Within seconds of the Power’s opening credits, the viewer knows exactly what the series is about. Like 50 Cent’s hit album, it’s largely about how to Get Rich or Die Tryin,’ with gratuitous shots of expensive watches, expansive penthouse apartments, and pricey red-bottomed Louboutin shoes. Well, specifically, Power is about James “Ghost” St. Patrick (Mary Jane alum Omari Hardwick), a big-time New York City drug dealer who opens a hot, high-end nightclub as a front to hide his dirty drug money. Quickly, we learn the night club is a bigger metaphor for what’s really going on in Ghost’s life: there’s the shiny façade — his trophy wife (Naturi Naughton), three precocious kids, and the new business — juxtaposed against the darker world he inhabits as a street-savvy dealer who will stop at nothing to get to the top. Executive produced by rap mogul Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, the show looks and feels like a slick hip-hop video, with just enough nudity and wads of cash to take you back to the days when Ja Rule and Lil Wayne topped the charts instead of Lorde and Katy Perry.
If Power sounds like a mix of The Wire meets BET’s The Game with a dash of The Sopranos, you’d be dead on. (How much do you want to bet that 50 secretly wants to be Stringer Bell?) But Power — created by The Good Wife co-producer/writer Courtney Kemp Agboh — lacks The Wire’s realistic portrayal of the way narcotics touches every layer of society, across class, race, and gender. Power is rife with awkward stereotypes. For instance, Ghost’s white sidekick Tommy Egan (Joseph Sikora) makes frequent, awkward overtures to emphasize his street cred (his urban dialogue is guilty of being the worst kind of parody), and in one dinner scene, he eagerly accepts an extra serving of chicken as if to remind us that he really is just a part of the African-American family.
But in one unexpected nod to reality, Ghost’s narrative isn’t simply black and white. There’s a slew of Latino supporting characters, like vicious cartel honcho Lobo (Enrique Murciano), with whom Ghost speaks pretty darn good Spanish and negotiates his way to the top. Then there’s Angela Valdes (Lela Loren), a spitfire whom Ghost dated “way back when” they were just kids hanging out on the stoops of their NYC neighborhood. Within the show’s half hour, the two bump into each other for the first time in 18 years.We learn Angela left the ‘hood as a teen to go to Chaote on scholarship and eventually attended law school. It then emerges that one of her newest high profile cases as an assistant U.S. attorney involves chasing down a mysterious drug runner. One can predict where that case leads her, but college-educated, savvy Latinas are in short supply in cable television, and Angela’s good-cop character could potentially add sincerity and depth to a drama that at the surface, plays like an hour long version of VH1’s Love and Hip Hop Atlanta.
…But maybe that’s what Fiddy & co. are aiming for. In that case, bring on the one-liners, mega weaves and flashy fight sequences — just know that to compete with the other big-time cable dramas, it might help to focus on the acute emotional tension between Ghost’s desire for a Cosby-esque family life and the criminal activity which threatens to tear it apart.