Pop quiz: How many of you knew that Starz had a new drama series called Power on the way? Did you know what it was about, or that it premiered Saturday night?
No matter how you answered those questions, the television industry has reached a point where relatively prominent networks can produce and release a slick-looking new show with some big names attached and most of the country isn’t even aware of it, myself included. Power is further confirmation that there is simply too much television out there. And the consequence is that solid-but-not-great shows like Power are likely to immediately fall through the cracks in an instant. That’s too bad; while the series’ opening episode ran through a cavalcade of familiar paces, it did so with a few solid performances and some impressive visuals.
In case you didn’t catch the debut, either on Starz or online via early sampling, Power follows James “Ghost” St. Patrick (Being Mary Jane‘s Omari Hardwick), a wealthy club owner by night and a burgeoning drug kingpin… also by night. Having clawed his way to the top of the drug game, James struggles to reconcile his illegally obtained income with his dreams of going completely legit. His wife Tasha (The Playboy Club‘s Naturi Naughton) is well aware of where the money comes from, but she isn’t especially fond of James’ occasional aloofness and/or dedication to the job. And as James’ relationship with his Mexican drug connection (Without a Trace’s Enrique Murciano) starts to go south and an old flame with a problematic occupation (Gang Related‘s Lela Loren) enters his life, James starts to feel the pressure that comes along with—you guessed it—power.
If that sounds entirely derivative, that’s because it absolutely is. As this pilot made clear, Power doesn’t have many new ideas to present to the world. There was quite a bit of discussion about what it takes to survive on the street and what it means to try to escape that life when it’s been such an integral part of your life for so long, and blah blah blah. James spoke about how he “made it” to his dead father, and yet found himself troubled by having to take drastic, violent means to protect his drug operation as efficiently as possible.
Furthermore, we met James as he was getting dressed to the nines to manage his swanky new club, but by the end of the next sequence, he’d stripped off the nice shirt and tie so that he could execute someone who hit up one of his drug hotspots. Power is the kind of series that makes a big point out of the symbolism in its lead character’s apparel; putting on, then taking off, then putting back on that outfit was clearly intended to signify that James is trapped between two worlds, that the suit is something he wears to cosplay in a life he wishes was completely real, and so on.
Every plotline established in this pilot immediately evoked stories we’ve seen before. Of course James has to be morally conflicted about his dueling lives. Of course Lela Loren’s Angela represents the road not traveled and happens to be part of a task force that’s specifically trying to hunt James down. And of course there are questions about who James can trust and who thinks they can trust him. Power is absolutely the type of wrong-side-of-the-law cable drama we’ve grown very comfortable with, and that networks know how to churn out with ease.
Nevertheless, in the capable hands of creator Courtney Kemp Agboh (a former writer for The Good Wife), director Anthony Hemingway, and Hardwick, these too-familiar conversations and sequences boasted a surprising amount of life and style. Hemingway’s direction gave Power a strong visual template to work with from here on out; this sucker was glossy when it needed to be and a little cold when it needed to be. The opening episode did some fine stuff with its New York locations, which is always a plus in my mind. Agboh, Hemingway, and their editing team also did a nice job of keeping the hour moving. The story might’ve been familiar, but so much was established in the opening 50 minutes—James’ internal turmoil and his external threats with the Mexican cartel and the Puerto Rican competition, various subplots involving his wife’s jealousy, his mother-in-law’s distrust, etc.—that there wasn’t much time to really ponder how standardized it all is. Everything came together in a well-produced package.
To read the rest of the recap, “Not Exactly How We Planned,” click HERE!!!