You know "Power" even before you start watching it. The drama executive produced by Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson exudes the qualities, but not quality, of his other "street" films, "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" (a well-above-average film, actually) and "Righteous Kill" (the Robert DeNiro/Al Pacino team-up that's as awful as "Heat" is superb). The formula is simple: A muscle-y tall black male with a limited vocabulary proves his toughness early on before revealing a side of himself not welcomed by his single-minded peers. He wants out of the game, but he can't admit to anyone -- not even himself -- that he's scared to try.
Sadly, "Power" doesn't seem to elevate the conversation past those previously explored ideas, nor does it carry the sense of urgency needed to escalate its events. The posters and early previews of the new Starz series stressed the duality of Ghost, our lead character's most common title ("Boss" comes in a close second), but the series gives up on the premise very quickly.
After a credit sequence of images mirroring one another and collapsing in on themselves (what could it mean?), we open on Ghost arriving at his club with his wife. Music blares, beats bounce, and Ghost looks as smooth as anyone who's ever walked into a club sober. Soon, though, he's called away to deal with urgent business, not club business. This other business -- torturing a man caught stealing from his delivery man. Yes, Ghost is in the drug trade, and the nightclub is just a front for where he really makes money.
Anthony Hemingway, who directed eight episodes of "Treme" and the feature film "Red Tails" (produced by George Lucas), gives the series a slight stylistic elevation in these early scenes. Not many filmmakers emphasize the change in feel when you walk out of a club onto the street, and Hemingway is no exception -- other than dampening the volume (which is really only part of the total discombobulation). He does, though, make sure we note how Ghost changes when he leaves the club. The music switches from the non-diegetic score to the thumping tones of the club jams, a smooth DJ transition to accompany Ghost's desired operating status.
Then, though, it all starts to blend together, right around the time we learn he's not living a double life at all (slight SPOILERS to follow). It turns out Ghost's wife Tasha, who at first is made out to be ignorant of his more illicit activities, actually knows and supports his "secret identity." She's his Lady MacBeth -- a Lady MacBeth who masturbates in front of his driver after "catching" Ghost giving his number to an old friend, marking one of two standout sexual talking points from the premiere episode alone.
In the other, Ghost and Tasha are having some uninspired morning sex when Ghost starts flashing back to the night before when he shot a man in the head. Rather than stop, Ghost keeps going, rushing to finish but also approaching climax more quickly. Psychologically, it's troubling enough, but throw in the unintended conclusion that Ghost is turned on by murder and "Power" needs some serious time on the couch.
"Power" is the kind of show that uses f-bombs to emphasize a point, hoping to sound tough but coming off as ignorant instead. Characters often laugh at things that aren’t funny, perhaps trying to convince us that whatever story is being told is actually more humorous than we understand. It's a bland, one-dimensional drama, joining Starz's growing collection of forgettable original programming. The company doesn't need any more Saturday night premieres ready to wander off into obscurity the moment they air. It needs something sharp, new, and daring. 50 Cent does too, but it's unlikely he'll find it digging in the same pit.