Starz’s latest attempt at a scripted series, POWER, is about as good as their last few efforts, unfortunately. Like the canceled Magic City, the show follows a mobster who wants to be an honest business man. Like the now-gone Boss, the lead is a complex guy trying to win out over those that are against him. Like a huge number of organized crime movies, there is death, nudity, and a familiar cast of characters, trying to get the audience to root for our hero to escape, but as most of these type of films do, POWER falls short.
The pilot, “Not Exactly,” which aired last night, introduces us to James “Ghost” St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick, Dark Blue), an extremely successful kingpin who dreams of owning a night club. Now that he has said club, he’d really like to go on the straight and narrow, building the kind of life he imagined he would have before going down the dark path. Can he do it?
One obstacle in Jamie’s way is long-time friend and current business partner Tommy Egan (Joseph Sikora, The Heart, She Holler), who is enjoying their current situation. Tommy sees the club as an extension of their laundry mat scheme, a front to launder money, not a serious effort. This puts him at odds with Ghost, who doesn’t feel comfortable trying to convince Tommy of his goal yet, preferring to allow his friend to believe they are on the same page.
Another issue for Ghost is his wife, Tasha (Naturi Naughton, The Playboy Club). Tasha met James before he became a big-time drug dealer, prior to being rich, so we know she’s not just after his money. But she is quite happy with the wealth they have accumulated and has no desire to turn off the tap, not believing that owning a club is enough of an income source. Strangely, though, she claims to just want more attention from Ghost, which doesn’t quite gel with her comments about their money nor her actions in “Not Exactly,” giving Ghost few chances to prove himself before testing the cheating waters.
Tasha and Ghost have a terrific family, whom Tommy also cares about, but this means different things to different characters. Ghost wants to provide his children with a legitimate means of support, not endangering himself or them. Tasha wants to give their kids the best, though she also doesn’t want to spoil them, seemingly another contradiction for the role. Tommy is the fun uncle who likes everyone and is well liked, which will make Ghost’s inevitable betrayal that much more painful when Tommy is cut off from the whole clan.
To make matters more complicated, “Not Exactly” brings in Angela Valdes (Lela Loren, Gang Related), Ghost’s old girlfriend. Ghost sees her as a symbol of what he was and desires to be again, which means he can’t quite stay away from her, even though he claims to love his wife and be happy in his marriage. Angela, of course, is actually with law enforcement and is hunting Ghost, not knowing yet that her query is the man she’s never gotten over.
It does take several paragraphs to explain what’s going on, but POWER is not complex or ground-breaking. It’s extremely similar to other efforts in the genre, and the production, while slick, is also fairly two-dimensional. POWER looks good, but it’s all surface, lacking the true depth and complexity a compelling drama needs. The characters are just not interesting or unique enough to care about, making the whole thing rather boring. The acting is pretty solid, but the material isn’t very intriguing.
Even the frequent use of mirrors, both literal and figurative, and I’m not just talking about in the theme song, seems too on the nose. We know Ghost is reflecting on who he was, who he is, and who he wants to be; we don’t need to be constantly reminded of this time of self-evaluation. Does he like what he sees reflected back at him? Who cares? If he wants to make a change, he should do it, not just keep playing around with Tasha, Angela, and Tommy, not telling any of them what’s fully going on.
What could save POWER is a sense of threat or a ticking clock, prompting urgency to change. Neither is really there. The cops have no real lead on Ghost, and Ghost’s boss is not coming down on him at this point. These things may happen later, but should be present in the set up. They are not, which makes the whole effort seem rather lackluster.
There’s also the draw for 50 Cent fans of the singers involvement and contribution to the soundtrack. Not being someone who cares for this particular artist or his product, that is not me, nor will it be the vast majority of the potential viewership. Perhaps those who like 50 Cent will see something of his music in the plot, but I can’t say that for sure, not being familiar enough with his repertoire.
Every month, I wonder if I should keep my Starz subscription, as none of their series ever seem to rise to expectations. And every time I’m on the verge of cancellation, another announcement of a show coming on the horizon makes me pause. But with shows like POWER, the network is definitely not doing itself any favors, failing to compete with the quality of FX or Showtime, let alone AMC or HBO. Subscribers expect better, and we’re not getting it.
STARZ airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET on Starz.