I don't watch television or celebrity news so I hear about new film/tv from my friends. I heard about Queen Sugar twice this week which is about 4 weeks past due so I had to on demand to get up to speed. Mid episode 1, I started working which is not usually a good sign. By episode 2, I was pretty clear about the flaws, but I had to watch it all to be fair.
In short, my husband and I called it After School Special. For those of you too young to know, ABC had a show called After School Specials for young people usually to teach a lesson. I think it was the network's attempt to address the issue of latchkey kids, but that's beside the point. We call a show an "After School Special" when the shot's dated, the plot's typical and the writing sits somewhere on the didactic spectrum.
The writing is okay, but not compelling because of that hint of preachy. Using dialogue to tell the audience what's important to you (the writer) is a waste of good acting. Your talents' emotions are all over the place, a direction problem that will probably remedy itself if you work on the timing. When there's too much lag time in the dialogue, you have no where to go when it's time to take it there. That's when you get those weird not-so-micro expressions on screen or too much unnecessary emotion like Charley running out of the school like a bat out of Hades screaming for Micah. Why? He's going home with you and your driver, not being hauled off the porch by a Mexican drug lord.
The wide empty shots... It's a nice visual, but what's it for? What do you want me to feel about a woman whose head is chopped off at the bottom of my screen? Fear? Sympathy? What happens is the space around the actor's head combined with the space between their lines and the space that's filled with music makes me want to get a siphon and suck some of the air out of these scenes.
One more thing, change the structure of the show. Break it up, stretch it out and give yourself another season (or two or three) so we're not toggling back and forth on the surface when there are backstories and depth. Vi and Hollywood have a story. Charley and David have a story. Nova is a story all by herself. I want to stick around for the unveiling of the sociopolitical dynamics of the Bordelon Clan, but the mechanics just won't let me.
What's works in Queen Sugar? Rutina Wesley. I swear the camera loves this woman. Dawn-Lyen Gardner who knows her character and makes sure she shows up in every scene and Ethan Hutchison who gave it for Grandpa (Glynn Turman)! I love what time has done for Dondre Whitfield and this role really shows his skill and experience. With just a couple of little tweaks there'll be more reasons to keep our eyes on Kofi Siriboe other than the obvious one. It's because of them, some beautifully shot (not wide) scenes and the sweetness in the soil of Queen Sugar that made me upgrade it from an After School Special to a Post Grad Special after #5. Potential is always great.