Pairing up with Selma director Ava DuVernay, Winfrey puts a contemplative spin on a family story of a sugar dynasty in the rural south
Whats the name of this show? Queen Sugar.
When does it premiere? The two-night premiere is on 6 and 7 September at 10pm ET on OWN.
Does Oprah appear in it? She was originally slated to, but she does not. She does appear in OWNs Greenleaf, which proved to be one of the hits of the summer.
What is this show about? When a sugar farmer in rural Louisiana dies unexpectedly, he leaves his debt-riddled farm to his three adult children, all of whom are dealing with struggles of their own. They have to try to get along and keep things afloat.
Who are these kids? The most prominent is the oldest daughter, Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner), a wealthy NBA players wife with an MBA and a 15-year-old son. They live the life of luxury in LA and shes even thinking of joining a Real Housewives-esque reality show. As shes leaving for the funeral, her husband is embroiled in a rape scandal with several of his team-mates.
Nova (True Bloods Rutina Wesley) is a journalist and activist who lives in New Orleans but doesnt return home very often. She grows pot illegally but gives it away to those who need it medicinally and is embroiled in an affair with a Big Easy cop. Shes also really into some kind of spiritual juju thats a mix between Christianity and something darker.
Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe) is her only son and a recent parolee who needs both his fathers and Aunt Violets (Tina Lifford) help raising his son Blue (Ethan Hutchison) because his mother is an addict. Were not sure why he was put away, but his temper threatens to put him back into jail.
So, let me guess: by the end of the first episode, theyve decided to run the business together and reclaim the familys pride? Not exactly. Actually, it takes three episodes to get there. One of the great things about Queen Sugar is that the pace is as languorous as a summers day drinking lemonade in a rocking chair on the porch. It defies the quick plotting that a network show would demand and gives the characters room to explore their emotions. Its not slow, necessarily, but it is deliberate.
Is it any good? Yes, it is. The stories here arent especially original: the poorer siblings being resentful of their more successful sister, a family defending their small business against a greedy landowner, a wronged woman falling in love with a down-to-earth man after her marriage ends. Its clear how all of these things are going to play out, but it says something about the power of the performances and the storytelling that they are still engaging and emotionally resonant.
What other shows is it like? I would compare it to something like Parenthood or Brothers & Sisters, a conventional family drama where the incidents are small but packed with meaning and history. The most startling moment involves a tractor being repossessed. The Great British Baking Show has scarier stakes. Instead of going for the storytelling churn of something like Empire, this takes a much more grounded approach, providing storylines that are specific to this family and community but will also resonate across the spectrum.
What does DuVernays direction add? She wrote the pilot and directed the first two episodes, and her style is both beautiful and delicate, rooting the action in struggles that might otherwise seem mundane. Often she focuses her camera on something unlikely: an abandoned house in the background, an old, beautiful tree next to a farmhouse, or a tattoo on a persons neck. The attention to these incidental details is almost romantic and often breathtaking. The style and the performances DuVernay elicits keeps the show from looking as cheap as Greenleaf at its worst.
Is there anything bad about it? Sometimes the show meanders. Its fine to take the scenic route to get somewhere, but its not always clear what the destination is. The dialogue is also a bit of a problem, with the colloquialisms and characters nicknames seeming forced rather than organic.
Should I watch this show? Of course you should. It seems as though Oprah and OWN have finally found their groove, and this should be the show to cement the channels reputation as a place to find meaningful stories that wouldnt be told anywhere else. While Sundances Rectify uses a slow pace and smart family drama to transcend into the sublime, Queen Sugar is not quite there. But it is a solid effort chock full of characters to care about. Weve always enjoyed Oprahs favorite things, and this should be no different.
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