This week, the third season of "The Game" (8:30 p.m. Fridays) will come to an end aiming to answer several questions. Will Derwin (Pooch Hall) and Melanie (Tia Mowry) finally get married, or will the baby he's expecting with his ex Janay (Gabrielle Dennis) sabotage their plans? Will Malik (Hosea Chanchez) let his newfound family loyalties get in the way of his game on the field, and off? Will Tasha (Wendy Raquel Robinson) finally find love with Rick Fox (playing himself)? Will Jason (Coby Bell) and Kelly (Brittany Daniel) acknowledge that their divorce was a mistake?
And most important, can "The Game" afford to have loose ends?
Later this month, the CW will announce whether it intends to renew the show, which follows the stars of the San Diego Sabers football team and their better halves, for a fourth season. Last month it was reported that, in an effort to save the show from cancellation, creator Mara Brock Akil was repitching it to the network as an hourlong dramedy, more in keeping with the CW's new direction.
As if there were now some shortage of drama on the show, which more than most sitcoms wrings humor from uncomfortable situations. "The Game" is a modest treasure: a sitcom that doesn't patronize, is equally concerned with men and women, and doesn't lean on traditional structures of family or friendship. It's current and clever, aggressively fashionable, and getting more mature each year without sacrificing its airy allure. What's more, it's the only portrayal on network television of the black overclass, a saner version of "The Real Housewives of Atlanta."
But even all put together, that might not be enough to save this show, which would be a shame, as its characters are just hitting their stride. Derwin isn't the sugar-rush mess he was in earlier seasons, settling into responsibility as a future father and husband, a viable mate for Melanie, to whom he'd previously seemed comically mismatched. And the tragedy of Jason and Kelly's relationship, which was growing wearisome within the marriage, became more fascinating after their separation.
There remain few characters on television as resilient -- or stubborn -- as Malik. This season, he transformed from buffoonish egotist to player with a conscience, coming to terms with his manhood. He married Robin Givens (playing herself) after she made a plea for his help restoring her career. During their subsequent split, she cast aspersions on his sexuality, which led to a difficult series of episodes in which he outed a teammate. He tracked down his biological father, Chauncey (Michael Boatman), and began to get involved with the music career of his half sister, Poochie. And through it all, he maintained his narcissistic charm. "My sex tapes are like my off-the-field legacy," he told his assistant Tee Tee (Barry Floyd), "after my foundation for kids."
And as ever, "The Game" is one of the few places on prime time to even consider black-white relations as relevant subject matter, no less a site for humor.
In last week's episode, Malik and Derwin saw Melanie looking at wedding dresses, holding the elevator doors open to spy on her. When an elderly white woman complained, they dismissed her, then she protested again, "I voted for Obama!" Crisply, Malik replied, "I don't give a damn about that, woman. I'm rich! I ain't for all them taxes."
Earlier this season, Kelly, who is white, saw Jason out with his new girlfriend, Cammille. "I like your skin," she said nervously. "It's so dark. I mean, lovely!"
"Blame my parents," Camille deadpanned back. "They're black."
Admittedly, some episodes this season have felt hastily thrown together, the dialogue and camera work a little rough around the edges. And even at its best, "The Game" may have only limited appeal, averaging fewer than 2 million viewers per week.
Perhaps there might be other outlets for "The Game": In its current form it could live on BET, or maybe a sexed-up version could run on Showtime or HBO. But if it turns out that there's no place for stories like this, that would be a failure far bigger than the cancellation of the show.