Ava DuVernay’s new romantic drama, Cherish the Day, was clearly created with lofty ambitions. Announced as an anthology series, the auteur’s second major project for OWN (after the acclaimed Queen Sugar) sets out to traverse a couple’s relationship through pivotal 24-hour periods. Spanning five years and starring relative unknowns Xosha Roquemore (The Mindy Project) and Alano Miller (Underground), the eight-part debut season showcases lushly lit black skin, an aspirational black L.A. and a reverent appreciation of black artists, then and now, that’s grounded in daily life. It invites respect by paying it first.
But Cherish the Day‘s first few episodes also suggest a show so adoring of its characters that it robs the storylines of their necessary tension. The drama strains to conjure flaws for Roquemore’s Gently James, the live-in caretaker of a nonagenarian actress named Luma Langston (Cicely Tyson). (Luma is perfection — gracious and grateful — as is Gently’s devotion to the older woman and their grandmother-granddaughter relationship.) Miller’s tech exec Evan is even more of an idealization — all crisp shirts and expensive gifts and passionate confessions of love — but the actor lacks Roquemore’s breezy charisma and Tyson’s seasoned magnetism. The result is a pair of charm bombs detonating on both sides of a cardboard cutout.
The male half of the series’ central romance flags even further because Gently and Luma are the kind of black characters we seldom see on screen. A restless roamer, Gently treats the globe like most of us treat our browsers — she goes anywhere the mood strikes her, anytime that it strikes her. Childhood trauma informs her wanderlust, too, but her upbringing is more an illustration of a community stepping up than that of familial dysfunction. Meanwhile, Luma, who would’ve been a rough contemporary of Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge, is the type of actress forced into retirement we rarely see of any race — free of bitterness and grasping and vanity, whose uncloying ladylikeness blossoms from within.
The biggest source of friction between Gently and Evan is their class difference, which almost instantly dooms their coupling. On their first date, he offers to help her pick up a used refrigerator, which means borrowing a truck from a part of town where he’s loathe to leave his Tesla for the hour or two that the errand would take. It’s a pointed introduction to the historically black neighborhoods of South Los Angeles, where a sheltered moneybags with zero street smarts like Evan can visit and…have nothing happen to him. Cherish the Day isn’t as sweeping a love letter to South L.A. as Insecure is, but its homegrown pride is more than evident.
Evan’s snootiness dissipates quickly, leaving the new couple with little to separate them or deepen their characterization. Even in just the four episodes for review, the angsty storylines soon feel forced and melodramatic, at odds with the hangout vibe (in a car, on a couch) that suffuses most of the series. The romance’s naysayers are the people closest to our protagonists, who don’t seem to get much out of their relationships with their second-guessers otherwise. A visit to Evan’s even snootier parents’ home yields a surprisingly stock plot, with the performances to match.
The dialogue fares much better, with each episode featuring at least one highly quotable (and wonderfully delivered) line, as when Gently compares her stance on religion to her MO at Hometown Buffet: “Sample a little bit of this, a little bit of that, try to get full.” But as that line suggests, there’s also an aura of self-help fairy dust sprinkled throughout — starting with the show’s title, taken from the Sade song — that aligns with Cherish the Day‘s uplifting earnestness but less so with the emotional complexity the series wants to convey, especially when it comes to living with past hurts. So potent is the mix of hope and hauntedness the series strives for that I hope it soon finds the right balance.
Cast: Xosha Roquemore, Alano Miller, Cicely Tyson
Creator: Ava DuVernay
Showrunner: Tanya Hamilton
Premieres Tuesday, Feb. 11, at 10 p.m. with a second night Wednesday, Feb. 12, at 8 p.m. on OWN.