What’s the winning move in The Game reboot playbook that's led to the long-running series' ongoing success? Stars Wendy Raquel Robinson, who plays sports manager Tasha Mack, and Hosea Chanchez, who plays her football star son Malik Wright, will happily share. “Oh, it’s the fans,” Robinson declares to EBONY, to which Chanchez adds, “It’s been their dedication since season one.”

Currently in its second season on Paramount+, EBONY chatted with the stars to find out how this on-screen mother-son duo has evolved since The Game first premiered in 2006, and what the actors cherish most about their alter egos.

EBONY: What is the secret to The Game’s longevity? 

Wendy Raquel Robinson: I think we hold up a mirror to society, and they can see themselves in it even though we use the world of football to really bring them in. But it's so much bigger than that. It's about racism, heroism, classism and mental and physical health. It's all those things that are so identifiable, and it's the characters as well, being flawed to multifaceted.

Hosea Chanchez: The rest of them are extremely flawed. However, Malik is absolutely perfect. (laughs) This show was not supposed to go really at all. We were a backdoor pilot, and that’s a really good way for a creator to get another show idea out there. Our executive producer Mara Brock Akil used an episode of her other hit series Girlfriends to introduce us. We got to test the market and they loved us.

How has your character Tasha evolved over the years, and what do you love most about her?

Robinson: I love Tasha. I love the fact that she is so non-traditional, and I love that she is the every man and every woman. I think that what I love most about her is the fact that she is so flawed, and in this particular season, you're going to see her at her most vulnerable. Sometimes you have to be strong enough to be weak. She's taking off her Superwoman cape, and you're getting a chance to just see who she really is. Tasha says the things that I wish I had the courage to say and do. Tasha shoots straight from the hip and she has a heart as big as gold. Just the fact that she has worked her way from the bottom all the way to the top, it's a testimony to her strength, her wit and her resilience.

Chanchez: I think I can see some of myself in Tasha too.

How has playing Malik been a blessing in your world?

Chanchez: Malik has really taught me a lot about my life. I started this character when I was in my early twenties and now I'm in my early forties. To be able to play a character through the span of his growth and my own in the real world has really been incredible. I was able to get a lot of life experience while playing this guy. And now, this is the most grounded I've been in this character because I believe I have so much more to offer. When I was younger, I was just playing him, but now I can say I actually have lived Malik, particularly with the issue of mental health. I learned so much about myself through the lens of what Malik went through last season. I had to dive in and dig and do some research and work on Hosea. And then I found out that I suffered from mental health issues, like most of my brothers and sisters out here, and particularly now as we're all coming through this COVID thing that we experienced as a human race. Malik taught me a really valuable lesson about growth and patience.

What about Malik has changed or stayed the same? 

Chanchez: Malik does everything with good intentions, whether that'd be wrong or right. He goes forth with everything he does, and he really does want to do the best that he can. I really praise him for that. I love the fact that no matter what type of trouble or mischief he gets into, his intentions were never to harm, hurt or get over on anybody.

Hosea Chanchez, Wendy Raquel Robinson and Rockmond Dunbar on The Game. Image: Boris Martin/Paramount+ ©2022 CBS Television Studios.

Why is this show so important as a snippet of Black life and Black excellence?

Robinson: I feel that we are giving you a piece of the culture. We've tackled hairism when a white woman cut off Tasha’s daughter's braids, it made her vulnerable. This season, my character is suffering from fibroids, and that's something that's really specific to Black women. It's something that I suffered from so I think it's important that we really deal with ourselves and our health and what that really means and to listen to our body. As a culture, we women are so quick to take care of everybody else and negate who we are and how we are. I think our resonates with Black culture and excellence, but you can't be excellent if you don't take care of your temple first.

Chanchez: One of the things that I'm most passionate about is that we are a representation of what the NFL and these young athletes have endured over the past five years. That's the reason why I wanted to do this show, again, this iteration on Paramount+ because there was so much more story to tell. Think about it; our football players have been on the front line of the change that’s happening in our society. It's bigger than a television show. Our show should remain ingrained in the culture by telling authentic stories, giving those guys a voice and making sure that we represent those young men who represent us as a nation and as a people. It's much more than a show now and a lot less self-serving than it has been for me as an artist. It's a big deal for me now, for all of us.

It's also a representation of the struggles Black men endure when they play professional football.

Robinson: If you look at what's happening in the NFL with concussions and racial bias, that was always real. Like with Damar Hamlin, who they were resuscitating on the field–are you kidding me–it's life and death out there. Using The Game as the backdrop makes us really examine who we are beyond the culture. 

Chanchez: That's also the reason why this, in my opinion, it's an invaluable show and the reason we need this type of representation. We have to, as the producers, writers and creators of the show, do some justice by shining a light on these issues these men are facing individually and do it collectively as a team.

The Game airs Thursdays on Paramount+.