A First-Timer's Take on 'Mary Mary': There Is Such a Thing As Reality TV With Substance

One might think a show about the Grammy-winning Gospel duo, Mary Mary, would be an inspiring look at the behind-the-curtain lives of a couple of godly sisters — look to their music for that. In their show, you won’t find the inspirational words of what they hope for their lives, as they put out in their music; you will only find their reality, and in Season 3, it's a dark one: the dramatic comings and goings of the music industry have nothing on finding out your husband of 13 years has been engaging in multiple affairs.

Mary Mary is full of surprises for someone who’s never heard of the duo before: for example, there isn’t a diva named Mary anywhere to be found on the show. Erica and Tina Campbell (both of their husbands happen to have the same last name… the moniker confusion rages on) both use the stage name, “Mary,” forming Mary Mary, a Gospel duo that has won four Grammys, two American Music Awards, three BET Awards and a Soul Train Award. Even if you’ve never heard of them, they’re popular. That popularity was enough to score them a reality show on We in 2012. In Seasons 1 and 2, fans of Tina and Erica's career tuned in to see what goes on behind the scenes of their albums and concerts: they get into squabbles with their five other sisters, their manager is a drama queen, their kids are cute, and their husbands are silly. Stick a pin in that last one, we’re not done yet.

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However, larger audiences have been drawn to Mary Mary in its third season as its appeal has become more relatable, unfortunately, in the saddest of ways. In the Season 3 opener, Tina Campbell reveals to her family, and ultimately her fans, that her husband, Teddy Campbell, the former drummer for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, was having an affair while Mary Mary was touring. It’s clear the news is fresh, even to her. Tina is devastated; her pain is captivating in its empathetic pull, something that reality TV so rarely captures. Erica supports her sister and holds her up throughout her trials, even as she’s working on building a solo career and feeling a little unsupported herself.

Tina: “The world’s gonna know I’ve got a busted home life.”
Erica: “The world’s gonna know you’re human.”
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In a truly unique move to the reality TV world, Tina’s family encourages her to stick by Teddy, to forgive him; divorce is not a part of the Mary Mary brand. Even that is a fresh look at the value of marriage vows, even when on-sided, in this 50/50 divorce rate era… that is until Teddy confesses that he’s had multiple affairs. Many, many affairs, each one a new wound for Tina.

A main narrative of the third season is that Tina and Erica scored a Ebony magazine cover just weeks after Tina discovered her husband’s infidelity. Rather than cover it up, she decided to talk openly about the issues in her marriage, printing the subhead, “How I forgave my husband after his affair,” and the regret she feels by the time the feature is published, and she’s realized she can’t forgive her husband. That kind of raw honesty you can only express when you still haven't allowed yourself to numb to a traumatic situation is entirely what Season 3 of Mary Mary is about. Tina might look back with some regret for just how much she unveiled about her personal life, but audiences are looking on with a rare mix of pain and understanding.

Mary Mary is not fun — this is not your Kardashian guilty pleasure (not even in the Kris Humphries phase). But it is real. Watching a marriage fall apart while a husband and wife try to find any reason for it not to is the real deal. It is a sad story, a harrowing story, a real story. Mary Mary may be a totally different show just one year from now, just as it has been this year; but Season 3 is worth the watch if you’ve ever asked yourself the question, “Why do we watch reality TV if there’s nothing real about it?” Mary Mary not only defies that question, but it just might answer it too: Real life is tough.

Image: We