Review by Joe Thompson
By now you’re probably acutely aware that Starz is premiering Power, a new crime drama that counts Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson among its roster of executive producers (and as a guest star). You can even watch the pilot episode here for free.
Created by Courtney Kemp Agboh, Power follows James “Ghost” St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick), a huge player in the New York City drug network. Ghost, nicknamed for his ability to remain virtually incognito is his illegal dealings, is now the owner of a popular nightclub, Truth, used as a front to launder his drug profits. The only thing is Ghost secretly dreams of “going legit,” where his primary concerns are his club business and his family life.
Leaving the lucrative world of drugs, where Ghost is told he could one day run a cartel, has its challenges (duh!). Ghost’s wife, Tasha (Naturi Naughton), is in no way interested in her husband’s desire for transition. She’s always wanted him to be the biggest drug dealer in NYC, scoffing at the profits from Truth’s opening night compared to what selling drugs brings home. Ghost also faces opposition from Tommy (Joseph Sikora), his partner and childhood friend. Tommy’s eager for more action on the streets, often butting heads with Ghost when it comes to retaliation.
It seems there’s a mysterious party that’s attacking Ghost’s couriers, robbing and leaving them injured or dead. This forces Ghost to put his drug business on hold in order to hunt down the culprit. Of course, as the flow of product and money slow, Ghost’s relationship with a dangerous cartel leader begins to show signs of strain. That same strain follows Ghost home, where Tasha feels neglected as Ghost’s time is monopolized by the club and drugs. When she spots him getting cozy with Angela Valdes (Lela Loren), a long lost high school flame, Tasha takes matters into her own, um, hands, even though we’re told Ghost has never strayed before. But Ghost’s interest in Angela is more dangerous than anyone realizes, as Angela is part of a task force aimed at bringing down Ghost’s cartel boss.
So, if you’re thinking Power sounds extremely familiar, you’re not wrong. The themes, plot, and characterizations are ones we’ve seen time and again, most notably executed in HBO’s The Sopranos, the holy grail of cable television. While Power carries many similarities with David Chase’s show, I’d stop sort of calling it derivative or an outright copy. As a protagonist, Ghost is mostly reacting to external circumstances that force him into decisions and situations, whereas Tony had his share of emotional problems that informed his work life. There are hints of deeper struggles in Ghost in the pilot, such as his dream of owning a nightclub and the death of his father, but we’ve only spent an hour with these characters. As the series continues, I expect to discover more layers to Ghost.
The home dynamics are what finally hooked me into Power. Ghost and Tasha’s relationship is heading for a crossroads, where Ghost’s grand dreams pull him one way and the expectations of his wife pull another. Omari Hardwick delivers a strong performance as Ghost, one we identify with as he wants a different kind of life. He imbues the character with a strength and determination we can see in Ghost’s every scene. Likewise, Naturi Naughton shines as Tasha, demanding of her man’s attention, not willing to be sidelined, but stepping up to protect his business. His and Tasha’s marriage might be in a precarious place, but this man loves his kids. Ghost’s daughter, Raina, is auditioning for the school production of Annie, and her dad takes the time to reward her success with an expensive gift. Ghost takes an interest his son, Tariq’s homework assignments and his choice of video games. It sounds like mundane, everyday actions, but they’re not actions we associate with what we’ve come to expect from a character like Ghost. The dynamics at home are what hooked me into Power.
The pilot suffers from a drag in pacing brought on by excessive exposition syndrome. It’s a problem all television pilots face: how to best deliver all the pertinent information without being boring. Unfortunately, Power decides to accomplish this through extended, extremely detailed conversations that repeat certain facts so many times it becomes comical. Some shows withhold information, portioning it out over the course of the season, but Power takes the opposite approach. It’s no deal breaker, but it does occasionally take me out of the world of the show.
There’s enough in Power’s pilot to make me curious about where the show is heading. Merely meeting our expectations for it doesn’t make for compelling viewing. My wish is that it quickly breaks out of the familiar mold and takes us someplace new.