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‘Power’: A Guilty Pleasure That Could Be Much More If It Wasn’t So Conflicted

As the original series approaches its end, new spinoffs provide producers the chance to shed a kitchy reputation and fine-tune for Emmys.

Power Season 6, Starz

Omari Hardwick and Joseph Sikora in “Power”

Starz

A Nielsen ratings juggernaut for Starz since its 2014 premiere, “Power” has failed to inspire a similar kind of enthusiasm from the likes of the Television Academy (Emmys), the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (Golden Globes), and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG Awards).

Now in its sixth and final season, the series has never been nominated in any category for any of the industry’s top awards — and the drama isn’t quite a critical darling either. What it does boast is a rabid, dedicated fanbase who have helped make the series one of Starz’s most watched shows ever.

To wit, “Power” began its final season on August 25 with 1.47 million live viewers, which was the biggest on-air debut for a premium cable series this summer, surpassing the 1.42 million for HBO’s “Big Little Lies” in June. Results like this that have made series creator Courtney Kemp and executive producer Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson key players at the network — both have inked mega, wide-ranging deals with the premium cabler’s parent company Lionsgate.

So with an embarrassment of riches and a certain amount of creative control, does either of them really care about trophies? Yes, they clearly do. Since the series’ intro, the fans and creators alike have lamented “Power’s” lack of awards recognition.

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“For the first couple of years, it was disappointing, because I felt we were doing something new and fresh, and I was hoping that the Emmy voters would take notice, and they didn’t,” said Kemp about the series being perpetually snubbed, when asked at the 2019 Television Critics Association (TCA) summer press tour.

“I think it’s racial,” Jackson added. “Awards shows are always late to my projects. I feel like I’ll get a lifetime achievement award instead of an actual award when you are supposed to. This drama features the same content I use in my music. I didn’t receive the Grammy for Best New Artist after I debuted the largest hip-hop album. I’ll just continue to make the numbers so high, they’ll be looking around and say, ‘Hey, we fucked up again.'”

But will they? Creating music and creating scripted serial content for the screen are two entirely different processes. Crafting a three-and-a-half-minute track isn’t comparable to producing an episode of an hourlong scripted TV show. Unless the overall caliber of the series — starting with the writing — drastically improves, “Power” will likely remain a commercial hit without the critical recognition that its creators feel it deserves.

 

It’s obviously too late now for Kemp and company to give “Power” the makeover it would require to become more than just screen candy, since it’s only five episodes away from its series finale. (It returns in January.) But Kemp and Jackson have both confirmed that there will be four spinoffs of the original series, starting with “Power Book 2: Ghost,” starring Mary J. Blige, which will premiere during the first half of 2020.

It’s likely that the first spinoff will be of the same quality and style as the original, ensuring that its fanbase sticks around. And if so, it wouldn’t shake off the reputation that originated with the first series, and will continue to endorse what “Power” has always been — a guilty pleasure: a TV show that one enjoys despite understanding it’s not particularly good or held in high-regard, whether by the individual or in general.

A very superficial mix of “The Sopranos,” “Macbeth,” and “Othello,” set in modern-day New York City, “Power” tells an overly familiar story about a gangster who wants to go legit but keeps getting pulled back into the game. Omari Hardwick plays James St. Patrick, a.k.a. Ghost, a man living a treacherous double life. It’s a popular character archetype if only because of the dramatic urgency the dual dynamic can bring to a series, but the writing fails to deliver in this particular puffed up soap opera. It just has a overall second-tier feel to it.

To be fair, “Power” does manage to muster an occasional noteworthy moment, usually courtesy of its charismatic star, Hardwick. It’s almost criminal that an attractive cast and high-end production values are squandered on such an absence of originality and hackneyed storytelling. It’s the kind of undemanding, exploitative escapism that fellow premium cabler Cinemax used to be known for.

But being a guilty pleasure is perfectly OK. TV history is chock-full of guilty pleasures. So why not just drop the pretense that it’s being robbed of deserved accolades? Enjoy it for what it is! Or make a solid case for why “Power” is comparable to the likes of “Game of Thrones,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Breaking Bad,” “Homeland,” “Mad Men,” “This Is Us,” “Succession,” “Pose,” “Westworld,” “The Americans,” and all the other hourlong drama series that have been nominated for and/or won Emmys, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards over the last decade or so.

Surely its fans, or at least its producers — specifically Kemp, whose previous credits include writing and producing for the multiple Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning series, “The Good Wife” — know what a deserving show looks like.

If focus is sharpened in future “Power” spinoffs, each would have a clearer direction compared to the original series, which, for six seasons, has felt as conflicted about what it wants to be as its protagonist. It’s an internal conflict that is apparently shared by fans and producers.

While certainly desirous of critical recognition, Kemp and Jackson said during the series’ TCA summer presentation that they’ve both grown increasingly apathetic, which could be a good thing. My advice to them for future spinoffs would be to either fully embrace the kitsch, or perform some very necessary fine tuning, starting with the script.

Co-starring Naturi Naughton, Joseph Sikora, Lela Loren, Michael Rainey Jr., Donesha Hopkins, Rotimi Akinosho, Shane Johnson, Jerry Ferrara, Larenz Tate, and more (they didn’t all make it through six seasons), “Power” aired its midseason finale on Sunday November 3. It returns to finish out the series in January, before launching its first spinoff, “Power Book 2: Ghost,” starring Mary J. Blige.

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