June 5, 2014

THE SKED Pilot Review: “Power”


POWER:  Saturday 9PM on Starz

After its long respite in the past with the likes of The White Queen, Da Vinci’s Demons, Dancing On the Edge and Magic City, Starz returns to the 21st Century with the new POWER, a drama so contemporary that it boasts (as he’s billed) Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson among its Executive Producers.

And yet–the music is different, the ethnic groups are different, but there’s a large whiff of Magic City around Power.  Once again, our protagonist, here James St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick)  is the owner of a super-glamorous club who also has unsavory mob ties that he’d like to put behind him.  (James is nicknamed “Ghost” because no one can ever connect him to his drug distribution business.)  Ghost, like the Jeffrey Dean Morgan character in Magic City, is reluctantly in business with an unscrupulous, and probably psychotic, gangland boss, Mexican cartel kingpin Felipe Lobos (Enrique Murciano), and where the Danny Huston character on Magic City liked to watch his wife have sex with other men through a one-way mirrored ceiling, Lobos is, considering his business, a surprisingly uncloseted homosexual.

Magic City was a flawed series, but it had superb production values and a real sense of glamor and style.  Based on its first hour, Power is much more routine.  Written by series creator Courtney Kemp Agboh (it’s her first time in that position, although she’s been a writer/producer on shows like Beauty & the Beast, Hawaii 5-0 and The Good Wife), it’s so conventionally plotted that you’ll guess 20 minutes before the script tells you where Ghost’s lawyer ex-girlfriend Angela (Lela Loren) is newly employed.  (And even that twist is dumber than it needs to be, because apparently it’s a genuine coincidence that she and Ghost have met up again after 18 years apart.)  There’s no subtext to the script:  after we’ve put together that Ghost’s fluency in Spanish is probably related to the fact that Angela is Latina, there’s a line of dialogue spelling out that she taught him the language, just in case we didn’t get it.  Ghost’s wife Tasha (Naturi Naughton) barely waits 90 seconds of screen time after she’s become jealous from seeing her husband talk to Angela in the club before she’s putting on a sex show for the chauffeur to watch in his rear-view mirror.  The supposed mystery posed by the pilot, as to who is targeting Ghost’s drug personnel for armed robberies, generates very little heat.

There’s no visual distinction to Power either.  Director Anthony Hemingway has done fine work on series like The Wire, Shameless and especially Treme, where he was frequently behind the camera, but the club in Power is as generic as the show’s title, and scenes are shot with few of the touches that can make a crime drama look memorable.  Despite 50 Cent’s participation, even the show’s music (he contributed the theme song) is no different from that of any other contemporary urban movie or TV show.  Hardwick, a charismatic lead, is photographed almost constantly as though he’s posing for a fashion spread, and of the rest of the cast, only Joseph Sikora as Tommy, Ghost’s closest friend and street-wise business associate, makes any particular impression.

Power has eight episodes on Starz this season, and given that network’s propensity for quick renewals, very possibly a second season in store (especially since the ratings bar will be low in its Saturday timeslot), so there’s room for it to improve.  For now, though, it feels very much like a routine network drama that’s been given some nudity and four-letter words to dress it up for pay-cable.  Neither compellingly melodramatic nor grittily believable, Power shows little sign of living up to its title.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."