Power Series Premiere Review: More Electric Than Expected

By Cory Barker

Jun 08, 2014

Power S01E01: "Not Exactly How We Planned"


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 samplingPower 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 Omari 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. 

However, the real revelation was Hardwick, who's appeared in a lot of stuff you've probably seen (Dark Blue and Kick-Ass, perhaps most notably). The pilot asked Hardwick to carry so much of the load, and James is somewhat of an interesting character—particularly in the second half of the episode, once Angela showed up—but he handled himself very well. Hardwick's James is more emotionally expressive than you might expect from this kind of anti-hero-ish character at the center of a dark cable drama, and the actor seems to have good chemistry with everyone in the cast. That's especially true with regard to Joseph Sikora, who plays James' longtime buddy Tommy. The scenes between the two of them were warm and natural, even when the characters were discussing how to keep a million-dollar drug operation from going under. 


There's also something to be said for Power's diverse cast and crew. Many of the show's key players are minorities, including creator Agboh and director Hemingway. It's not fair to say that it's progressive for Starz to have picked up a series from a black woman about a black drug dealer who works primarily with folks from Mexico (and while Puerto Ricans serve as his primary competition), but it's certainly a good thing. Frankly, there've been enough TV shows featuring middle-aged white dudes breaking the proverbial bad. If we really need another series with these types of storylines, I welcome one that, from top to bottom, comes from a different perspective. That's something we should support. 

Power's pilot wasn't great, nor did it establish anything that felt fresh or original enough to make the show worth committing to immediately. However, despite the familiarity of the story beats and the character types, a strong lead performance from Omari Hardwick at least forces me to consider putting Power on my already extended DVR watchlist. If you haven't already, I suggest that you consider doing the same.



NOTES

– I don't watch many Starz shows, but this episode didn't feature HBO or Cinemax levels of nudity, which I found to be a little surprising. There was some exhibitionist masturbation from Naughton's character, though, so suck it Game of Thrones!

– This show is executive-produced by Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson, who will appear in a supporting role, but he was a no-show in the first episode. What a shame that was, right? Mr. Jackson did provide the theme song and at least one other track, which played immediately after the opening titles, because I guess that's the only way people are going to listen to 50 Cent music in 2014. The intro sequence was pretty cool, though. 


Did you watch the debut of Power? What'd you think? Had you even heard of it before now?


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  • raymondardry Jun 16, 2014

    I watched both episodes. This is obviously a woman's version of what drug dealers would sound and act like if they were women. It's not bad as a show and could get better but it's a little weak on the intensity, even the murder was completely anti-climatic. Also, the rainbow feel good meeting of nationalities working in the same crew is absolutely unbelievable. Also they said they arent a gang. So how the hell would 20 people take over a huge majority of the drug trade in NYC? Serious plot flaw there guys. But the most glaring weakness is how "Ghost" isn't a known drug dealer and still has anonymity even as the leader of such an organization that he can afford a NY Penthouse and to be able to open a 10 million dollar club without him being at least known in the police department's drug or gang enforcement.

  • ElisaDiaz Jun 10, 2014

    I have watched this pilot. Not interested in gangs, gansters bad feelings about killing people, choices between drug dealing and club business, or in general, supporting criminal life in fiction. We have to give the show merits for having most of their cast not white males when it fits. But I was bored the whole time. So this is a pass for me.

  • Whedonrules Jun 09, 2014

    So what to make of Joseph Sikora who has been in a lot of places on television since 2010? It will be interesting to see him as part of the main cast. I first remember him from 'Boardwalk Empire' as Margaret's husband in the pilot Then he had a great, hilarious, run on 'The Heart, She Holler' then he gets a run as a White Supremacist beefing with 'Emmett' on 'Banshee' (later to be killed by 'Burton'), now here. (His last character may have a few problems with this one :)) Dude is on a role; great character actor with a lot of range. He'll be working for a long time. Should be an interesting new show. It looks better than any of the sh!t coming back to USA at least. It will be interesting to see if it can hold or build on the audience that the just finished watching the excellent 2nd season of 'DaVinci's Demons' in this Saturday 9pmEST spot where Starz lives.

  • MarlboroMagpi Jun 08, 2014

    I sample it early (thanks to grumpyclown reminding me) and I loved it ! It is probably nothing new but there is no current TV show with its theme - Brotherhood and gangs.

    It is even better than gang related which I like. If the whole season is as good as the pilot, than it is an above average show.

    Hardwick is great but his chemistry with Tommy (played by Joseph sikora - who was in the Tom Cruise movie - Jack Reacher) was a joy to watch. It really felt like they are childhood friends and had each other's back all their life. I think this is important because I get the feeling by the end of season one, they will have conflicts that might result in a major break-up.

    Only weak point was the wife. I just think we need a better and hotter actress for that role.



  • MarlboroMagpi Jun 15, 2014

    Just managed to catch episode two in between the breaks for World Cup matches. The second episode is just as good. This is one of my favorite NEW show for 2014 !

  • vernesciasmith1 Jun 08, 2014

    I enjoyed the show. I love the characters and I can't wait to see what's going to happen.

  • seangardner984 Jun 08, 2014

    wow another show of dishonest thugs who only care about themselves and their own profits- while carrying on the illusion that they are not that way?? OMG we have NEVER had a show like that before! what a new idea! (LOL!)

  • mad-pac Jun 08, 2014

    This seems to be obe of those shows you watch if you're tired of watching shows with white people.

  • antmorris3511 Jun 08, 2014

    Being a cat from the inner city, of course I would watch a show about cats from the inner city, if its any good. Power's just not gritty enough, and the character portrayals are nothing like the kind of folk you meet in the real world. The dialect and mannerisms are all wrong, its riddled with cliches, the street politics seem taken from the mind of one who is very unfamiliar with them. Everything looks staged.

    It's a shame too, because tv land could use more cultural variety.

    I would prefer to be able to like this show, but at this point, I don't. I'm glad someone does.

  • mad-pac Jun 09, 2014

    I'm not from the US. What's the inner city like, just out of curiosity?

  • antmorris3511 Jun 09, 2014

    The inner city is pretty much the center of any metropolitan major city. in the US, these urban areas tend to be highly populated with working class minorities. I'm from Washington DC, but I've spent time in NYC and Baltimore.. The Wire was filmed in Baltimore and its about as realistic as a show can get when it comes to portraying urban crime, and politics.

  • mad-pac Jun 09, 2014

    Thanks. From the USA I know only Orange County California, and I stayed in a hotel downtown LA.

  • mad-pac Jun 08, 2014

    Thanks for the information. Saves me the trouble of watching. There are too many options on TV and not enough time to see them all.

  • treywright3 Jun 08, 2014

    "I guess that's the only way people are going to listen to 50 Cent music in 2014."

    Ummm…Because your white you probably don't realize how big Get Rich or Die Tryin the album and movie impacted the black community…50 cent was being bumped in the west coast by bloods and crips while this nigga is straight outta new york…he literally destroyed Ja Rule's career who was hot at that time and he created the word Wanksta….50 cent is a legend in hip-hop your a fool

  • FamilyDutyHonor Jun 11, 2014

    Ummm... That's not what he said. 'Get Rich or Die Tryin' came out how long ago? When was the last time 50 had a hit? When was the last time there was a huge buzz about his music? The last time I even heard a new 50 song was my freshman year of college and my roommate said "omg he's back!" and I said "ehh" ... That was 5yrs ago and I haven't heard a 50 song since

  • RandyWashington Jul 31, 2014

    You and the guy who wrote this are very ignorant when it comes to 50 cent and his music. Fifty has many of records on the radio, he just put G-unit back together and a few months back he dropped an album animal ambition. Get rich went diamond in hip hop that doesn't no happen anymore so move away from the past. 50 cent is a great artist.

  • FamilyDutyHonor Jun 11, 2014

    Damn homie, when I was in high school he was the man homie. Haha

  • Tiger_MP Jun 08, 2014

    I love the first ep and was disappointed when it was not on last night. I thought this series was slated to be on every Saturday night at 10, which would be great as there is nothing else on on Saturday nights

  • LiseLotteDive Jun 08, 2014

    I liked this opening episode.....but in real life people aren't able to live seemingly normal family lives juggling being gangsters. There's something missing when people are able to kill. Just saying....I've lived with "a" guy.

  • liasonfinally Dec 27, 2014

    Umm actually they can not in all circumstances, but I'm from Chicago a mob town and having a front politics/legit business/acquaintances is not uncommon (especially in urban/hood fiction).

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