ABC: Let These Queens Make One More Comeback
I Push To Save A Series I Had No Reason To Love…But I Do
Last October I wrote a very passionate rave for ABC’s hip-hop drama Queens, an astonishingly vibrant and entertaining series about the reunion of a 1990s female hip-hop act and all the consequences as a result. I made it clear that I had done something that would’ve been unthinkable prior to my owning a DVR — I started recording Impeachment, a series that I considered one of those important and best of 2021 (so far the majority of end of year awards groups have not agreed with me) and focused all of my attention on Queens.
There was no reason I should have done that — at first glance, it seemed more of a pick and choose from ABC’s greatest hits — bits from Desperate Housewives, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, even Nashville — none of them series I had fond memories of, and all with the added complication of involving hip-hop and rap, a world of music I can safely say I know less than nothing about. But almost immediately I became hooked on the story of these four women and the world they were part of and all of the traumas they were going through genuinely intrigued me.
Warning: spoilers for almost all of Season 1 ahead
Almost every major lead in the series was a woman of color. Brandy, Naturi Naughton and Eve were all African American performerss (with some crossover appeal) in the late 1990s. Nadine Velazquez is the only one who wasn’t a professional singer (she’s an actress I mostly associate with playing a D.A. in the early seasons of Major Crimes) but in many ways her character of Valeria resonated with me the most of all four leads. The character whose affair with Eric, the band manager, ended up splitting the group apart before a performance in San Diego, she was the only one who’d had any success on her own. She spent almost the entire series trying to make up for what she had done and gave some truly brilliant moments throughout the series. And indeed, the fact that Valeria was Puerto Rican and not African-American led to some intriguing storylines for her over the course of the season — especially when where she gets a chance to perform with a Latin-American rock star she worships only to learn he just wants her as eye candy.
Looking at everything that happened over the course of the season, it’s hard not to look at Queens as a soap opera. Brianna’s husband cheated on her and was diagnosed with a brain tumor in the Pilot, died two episodes later, and Brianna nearly came to blows with the much younger woman he was an affair with — and was even angrier to learn he had impregnated her before dying. (That storyline was left dangling.) Naomi spent the first half of the season trying to work out her relationship with her teenage daughter, who’d she spent her life not telling her who her father was. When it was revealed that Eric was indeed the father, it was explosive to say the least. Jill had spent her marriage in the closet and finally came out in the Pilot, only to half an affair with a reporter that caused her former lover to repudiate her and her husband to eventually try to kill her. There was all of the anguish that Valeria went through trying to find out who her birth mother was. All of this climaxed in a shooting in the winter finale with left Brianna clinging to life.
As I said, pure soap opera. But I was drawn into it the entire length of its run in a way I never really get drawn in to so many African American centered dramas (I’m thinking of Empire and The Chi in particular) There’s a fine line between not taking yourself that seriously and being camp and for almost the entire length of Season 1, Queens managed to walk that tightrope without falling off. I cared about these women in a way I never did in almost every Shonda Rhimes series in the past decade (the supposed gold standard for strong female minority characters) and I think the reason was because I never doubted the bond between them. Considering how they cracked jokes around each other, the way they were willing to share secrets without hesitating, the way they could give each other business — I have friends like that and I think it’s a universal behavior no matter what color or gender you are.
It also helped that Queens was willing to deal with certain issues that a lot of Peak TV doesn’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole — being black and gay, the misogyny in the music industry, trying to stay for forever relevant in an industry where the new thing is all that matters, even trying to use celebrity to bring attention to major causes. The fifth major female lead was Lauren, the Youtube star whose original recording of the Nasty Bitches hit led to everything getting started. In the Pilot, she ended up overdosing, being manipulating by her manager and ending up going to rehab. The series spent as much time on Lauren’s journey as the four older women, and it really was fascinating. After Bri being shot, she ended up leaving music and considering law school. The three ladies clearly saw her as both younger sister and surrogate daughter and pushed her as hard as she could to succeed. During the final episode, she spent much of it fighting for a cause of a young man on death row. She would end up failing to save him, but it was clear that it affected her arc on the series: in the final minutes of the episode, she told everyone she’d been accepted at USC and I’ll be honest, that moment gave me as much joy as Bri and Eric finally getting married.
Queens is exactly the kind of series that television needs right now, and it’s the exact kind of show that network television in particular should be making. I’m more than aware that the decision to greenlight this series by ABC was probably more out of desperation than any real faith in the product. And I know very well that the series hasn’t been anywhere close to a ratings success. But ABC needs more series like this and fewer like Station 19 which has already been renewed for another season. It’s possible that the network honchos were hoping that this series would bring Shondaland type numbers and it has not, but coming into sheer quality — and really, more when it comes to the kinds of emotional and romantic bonds that Shondaland is notorious for — this is far superior to the real thing.
I know that, in the most optimistic of scenarios, Queens is a bubble show. The network heads haven’t cancelled it outright, but they haven’t exactly said they want to keep it around for a second season. And considering the condition of ABC as a network, I think it likely the series will be on the chopping block, just as so many other quality series — I’m talking about American Crime and yes, even For The People — have been. I am here to very humbly beg to let the series have another season. I didn’t think Queens was perfect — Bri’s absence after the shooting never quite worked — but it has far more potential than so many of the prestige series these days — I’d much rather watch it than Succession or Euphoria. And while I really hate it when a network abandons a quality show to a cable or streaming service, I could live if Peacock or Amazon or any of the dozens of services out there grabbed it up. These characters have made a lot of comebacks this season. I’d like there to be at least one more in their future.