Starz’s ‘Power’ plays it cool and dark
“Every time I say something like ‘Tell us who you’re working for,’” says Tommy Egan (Joseph Sikora), a character in the new underworld soap “Power,” “I feel like I’m in an old movie.”
You may have a similar reaction watching the series that contains him. The poor boy, dreaming big; the old friends at a possible parting of the ways; the girl from the old neighborhood, suddenly back; the practical wife, protecting herself — the clothes are new, but the faces are familiar.
Premiering Saturday on Starz and already available online, “Power” — it has one of those perfume-name marketing titles, like “Scandal” — tells a story of sexy pretty people involved in distributing drugs and running a nightclub, with a premium-cable sex scene here and a little bit of torture there. If this sounds like your idea of a summer entertainment, by all means dig in; you will not be disappointed.
There are some officers of the law as well, I should say, who are also sexy and pretty and very well-dressed.
The series, created by Courtney Kemp Agboh, a writer and producer on “The Good Life,” has Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson attached as an executive producer. Jackson also supplies a theme song, understandably, and will show up in the third episode in a small part. (He is rather good.)
At the center of it all is James “Ghost” St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick), “the biggest drug lord in New York,” a fact known to about six people, and now also the micromanaging proud proprietor of a nightclub. (Tommy is his more psychotic partner.) I would call him an antihero were he more complex, but, though Ghost does bad things, there is no real darkness in him.
He doesn’t stand for anything, really, except perhaps a long line of similarly aspirational, slightly conflicted movie gangsters he is possibly not meant quite so clearly to recall. He is good-bad, in the old Shangri-Las formulation, but not evil. You are meant to root for him, without much reservation.
He is a collected, low-volume sort of fellow, for whom the knitting of a brow signifies distress. His inner life is entirely occupied by his wanting to go legit, or kind of thinking about it anyway; handling pressures from above while his drug business is under mysterious attack; and obsessing over the high school girlfriend who walked back into his married-with-kids, passing-for-a-businessman life. There are some ironies attached to this potentially new old flame (Lela Loren) I will not spoil for you, though you will possibly have worked them out by the end of this sentence.
“Power” is somewhat in the spirit of an earlier Starz series, “Magic City,” which also concerned a man with a hospitality-industry dream (in that case, a hotel) built on criminal associations and dirty money. But where the earlier show was all tropical light, the new one is cool and dark, with hard edges and expensive upholstery, as if the whole thing, characters included, had been ordered out of a catalog. Indeed, watching it at times feels like leafing through a fashion magazine in a heavily carpeted waiting room, with the sound of a dentist’s drill coming through the wall.
Despite some pop-cultural name-dropping, and odd evocations of humanness attached like sticky notes to the surface of the drama (Ghost telling his son to stop the video games and do his homework, for instance, indicating that he’s a good dad), the show has a curiously featureless affect, as if the slickness of the production extended to the characters themselves.
Still, it moves along, dutifully moving the players to their appointed plot points. And there are some nice performances; I would draw your attention to that of Naturi Naughton, as Ghost’s wife, consistently a warm body in an often chilly show.
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