But I’m Starting to get Hip To It Anyway
There is nothing in my biological makeup or TV history that makes me the right audience for ABC’s Queens. It has four beautiful female leads with a nostalgia factor — which makes me think of Desperate Housewives right away. They’re all African-American which gives me a Shonda Rhimes vibe and we all know how much I loathe those. Hell, there are already constant flashbacks and flash-forwards, which give me a distinct How to Get Away with Murder feel. It’s an ABC drama which involves women in music, which makes me think of Nashville a series I found interesting, then quickly ridiculous. And it involves hip-hop, a genre of music that I have never found accessible. Hell, I never even liked Moesha when I was growing up. Every single element about the show makes it seem like I should run away as fast as I can. So why was so I quickly absorbed that not only did I watch the Pilot, I put Impeachment on DVR for the rest of its run in order to watch it?
The series centers on a hip-hop group that was big at the turn of the century and then kind of collapsed. We meet them at their peak and in the present: Brianna (Eve), ‘Professor Sex’ then, a mother of five now. Jill (Naturi Naughton) big and bold then, now a church going woman in Montana, whose been hiding that she’s a lesbian her whole life, Valeria (Nadine Velazquez) the only one of the group who was able to parlay her time into any kind of success, and Naomi (Brandy) still trying to make it on her own after twenty years, barely speaking to her own daughter. The group is pulled back together when a YouTube star begins playing their biggest hit and they are brought back together to perform. Three of them are happy about it — the minute Naomi sees Valeria they go for each other’s throats. There was a meltdown ‘in San Diego’ that we don’t know the whole deal on yet, but a lot of the problems were always there. The group was originally just Brianna, Naomi and Jill until Valeria invaded. Most of the money they got on advances was spent before they could get it, and everybody still shows hostility towards Valeria for become a smash. (Nine shows out of ten would ignore the fact that Valeria had the greatest success because she’s lighter-skinned then the other three. Queens admits it outright, and actually makes it part of the plot.)
There are all kinds of twists just in the Pilot that would, for the record, be a lot even for Rhimes to handle. Brianna spots her husband cheating in the first five minutes with one of his student, and then learns later that episode he has a brain tumor. Jill finally manages to come out of the closet, first to her friends and then to the world. Naomi ends up telling us that she doesn’t know who the father of her child is, but we know better than that, and she’s still trying to make it on her own. And Valeria does feel guilty for what’s happening but is also trying to recover from a power grab at her morning show which she just lost. Throw in a love triangle with the band’s manager and the fact that the singer who comes with them nearly ODs before the gig and it’s really hard to argue that this isn’t a series that isn’t either trying to be a full-fledged soap or, like Empire, trying to be both significant and camp.
All of that being said — and I haven’t even gotten to the flashforward yet — I can’t deny that I really like Queens so far. There’s a realness and authenticity to all of the performances (I shouldn’t have to mention that three of the leads were hip-hop stars for much of the nineties) that registers in a way that the performances in Empire never really did. It also helps immensely that there’s clearly a bond between the four women that they have never been able to deny and can’t seem to shake even twenty years later. That’s what seems real even in the middle of the soap — that these women are the kind of people who can still give each other the business even after nearly two decades apart. (When Jill announces how upset that the church she went to for her whole life is now rejecting her and she feels like a spotlight’s on her, Valeria says: “You’re a black woman in Montana, and you’re only noticing this now?”) They hold on to grudges like people who’ve known each other all their lives do, but there’s a real love there and that’s purer than a lot of the other shows I’ve seen that I mentioned earlier.
Oh, I’m aware that, if Queens does become a success, there’s a very good chance it’ll become a soap opera. As I said, the warning signs are there for me to see. But at least the series is acknowledging them going in a way that Scandal and Nashville never did. And I have to admit the series has a solid sense of humor that those series never did and a sense of earnestness that didn’t have. And if there isn’t room on network television for a series almost entirely populated by African-American women by now, there’s a question if it ever will be. I may sound like the whitest man in America if I say this, but I will anyway: Queens is really dope.
My score: 4.25 stars.