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7 New Mid-Season TV Series w/ Black Characters in Starring Roles to Watch

7 New Mid-Season TV Series w/ Black Characters in Starring Roles to Watch

A new year begins, and a new season of new TV shows also kicks off – specifically, the mid-season replacements that will premiere over the next month or 2, as well as a few new miniseries. 

I thought I’d highlight those new series that center around black characters, or feature black characters in prominent roles, wherever the information is available to me. 

1 – “Empire”

To be frank, I really have no idea what to expect from this upcoming new series. None. The trailers thus far haven’t won me over, but they haven’t turned me off either. So, I’m in Limbo, waiting to finally watch a few episodes to get a good feel of what creator Lee Daniels has cooked off for us. At the very least, as with much of Daniels’ work and my responses to each one, I don’t expect to be bored! He’s almost always guaranteed to provoke in one way or another, and that’s actually one of the traits of Lee Daniels’ work I genuinely appreciate. Although the fact that it’s on FOX, instead of a cable TV network concerns me a bit, because Daniels just isn’t at his best when he’s constrained to anything less than an R rating. But I will say that, of all the broadcast network TV stations, FOX is definitely the most daring when it comes to adult material. So we’ll see.

I’ve yet to watch any preview episodes, but January 7, when the series premieres, is just 2 days away. 

Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Jussie Smollett, Macy Gray, Bryshere Y. Gray (aka rapper Yazz The Greatest), Trai Byers, Gabourey Sidibe, Malik Yoba, and Grace Gealey make up the starring cast of a drama that centers on a family-run hip-hop empire, hence the title.

Howard plays Lucious Lyon, a charismatic, but tough chief of a record label titled Empire Entertainment, which is on the verge of an IPO.

Meanwhile, Henson is Cookie Lyon, the ex-wife of Lucious Lyon, who’s described as a “total badass” with a prison record (she served 17 years for dealing drugs, and used the money to help finance Lucious’ growing music empire, when it was still in its early days). She’s now out of prison, and has come for what’s hers!

Jussie Smollett plays their son, Jamal, a fledgling rapper himself, who is also gay – something that Lucious, the father, has a problem with. 

Macy Gray will appear as Tasha, a woman having an affair with Bryshere Y. Gray’s character, Hakeem Lyon, Lucious’ other son, the youngest, and Lucious’ favorite, and the frontrunner to take over his father’s empire.

Trai Byers will play Andre, Lucious’ oldest son, described as tall and brilliant, but with a dark side, and Grace Gealey will play Anika, the head of A&R for Empire Entertainment, and Lucious’ current girlfriend.

Malik Yoba will play Lucious’ longtime friend from the streets and business associate, who is now Empire Entertainment’s chairman of the board.

Finally, Gabourey Sidibe will recur as Lucious’ hard-working assistant Becky.

Let all the family drama ensue!

Watch a 3 clips from the series, below. Taraji P. Henson, who co-stars, certainly looks like she’s having a lot of fun with her part:

2 – “American Crime”

While there don’t appear to be any African American characters in starring roles in this (supporting roles, yes), I thought it was worth highlighting since it was created, written, directed and produced by John Ridley, who is African American.

While he was allegedly feuding with director Steve McQueen over “12 Years A Slave” credits (a claim he later dismissed), Ridley was busy prepping an ABC drama pilot titled “American Crime,” which was eventually ordered to series by the network, and will premiere on March 5, at 10pm.

“American crime,” which Ridley is writing, directing and executive producing, follows a murder case and the trial that follows, as audiences will experience the murder and trial through the eyes of several different people who are, in some way, connected to the events. It’ll frankly tackle matters of race, class and gender politics in the USA. 

Here’s its official synopsis: “All over the news are reports about a young couple in Modesto, California, who were attacked in their home. Matt Skokie, a war vet, was killed, and his wife, Lily, is unconscious, barely hanging on. Both sets of parents are at her bedside hoping for a miracle while four suspects are about to be arrested. The case sends shock waves into the community stirring up tensions across racial lines in this gritty drama—from the point of view of the victims.”

“American Crime” stars Felicity Huffman, Timothy Hutton, W. Earl Brown, Richard Cabral, Caitlin Gerard, Benito Martinez, Penelope Ann Miller, Elvis Nolasco and Johnny Ortiz.

Watch the first trailer for “American Crime” below:

3 – “The Book of Negroes” 

BET launches its first-ever event miniseries “The Book of Negroes,” a six-part historical drama in the tradition of “Roots,” based on Lawrence Hill’s award-winning, Oprah Winfrey-listed novel (known in the United States as “Someone Knows My Name”). The highly anticipated television event will run over the course of three consecutive nights in two-hour installments, starting Monday, February 16, 2015 at 8 PM ET/PT.

Director Clement Virgo’s adaptation stars Aunjanue Ellis in a film that boasts one of the strongest female characters in recent fiction. The novel’s synopsis reads: “Abducted as an 11-year-old child from her village in West Africa and forced to walk for months to the sea in a coffle—a string of slaves— Aminata Diallo is sent to live as a slave in South Carolina. But years later, she forges her way to freedom, serving the British in the Revolutionary War and registering her name in the historic “Book of Negroes.” This book, an actual document, provides a short but immensely revealing record of freed Loyalist slaves who requested permission to leave the US for resettlement in Nova Scotia, only to find that the haven they sought was steeped in an oppression all of its own. Aminata’s eventual return to Sierra Leone—passing ships carrying thousands of slaves bound for America—is an engrossing account of an obscure but important chapter in history that saw 1,200 former slaves embark on a harrowing back-to-Africa odyssey.”

Aunjanue Ellis stars as Aminata Diallo, while Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lou Gossett Jr. play Sam Fraunces and Daddy Moses respectively.

Gooding’s Fraunces is a freed slave from Jamaica who runs his namesake tavern (Fraunces Tavern), participates in several historical events, and later moves to Mount Vernon to run George Washington’s household.

Meanwhile, Daddy Moses is Moses ‘Daddy’ Wilkinson or Old Moses, an African American slave, and Methodist preacher in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone. Though blind and crippled, Wilkinson led a band of runaway slaves to freedom in 1776.

Also Lyriq Bent is playing Chekura, who, as a young boy, made the crossing with Aminata when she was sold into slavery, is separated from her, and later reunites with her when they are adults, and have a child together. 

Allan Hawco is Solomon Lindo (a Jewish man Aminata is sold to), Ben Chaplin is Capt. John Clarkson (a young British naval officer recruiting black settlers to move from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone); and Jane Alexander plays a Maria Witherspoon, the matriarch of a white family that Aminata leaves her baby with, for safety, during a series of riots that break out as the city she lives in is attacked and black men and women are lynched. She later returns to the Witherspoon’s home to claim her child, only to learn that they’ve left with the baby. 

In a recent interview with the CBC, Lou Gossett Jr., who plays Daddy Moses, said that “The Book of Negroes” is a fresh take on the slavery theme, and called this adaptation an improvement, compared to “Roots” and “12 Years a Slave.” But, he expounded on his answer, stating, “Slavery is very much involved in this lady’s life; but it’s really a triumphant story about this woman who can tell the story. In that way, it’s better than Roots, and 12 Years a Slave because it’s a portrait.”

Watch a 15-second clip from the portrait below (I can only imagine what comes next immediately after what happens in the clip); and if you haven’t seen it, the series’ trailer is underneath:

And here’s the trailer:

4 – “A.D.”

NBC’s highly anticipated upcoming series “A.D.” from producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, who enjoyed much success with their “The Bible” TV miniseries, which aired in 2013 on the History channel, to strong ratings and, eventually, 3 Emmy Award nominations.

I’m sure they hope to replicate that success with “A.D.,” which premieres on Easter Sunday, April 5th, 2015 on NBC. It’ll be a 12-hour miniseries whose story will take place immediately after the events of “The Bible” – the first 10 chapters of the Book of Acts, which tell of the aftermath of Christ’s death and it’s impact on his disciples, as well as his mother, Mary, and key political and religious leaders of the time.

Juan Pablo di Pace plays Jesus, while Gambian-British actor Babou Ceesay, Greta Scacchi and Tanzanian-born UK-based actress Chipo Chung (all 3 in the image above) are John the Evangelist, Mother Mary, and Mary Magdalene respectively. So, if I have to spell it out for you, it means that John and Mary Magdalene are being played by black actors in this miniseries based on the bible.

The limited series launches Easter Sunday, April 5 on the Peacock. 

Trailer below:

5 – “The Slap”

The original Australian series is streaming on Netflix, for those who are interested in checking out the mini-series.

Titled “The Slap,” the Australian TV 8-part mini, which co-starred Sophie Okonedo, is based on the award-winning novel by Christos Tsiolkas, which traces the shattering repercussions of a single event on a group of family and friends. At an Australian backyard barbecue, a man slaps a child who is not his son. The boy’s parents are so affronted by the assault that they call the police and legal action results, as questions of parenting, the rights of children, race, class, sexuality and the different perspectives of men and women are tackled.

Sophie Okonedo played “Aisha,” and here’s how ABC Australia’s website described her: “The slap took place at Aisha’s house, during her party for her husband’s 40th birthday. Hugo, the child who was slapped, is the son of one of her best friends, Rosie. On the other hand, Harry, the man who slapped Hugo, is her brother-in-law. She has her own reasons for siding with Rosie, which go far deeper than the slap itself, and threaten to unravel her family. Aisha is married to Hector. She is a woman whose resilience and strength holds her family together. She also is a successful professional woman with her own veterinary business. Entering her forties, she is assailed by doubts about her marriage and future. The slap at the barbecue has left her torn, her loyalties divided between her husband and one of her oldest friends. She fights for what is important to her, but feels like she is losing her grip.”

Okonedo co-starred in the mini-series alongside acclaimed thespians in Melissa George, Jonathan LaPaglia, Essie David, Alex Dimitriades, and Anthony Hayes.

The series was nominated for a BAFTA for Best International Program and won 5 Australian Academy of Cinema and Television awards, including Best Miniseries.

NBC, here in the USA, developed an American adaptation of the Australian miniseries, with “Brothers & Sisters” creator Jon Robin Baitz, writing the teleplay, and Thandie Newton cast in what will be an eight-episode miniseries, which Melissa George, Peter Sarsgaard, Mary-Louise Parker, Zachary Quinto and Brian Cox are also starring in.

Newton will play the role Okonedo originated in the Australian miniseires – Aisha, Hector’s (Sarsgaard’s) wife.

Here’s how NBC breaks down its version: “It’s Hector’s 40th birthday, and his wife is throwing him a big party with lots of friends, family and food for what will undoubtedly be a happy, celebratory day. Or so they think. As Hector tries to navigate family politics, awkward friendships and the younger woman he’s secretly seeing on the side, the built-up tension explodes when Hector’s hotheaded cousin slaps another couple’s misbehaving child. Everyone is understandably stunned, and the party abruptly ends – with the child’s parents vowing legal action as they leave. But what the hosts and guests don’t know is that this moment will ignite a chain of events that will uncover long-buried secrets within this group of friends and family… and vigorously challenge the core values of everyone involved.” 

It premieres on February 12, on NBC.

A first trailer has surfaced and is embedded below:

6 – “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore”

Earlier last year, Comedy Central picked “Daily Show” correspondent Larry Wilmore as successor to Stephen Colbert (and his “The Colbert Report”), who is leaving that network to take over for David Letterman on CBS, when he departs this year. 

Wilmore’s show (previously titled “The Minority Report”), and now called “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore,” will air on Comedy Central at 11:30pm nightly, right after “Daily Show,” starting on January 19, 2015. 
The face of late night TV continues to shift, as the so-called old guard steps aside for those who’ll be settling in for their own multi-decade runs, just like their predecessors.
Although 52-year-old Wilmore certainly is no spring chicken, like newbies Jimmy Fallon, or Seth Myers. Then again, neither is Colbert, as he slides into Letterman’s soon-to-be vacated slot.
Making his debut on “The Daily Show” in 2006, where he was billed as the “Senior Black Correspondent,” Wilmore’s name was attached to a number of broadcast network TV serials over the last 2 pilot seasons, although nothing really stuck. 
He did find success at Showtime with his hour-long special “Race, Religion & Sex,” during election season in the fall of 2012. Showtime initially ordered a single special, with the potential for it to become a series, depending on how well the first one did with audiences. It did well enough apparently, because the network ordered a second.

At the time, in early 2013, I mentioned that it was likely only a matter of time before Wilmore signed up for something permanent – “a weekly show not-so unlike Bill Maher’s on HBO,” were my exact words.

Well, Comedy Central isn’t HBO, but I’ll take “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore,” as is.

Congratulations Mr Wilmore!

A first look at the upcoming new series is below, and then read Jai’s interview with “Nightly Show” head writer Robin Thede here:

7 – “Powers”

I actually initially thought this would be some PG13-rated series, but I was wrong. As creator Brian Michael Bendis said at New York Comic-Con yesterday, this will be the “hard R of comic book shows,” which is coming to Sony’s Playstation network (that’s right, the PlayStation is not just for gaming anymore; even Microsoft is doing the same with its XBox – creating original scripted programming. They are now content delivery portals into your living rooms, as the competition for eyeballs becomes even more intense). 

Starring Sharlto Copley as Christian Walker and Susan Heyward as Deena Pilgrim, the series, based on the gritty graphic novels of the same name, asks the questions: What if the world was full of people with superpowers? What if all that power was just one more excuse for mayhem and murder? And what if you were the cop who had to deal with it all? Welcome to the lives of Detectives Christian Walker (Sharlto Copley) and Deena Pilgrim (Susan Heyward’s character), who are in charge of protecting regular humans and keeping the peace, investigating cases involving those with superhuman abilities. 

Susan Heyward’s Deena Pilgrim begins the series as a rookie – a lowly police officer on the streets of Chicago, under a corrupt captain named Adlard (who worked for Mama Joon, a powerful crime boss). Adlard was murdered 7 years prior, just before Deena’s transfer request to work with Walker as part of the Powers Homicide department. Little else is known of her past, though she reveals in the comic that her brother was a Power called “Hoodwink”. Deena’s character is further described as attractive, rambunctious, funny, agile, smart, a pro with various combat weapons and fighting styles.

Joining them in supporting roles are Logan Browning from VH1’s “Hit the Floor” (as Zora), as well as Max Fowler and Adam Godley, with David Slade directing the first 2 series, from scripts by Charlie Huston.1

Bendis, Oeming and Michael Dinner will executive produce “Powers” with Huston and Remi Aubuchon, along with Circle of Confusion’s David Engel, David Alpert and Lawrence Mattis. Huston and Aubuchon will serve as showrunners.

“Powers” is set to debut on Sony’s streaming PlayStation Network during the first half of this year (no exact date yet, although it was previously set to premiere in December 2014), for what will be a 10-episode first season. I assume Sony will make the episodes available elsewhere, like maybe iTunes, or Amazon’s VOD service, for those who aren’t on the PlayStation network. 

Trailer for “Powers” below:

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