The biggest wrinkle for Regina? Bennie has a child from another woman, Tasha, a complicating factor in Regina’s life that still causes major friction.
Regina Y. Hicks ― a Savannah native, University of Georgia graduate and an executive producer of the show ― said Epps and Sykes were already aboard when they hunted for the right actress to play Regina, a woman Lucretia and Bennie “loved so fiercely, they could put up with each other.”
When they brought Fields in for a chemistry test with Sykes and Epps, Hicks breathed a sigh of relief. “We found the last piece of the puzzle,” she said. “She has more multi-cam [sitcom] experience than the other two.”
Indeed, Fields has been in the public eye for more than four decades, arriving on the scene as Tootie, the adorable girl on roller skates in season one of “The Facts of Life” in 1979, who grew into a confident young woman over 201 episodes. In 1993, she joined Fox’s “Living Single,” a precursor to NBC’s “Friends,” where she played a superficial boutique buyer seeking a rich mate.
Kim Fields in a publicity photo from the 1990s during her "Living Single" days. PUBLICITY PHOTO
“The Upshaws” is structured like those sitcoms of yore, but allows the adults to fling curse words broadcast networks would excise even to this day.
“The main note that really struck me was the show’s irreverence,” Fields said. “I loved the edginess and the tone even in the name of being a sitcom. It still has a strong nod to classic TV shows. And yet it’s very relevant and resonates now with viewers.”
Viewers who commented on The AJC Radio & TV Talk blog Facebook page lauded the acting, the humor and the authenticity of the relationships ― even if it took time to find its footing.
“My main issue was that both the writing and acting [in the first episode] appeared to be much beneath the abilities of the leads, specifically in regards to Wanda Sykes and Kim Fields,” said Allison Newby, a 56-year-old Grayson project manager. “I am a huge Wanda Sykes fan and she was the main draw of the show for me. Perhaps it was nerves but future episodes were better.”
Fred Allen, a 54-year-old Atlanta property manager, compared the Bennie/Lucretia dynamic to that of Fred and Esther on the 1970s sitcom “Sanford and Son,” but said Regina is the heart of the show.
“Regina gives Kim Fields a chance to play a more grounded and rounded central character and she pulls off the ups and downs of the character flawlessly and realistically,” he said.
Regina is a healthcare administrator seeking to move up the ranks, but keeps getting overlooked. She also needs a master’s degree to improve her odds at getting a higher-paying job; but can she raise her kids, hold a full-time job and afford to go to school at the same time? It’s the type of dilemma millions of middle-aged women face and to Fields, “a kind of deep dive into a character I’ve never played before. She has a lot of elements that are not Kim. So I’m able to really act.”
Regina during a key scene during episode 2 of "The Upshaws." Cr. LARA SOLANKI/NETFLIX © 2021
Credit: LARA SOLANKI/NETFLIX
Credit: LARA SOLANKI/NETFLIX
She also liked how the series could pivot adeptly between funny and serious. A key turning point happens in episode two. Car mechanic Bennie gets a flirty invite for a free dinner from a female customer who owns a fancy restaurant. So he takes out Regina, hoping to impress her with the “hook up.” At one point, they have a real discussion about the pain she still feels from his past cheating, but the mood pivots after the restaurant owner rescinds the free meal because Bennie didn’t come solo. Regina plants Band-Aids in Bennie’s food and the Upshaws make such a big scene that the owner shoos them away.
Hicks said that scene was pivotal for the show’s evolution. “We knew if the show was going to work, that scene in the restaurant had to work,” she said. “Fortunately, it did. It went from high comedy to serious back to high comedy. It’s nice when people can handle and elevate the material the way those two did.”
Then in episode five, Regina’s pent-up frustrations explode into a mesmerizing display of angst and anger, peppered with pops of comedy.
“That was riveting to play,” Fields said. “I hadn’t done a story arc like that before. Any time you get to unleash what you believe is your skill set, that’s always going to be very liberating for me.”
Hicks said the set erupted in applause after the scene ended.. “It was just remarkable,” she said. “You don’t normally write big monologues on a multi-cam, but it was just a fun ride to watch her do it.”
Fields has spent most of the past two decades focused more heavily on work behind the camera directing and producing.
Tyler Perry, for one, gave her a chance to direct more than 60 episodes of his “House of Payne” and “Meet the Browns” for TBS in the 2000s.
“Growing up watching her on TV I always felt like I knew her, like she was a part of my family,” Perry said. “Cut to all these years later and now she is a part of our family. I’m so glad she is one of the former child stars that turned out to be a well-rounded, brilliant human being who is still doing great things in the business. I love having her around. Be it acting or directing, she’s calm, classy, and she knows her stuff.”
Fields said working behind the scenes allows her “to really have a voice in the entire vision of a project, which you usually don’t have when you’re just an actor.”
But acting is still part of her DNA. In 2017, she played a chipper Floridian next-door neighbor to a British family who had just moved to America in six episodes of the British comedy “Living the Dream.” She recently appeared in single episodes of Netflix’s “Cobra Kai” and HBO’s “Insecure.” She starred in a Lifetime Christmas movie in 2019, “You Light Up My Christmas,” featuring some fellow actors from “The Facts of Life.”
Fields has also dabbled in reality TV. She competed on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” and spent a season on Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.”
Kim Fields competed on "Dancing With the Stars" in 2016, who tied for sixth place. ABC
“I like to surprise people and challenge myself,” she said. “You don’t see me coming!”
Fields feels like she’s at the top of her game, with several more directing and producing gigs on her schedule. She also sells her own line of coffee and tea.
“There’s a level of surrender I’ve tapped into,” she said. “I own who I am. It’s exciting. It’s wonderful.”
Wanda Sykes (Lucretia) and Kim Fields (Regina) in the sixth episode of season 1 of "The Upshaws on Netflix. NETFLIX
Credit: ALI GOLDSTEIN/NETFLIX
Credit: ALI GOLDSTEIN/NETFLIX
WHERE TO WATCH
“The Upshaws,” available to stream on Netflix