Summer is coming to end and you’ve probably been partying too much to pay attention to some of the brilliance that is cable television nowadays, so here are three shows not to miss and why.
The Get Down, Netflix
Yesterday, I felt the urge to cancel a conference call to practice the lyrics of "My Mic Sounds Nice" for a talent show that will only happen if 1989 returns. This is the kind of madness that The Get Down, a musical drama set in the late 1970s Bronx, will inspire you towards because it makes you remember how exciting and infectious and necessary it all was if you were there when Hip Hop was all brand new.
The series takes you on a ride to where all of the old folks love to tell young people how Hip Hop started -- graffiti, b-boys and b-girls, up rocking, party walking, breakdancing, rapping and deejaying. But it is happening in real time, organically as young people are living their everyday lives.
Characters like Jaden Smith as graffiti artist Dizzee, the lively, lovely, endearing and full-fleshed out character Ezekiel, a poet and rapper played by Justice Smith, disco singer Mylene played by Herizen Guardiola, and Shameik Moore as Shaolin Fantastic give the series its heart.
The characters, most of them unknowns, are authentically Bronx and layered. Baz Luhrmann's penchant for histrionics gave the right amount of fun to this celebratory series that will return with more episodes. There are plenty of cameos and consultants from the forefathers of Hip Hop, and Nas is an executive producer.
The Bronx itself acts as a character with flashbacks of actual footage of the borough, mixed with keen details for the period piece makes The Boogie Down come alive for those unfortunate enough to have never visited. It reminds me of the excitement we had as kids crossing the Cross Bronx Expressway to visit our cousins, who would play us Mr. Magic recordings from the radio. The Bronx never had much money, but as this series makes clear, it had something that can’t be bought.
The Night Of, HBO
Perhaps it's stereotypical to say this conjures up the Serial podcast by NPR's Sarah Koenig and the story about Adnan Sayed, a Muslim American kid in Baltimore convicted for murder, but presumed innocent by much of the public.
In the case of The Night Of, created by Steve Zaillian (Schindler’s List) and Richard Price (Clockers, writer for The Wire), they conjured up the idea way before the Serial podcast became a national phenomenon.
Rapper-actor Riz Ahmed plays Nasir Kahn, a dutiful, socially awkward son of Muslim and Pakistani immigrants who either finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time or is adept at fooling everyone around him into thinking he’s an unassuming asthmatic.
He is arrested for murder and taken through the dysfunctional bureaucracy of the legal system from the Tombs in New York City to Riker’s Island. The rest of the series is a pulse-pounding journey full of foreshadowing and forks in the road to unravel who actually committed the murder.
John Turturro as Nasir’s on-again, off-again attorney shines in his role, along with Michael K. Williams as Nasir’s mentor in the prison system. But it is Ahmed’s understated play as the alternately innocent and sinister vessel to both understand the intricacies of a horrid justice system and to understand the complexities of human nature, that steals the show.
The show is marred by Zaillian and Price’s negligence when dealing with black characters and their attention to inane things like scene after scene devoted to Turturro’s eczema. The black characters are often jive-talking and terrifyingly criminal all the while corrupting a seemingly innocent Nas into the criminal underworld.
The one intolerant person in the show is a black man who is an Islamophobe and refers to Nasir as a “towel head.” Most of the black women in the show aren't given names or even lines as they all are either having sex, prostituting or naked and dead.
The one moment where there appears that the writers intend to step out of stereotype-ville is near the end and one line that's so cliché it seems that someone must have pulled their coat and they stuck in at the end to save face.
If you can ignore the flaws, the show is classic whodunnit that will keep you pining away for the next episode.
If you haven’t been watching Power, just where have you been? If you're not there for the contoured bodies, be there for the suspense, the twists and turns, betrayals, and intrigue.
Co-executive produced by Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson (who also co-stars) and show creator Courtney Kemp Agboh ("The Good Wife"), the show is the soap opera of crime dramas, including side chicks, complicated love triangles, high school romance, murder, and lots of backstabbing.
Omari Hardwick stars as James “Ghost” St. Patrick who personifies the difficulties of a high-end drug dealer trying to go legit. His wife, Naturi Naughton as Tasha St. Patrick, it becomes clear by the third season, is the backbone and the even-keeled brains of the operation.
Tommy (played by Joseph Sikora) is Ghost’s sidekick, muscle and childhood friend who chastises Ghost for thinking he is more than what he is and trying to get out the game. There are many characters that come in and out (or sometimes choked out) to shake things up, including Tommy’s love interest Holly, played by Lucy Walters, and Ghost’s side chick, Angela Valdes played by Lela Loren, who grew up with Ghost and Tommy around the way.
Their love affair is complicated by the fact the Angela is a prosecutor assigned to a case that could land Ghost in jail for a long time. Ghost, whose greatest loyalty is to himself, makes many enemies on his road to legitimacy, and it’s only a matter of time before it all catches up to him. The thrill is figuring out how and who will catch up to him first.