Welcome to TV's most Power-ful Universe
This summer, a universe that's become a pop culture phenomenon thanks to its world-building and obsessive fans will expand even further as it goes back in time to explore the untold story of a beloved character who memorably met their demise on the flagship series. Apologies to Marvel and Black Widow, but we're talking about something more Powerful here.
Since ending its six-season run in early 2020 as Starz's most viewed series (sorry, Outlander junkies!), Power has already spawned a hit sequel series and has three more highly anticipated spinoffs on tap. That means Power has more shows in its galaxy than the long-running Grey's Anatomy — a stat that comes as no surprise to followers of the Power Universe. "There was never a week that Power wasn't in the news, on Twitter and Instagram, people arguing about what happened," says Tony winner Patina Miller, who stars on Power Book III: Raising Kanan, the latest of the franchise extensions. Or, as Mary J. Blige of Power Book II: Ghost puts it, "drama, suspense, action, romance — you name it and Power delivered."
As most things do with Curtis Jackson, a.k.a. 50 Cent, Power began with his ear for music. Or in this case, "music that wouldn't actually sell on iTunes," explains the rapper-turned-TV producer. "The soundtrack is the last place money is spent in production." His mission to make a music-driven drama series led him to The Good Wife writer Courtney Kemp, who had one very specific question for Jackson: "How does one sell drugs?" She was talking to the right guy, considering his upbringing on the streets of South Jamaica Queens. "50 had full knowledge of this world," Kemp says. "The character of Ghost really become a composite of my father and 50, with the universal question of the series being, 'Does my past dictate my future?'"
Like its central figure — James St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick), a notorious New York City drug kingpin known as Ghost who attempts to go legit as a nightclub owner — Power had to fight for every bit of its success. When Kemp's addictive series premiered in 2014, there were no household names involved aside from Jackson, who helped Kemp develop the series and signed on to play Ghost's mentor-turned-rival, Kanan (Kemp refers to the character as Ghost's Obi-Wan Kenobi). "If I wasn't available to do Good Morning America, they wouldn't even care to see the cast," recalls the actor, producer, and Grammy winner. "I'm 50 Cent. I'm in the nightlife, and I have to go to GMA at 5:30? I might as well cancel sleep." Thankfully, the "In Da Club" rapper's social life wasn't affected for long. As the show's number of shocking character deaths began to rival those in Westeros, a passionate fan base powered the crime drama to record-breaking success, with Power finishing 2020 as premium cable's top-rated scripted series.
But Power never received the mainstream press or accolades enjoyed by other programs with smaller audiences. "When the show is the largest for African Americans and Latinos, and it doesn't register on your platform, that just means you're not acknowledging African Americans and Latinos," says Jackson, remarking on Power's lack of Golden Globe or Emmy nominations. "But I'm going to rely on the numbers as my trophies." He likely feels the same about the growing number of Power shows. "From my experience in music, when I have a hit, I need another one," Jackson explains. So when Kemp decided her series would end after six seasons — with Ghost fatally shot by his son Tariq (Michael Rainey Jr.) — the Power team immediately began plotting their bold next chapter.
On the same day as the series finale, Starz revealed plans for four spin-offs: Power Book II: Ghost, Power Book III: Raising Kanan, Power Book IV: Force, and Power Book V: Influence. "Looking at Marvel, they don't announce a title, they announce a phase — it's about building anticipation," points out Kemp, who first faced resistance for wanting to end Power, and then more pushback with her insistence that they kick things off with the Tariq-led Ghost. (Even before the patricide, Tariq was a lighting rod among fans — so much so that Rainey, still a teenager at the time, received hundreds of death threats via social media.)
"Multiple people said it would never work and didn't believe in it," says Kemp, who remained undeterred. "As a woman of color, I think I'm doubted all the time. After years and years of success, would you have said to Dick Wolf, 'Special Victims Unit? Nobody's going to watch anything about rape victims.' Would would you have said to Anthony's Zuiker, 'Oh, I don't know, CSI in Miami? That concept only works in Las Vegas.' Of course you wouldn't. No matter who it is, Power was an incredibly successful show — why wouldn't spin-offs work?"
She's been right so far. Legends like Blige and Method Man flocked to the franchise, joining Rainey on Ghost, which last year became the highest-rated new series in Starz history, outperforming Power's final season globally. "It's definitely vindicating," admits Rainey. "I'm embracing every second of it." The actor says season 2 (slated for later this year) will see Tariq "coming into reality" that he's his father's son as he further intertwines his fate with that of Blige's queenpin, Monet Tejada. "Women see themselves in these powerful female characters," Blige says. "I know I see myself in them."
Before we get more Ghost, the July 18 debut of Power Book III: Raising Kanan takes us back to the early 1990s, tracing how goodhearted 15-year-old Kanan Stark (Mekai Curtis) became the cold-blooded villain Power fans know and love. "To be honest, I'm a little nervous," says Curtis, who sought Rainey's counsel after booking his role. "I've definitely gotten to see the intensity and passion behind the fan base."
In addition to Rainey, Curtis has the most powerful ally possible in Jackson. "I thought that 50's performance as Kanan was something of a revelation," Kemp opines. "I don't think people give him as much credit as they should." With five years playing Kanan under his belt, not to mention his behind-the-scenes role as a creative, Jackson is happily adding mentor to his extended résumé.
"I look at them and I'm enamored by how far they came already," Jackson says of 20-year-olds Rainey and Curtis, the leaders of what Rainey calls the "young bulls" takeover of the franchise. "I wasn't doing that at their age. They skipped a whole lot of the wrong stuff that I was doing. [Laughs] They can be way better than what I am, because they got such a great start. Mekai, the kid even talks like me now. I went through a period where my jaw was broken because I've been shot in my face, so I spent a long period of time speaking without moving my jaw, like having my teeth closed and talking, and it just slurs a little bit — and he got that down! So you notice that and I'm like, 'Yo, this kid is special!'"
Kemp's study of the MCU taught her that each property needs to feel different, a strategy implemented when she and Jackson first met with Kanan showrunner Sascha Penn. They asked Penn (a writer on Power season 1) to channel Goodfellas, or "Hoodfellas," when developing the prequel series. "It's heavier, grittier, more real," Kemp says of the end result. "Sascha made something artistic in the genre. It's like if they made a Fast & Furious in black and white."
Omar Epps, who plays "dark guy" Det. Malcolm Howard, prefers calling it "our culture's The Wonder Years." Here, the voice-over narration is provided by Jackson, and our Kevin Arnold is raised by cocaine distributor Raq (Miller), who doesn't want her son following her into the family business. "It's a show about parenting, being a kid, and America in 1991," says Penn. Adds Miller: "If you're looking for a drama that is wild and leaves you on the edge of your seat, but is also giving you a character study on flawed humans and how they work through their s---, then this is the show for you to see this summer."
Looking beyond Kanan, Kemp touts Power Book IV: Force — which follows Ghost's hotheaded criminal partner and best friend, Tommy (Joseph Sikora) — as the obvious "crowd-pleaser" of the spin-offs. "It's Tommy, come on now," she says of the fan-favorite. "People are getting hungry," adds Sikora, who loves hearing fans yell "Tommy!" when they spot him filming the series (scheduled for 2022). "To be a white actor, knowing we made this show with African American leads, and to have transcended race and been accepted by the culture, it's a true honor."
Tommy was last seen on Power heading west after Ghost died in his arms, leaving Tommy "a shell of a man," according to Sikora. He returned to confront the remaining St. Patricks in the Ghost season 1 finale, but Force finds all roads leading to Chicago. "We're showing a different side, different city, different rules, but the same Tommy," says Sikora, briefly showing a flash of his expletive-loving character. "It's really f---ing good."
If you ask Kemp, there are plenty more sides of Power to explore. In addition to the Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-inspired Power Book V: Influence (starring Power alum Larenz Tate as Councilman Rashad Tate) that's already in preproduction, Kemp is percolating a Better Call Saul-type story centered on Ghost's lawyer Joe Proctor (Jerry Ferrara); one-off movies; a Christmas special; and even "a plan" for the dearly departed Ghost.
"I have no doubt that Kanan and Force are going to be huge hits," predicts Kemp, who hopes those successes will embolden Starz to explore the uncharted far ends of the Power Universe. "Marvel didn't come out of the gate with Ant-Man, right?"