After a pair of major documentaries and a Lifetime TV movie devoted to the late Whitney Houston, “The Bobby Brown Story” – based on his autobiography – feels a bit like a reclamation project, one that puts a more Brown-friendly spin on the couple’s history. That doesn’t invalidate a BET miniseries that offers lots of music and doses of nostalgia, but it feels more like an old (and at times self-serving) edition, not a new one.
Speaking of New Edition, the hectic first hour skips over much of Brown’s early biography – including his New Edition years. In that, it’s essentially structured as a companion to BET’s earlier miniseries about the group, with Woody McClain, as Brown, reprising his role from that production.
As a result, “Bobby Brown” feels as if it’s racing to get to his successful solo career and relationship with Houston. In between, Brown anoints his brother (Mekhi Phifer) as his manager, engages in a torrid affair with Janet Jackson and generally reaps the traditional rewards from stardom, down to delaying the “Ghostbusters” shoot while he entertains groupies in his trailer.
The story becomes a bit more complicated when Brown begins his whirlwind relationship with Houston (Gabrielle Dennis), who he woos, as his brother notes, immediately after swearing off any more entanglements with other famous musical stars.
Not surprisingly, the treatment here is much kinder to Brown regarding the friction in their lives, while practically reducing Houston’s close friend Robyn Crawford to mean-governess status – glaring from the sidelines and at one point telling Brown, “I was here before you, and I will be here after you.”
Yet if “The Bobby Brown Story” doesn’t quite qualify as a “warts and all” portrayal – ignoring, for example, reports that Brown grew resentful of his wife’s success – it’s still plenty warty – dealing with Brown’s drug use and a stint in jail, during which he became clean and sober, at least for a time, before the eventual split with Houston.
“Before I met you, they loved me,” Houston snaps at him during one of their frequent fights, as the tabloid headlines pile up.
The two-part production fares best when it’s reveling in the music, offering a reminder that Brown had a life and career that went beyond the tragedies involving Houston and their daughter, Bobbi Kristina. Perhaps inevitably, the second night becomes a rather morbid affair down the stretch, chronicling those losses as well as the deaths of Brown’s parents.
Despite the demands of a story filled with so much melodrama, McClain – reunited with the key members of the “New Edition” creative team – proves a solid anchor, convincingly playing Brown across a wide span of years.
As for the spin that Brown’s cooperation brings to this version of events that doesn’t comport with previous depictions of the couple, one supposes as a producer on his own autobiography, that’s his prerogative.
“The Bobby Brown Story” premieres Sept. 4 and 5 at 9 p.m. on BET.