'Power': TV Review
Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Starz, beginning June 7
Omari Hardwick, Naturi Naughton, Joseph Sikora, Lela Loren, Sinqua Walls, Kathrine Narducci, Leslie Lopez, Jovanni Gomez
Courtney Kemp Agboh
Omari Hardwick and Naturi Naughton star in the Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson-produced drama about a drug dealer who owns a nightclub in New York.
"Yeah, sure, that sounds pretty good."
Is that the standard Starz response to shows pitched its way? With the channel trying to stand out in the pay cable arena where HBO and Showtime already dominate, it hasn't exactly been easy to define. Maybe that's the point?
Starz: We'll Figure Out What Works Eventually.
It's not catchy, but it's available.
The channel's scattershot approach to series pickups is exemplified with Power, its latest drama, about a drug dealer who opens a nightclub in New York and is thinking about going legitimate. Power is executive produced by Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, as the Starz press material and promotions make clear ad nauseam. This provenance will appeal to some, as will the show. It's just unlikely any of those people will be TV critics.
Power seemingly wants to be a show that tells a big, complicated, meaningful story about, well, the perils and problems of power and how one man deals with them. That man is James "Ghost" St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick), but how he deals with these issues isn't particularly intriguing. In fact, no part of Power is particularly intriguing. It feels like a superficial video rather than a real drama. Take out the sex and the swearing and it could fit in perfectly on ABC with all that network's other vapid soaps.
And that's the biggest problem here. If you're paying for a premium cable channel like HBO or Showtime, then the original programming better be pretty damned original. Why pay for something that ABC can give you for free, or whatever passes for free these days?
One of the issues for Starz, it seems, is that its own subscribers aren't watching its original shows. For past dramas, landing a third season (Starz almost always greenlights two seasons off the bat) has proved difficult. It appears Starz's collection of movies interests its subscribers more than its original content, which is the opposite of what's going on at HBO and Showtime.
If the channel wants to reverse that, it might want to air something a little more challenging than Power. There's just not much here that hasn't been seen a million times before.
Ghost made his name on the streets as a drug dealer. Tommy (Joseph Sikora), his best friend and right-hand man, wants Ghost to focus on the drug business instead of his new nightclub, called Truth. But now Ghost has a love affair with status — he's got the over-the-top New York pad, he's got a wife, Tasha (Naturi Naughton) who spends his money like a spoiled brat, and a glitzy club, which he sees as more that just a front to launder drug money. Which life will he choose?
Ghost is also still attracted to his high school crush Angela (Lela Loren), who just so happens to be working for the government as it cracks down on drugs and thugs. Convenient, right? But Angela is not initially trying to bring down Ghost. She just might need someone to … love her. And — um … hold on here, I'll keep this straight — Tasha doesn't like the idea of her man sniffing around another woman so, despite nothing happening between Ghost and Angela (yet), she flirts with and masturbates in front of the family driver, Shawn (Sinqua Walls). What will happen between Ghost, Tasha and Angela?
None of them is a particularly compelling character. There's no urgency to side with any of them. There's not much actual drama, even. Just glossy characters spouting predictable dialogue. The writing and the acting are not memorable, the visual acumen isn't impressive and we haven't even got to Jackson's acting (which will need to be better than his pitching if Power is going to get noticed).
As creator, writer (for the first two episodes), showrunner and executive producer, Courtney Kemp Agboh was given a chance to play in the big leagues with Starz but ends up with something better suited for MTV. But maybe that's not her fault. Maybe Starz doesn't want substance. Maybe the network really isn't in the prestige game at all — it's just trying to find a hit no matter how.
There's a lot less gravitas than there is glop at Starz. The fare has been light on writing strength, heavy on sex and violence and concepts that might sell internationally. There would be nothing wrong with that if only Starz came out and admitted that superficiality as entertainment is the new strategy. That way nobody would look at Power and think, "This music video-caliber drama is well short of expectations of greatness." They would think, "This glossy drivel is perfect for Starz!"
So, either better branding is necessary or perhaps higher standards. Because Power is a paint-by-numbers effort when Starz could really do itself a favor by putting a masterpiece in the market.