the beginning of the series, but one couple does not survive. Like many married people, we see Murch and Candace struggling to maintain the passion and romance in their marriage as they navigate the management of their school, a daughter struggling with anxiety, and Candace’s dedicated pursuit of a PhD degree. While Candance (played by the lovely Regina Hall) faces tough decisions when her esteemed black male professor forces her into a #MeToo moment, Murch faces his own demons. As the male character that has been most aligned with a softer masculinity, Murch (played with nuance and complexity by Harold Perrineau) suffers his own mid-life crisis when he feels that his masculinity is undermined and demeaned by his dearest male friends. The trigger? Harper’s best-selling book – Unfinished Business – first introduced to us as the catalyst for turmoil in the Best Man (1999) is about to be made into a Hollywood film. Now to understand the dilemma, you must recall that the novel was actually based on this same group of real-life friends and some very, shall we say, unpleasant personal details appeared in the book (like the fact that Mia and Harper had sex in college behind the back of the wildly unfaithful Lance). While Harper (played by the timeless Taye Diggs) insists that he requires everyone’s approval to move forward with the project, his casting and narrative choices force Murch to confront deep-seated issues with his gender identity, issues that wound more deeply for a black man living under the burden of racist societal stereotypes. But Murch’s answer to the building tensions – cage fighting – is, like Lance’s, not necessarily healthy.
Played by the beautiful veteran TV and film star, Sanaa Lathan, Robyn is now a professional chef and dedicated community activist who has stepped into her own. When Harper wants to move their family from Harlem to a wealthier, whiter neighbourhood in NYC with better schools for their daughter Mia, Robyn accuses him of perpetual dissatisfaction and constantly refusing to see her as a true partner (and equal) in their marriage. But is Harper always dissatisfied or is Robyn too complacent? Option three, are they just not compatible? Things come to an ugly head when Harper, away on business (again), fails to put a bid in on a vacant restaurant in Harlem where Robyn dreams of expanding her business. Was it deliberate, absolutely not. But what we witness, and feel, is that Harper still sees Robyn as that flaky young woman he proposed to way back when (recall the scene at the end of The Best Man) and not the accomplished professional and community leader that she has become. When Robyn finally understands that her dreams are as important as Harper’s she announces that she wants to move to Ghana and take Mia with her; a move that brings a warring energy to their already failing relationship.
And Jordan, played by the timeless beauty Nia Long? Well, we learn early on that Brian (her handsome white beau from the Best Man Holiday, played by Eddie Cibrian) was not “the one”. As her friends, especially Shelby, affectionately warn, Jordan is work-obsessed (she spends most of her time in San Pierre on the phone taking work calls). But she is also a great godmother to Lance and Mia’s four children and literally comes to the rescue when Lance Jr. comes out as non-binary, an announcement that Lance Sr. is, at least initially, not at all ready to hear. Although we see Jordan dating an old flame, there is ample evidence that her spark for Harper has never been extinguished, nor his for her. Complicated? Yes, which is why The Best Man: The Final Chapters feels like a mix of: 1) outrageous, sometimes over-the-top comedic moments, (2) lessons on the complexity of mid-life career, health, and relationship struggles, and (3) black friends navigating the daily slights and life-threatening crises of systemic racism. In the first category, Shelby with Candace’s help crashes Quentin’s bachelor party in San Pierre to perform a sexy strip tease. In the second, Quentin suffers a heart attack while Shelby is beating back menopause. On the third point, this series educates non-black viewers at every turn, from Harper being encouraged by his white male literary agent Stan (played by Aaron Serotsky) to peddle fluff “Costco” novels rather than write the Reconstruction Era love story that occupies his dreams and eventually earns him a Pulitzer; to Murch and his daughters’ confrontation with a taxi-stealing Karen and two white police officers; to Jordan’s worry about the ratings of an all-black female cast for her new View-like MSNBC daytime talk show; to Lance revealing that his new white neighbours questioned his presence in the wealthy gated community in which he had lived for far longer than they had.
Where the series falls short is in the loose ends and narratives that needed more attention, if not resolution. For instance, after their completely out-of-the-blue wedding in San Pierre, Shelby announces to Quentin (as he prepares to video-call Shelby’s daughter Kennedy back home) that he is Kennedy’s biological father; a fact that she had withheld from him for years! Quentin’s only response to this shocking betrayal is a stunned look. Uh, conversation please, fight, tears, explanations, apologies? None of this arguably rich terrain is offered for a deeper and more complex understanding of what makes either character tick or how they get past such a catastrophic breach of trust.
Also, while the look of the series is generally polished and glossy like a Hollywood movie, there are a couple of obvious lapses when this standard was simply not met. Two obvious visual breaks were a stadium scene at which Lance is being inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame and the premier of Harper’s movie-turned-book when the “crowd” of fans and paparazzi looks far too thin.
But overall, The Best Man: The Final Chapters is – like And Just Like That – a fun-filled, heartfelt, entertaining, comforting, and nostalgic ride through the ups and downs of the mid-lives of this group of devoted and loving friends. It was definitely worth the wait!