Monday, March 27, 2017

TV REVIEW: BET's 'Rebel'

BET will debut its new original drama series Rebel on Tuesday, March 29 at 10/9c. with a special two-hour premiere. The drama stars Danielle Moné Truitt, Angela Ko, Brandon Quinn, Mykelti Williamson, Cliff "Method Man" Smith and Giancarlo Esposito.

Read on for my thoughts on the new drama after screening its series premiere.

Oscar-nominated director John Singleton is the last film creative to make the transition to television. He does so after directing episodes of FOX's Empire and FX's The People v. O.J. Simpson (for which he was Emmy nominated). Now he is part of the creative team of two new serialized dramas debuting in 2017 - Snowfall on FX (which will debut this summer) and Rebel on BET (which debuts tomorrow night at 10/9c. with a two hour premiere). Singleton is still a terrific director. He makes his worlds fill lived in almost immediately. He has a unique take on familiar subject matter and makes sure the visuals are just as powerful as they can be. Rebel is the first true test to see if he can handle telling a story across a season of television. We know he can handle movies and episodes. Now, it's time to see just how much material he has to mine out of this premise and how compelling it will be across a 10-episode season.

Of course, that doesn't seem all that problematic in the early going. The two-hour premiere is the only episode that BET sent out to critics for review. And yes, it is a huge commitment for any potential viewer. Plus, the premiere is bloated and melodramatic in some beats that may hint at some awkwardness in the future. But for the most part, it tells a concise story and introduces a main character who is pretty compelling to watch. It's largely an origin story for a former cop-turned-private investigator named Rebel Knight (Danielle Moné Truitt). That description doesn't seem like a wholly original premise. Rebel also has a troubled past that forced her to leave the force. And yet, this story has a sense of relevancy and urgency because the trauma in Rebel's life is the tragic death of her brother, Malik, after getting shot by her fellow police officers. It makes the show feel timely and important. It treats the death with seriousness and urgency while still making sure it does it's job to set Rebel on her path.

The biggest complaint about the premiere is that too much of it feels like an origin story. It tells the story from Rebel's perspective of what happened the night her brother was killed. How the job she committed her life to betrayed her both in that moment and after the fact. She then finds renewed energy through private investigating work. It's all about establishing who this woman is. It highlights the background of familial hardships and military service. It shows just how capable and badass she is on the job. But it's ultimately about pushing her to a breaking point to make her question everything she has known on the job. It's an effective and well-told origin story for the character. But the premiere barely shows the audience what she's like before all of this happens. There are a couple of scenes. It shows she knows how to take down much larger guys with nothing but her police baton. But the action is primarily focused on getting to her brothers' death and the change in her career.

Of course, Rebel should be a star-making performance for Truitt. She is largely known for her stage work. This is her biggest television credit so far. She absolutely commands the screen. She's the lead character and is onscreen for almost every scene in the extended premiere. That takes a certain kind of charisma to make it compelling to watch. Truitt has that and it should be great to see her get even more recognition as the show goes along. Every part of Rebel's journey is interesting and engaging to watch because of Truitt's ability to pull the audience in without going over-the-top and broad. The audience sees her pain as well as her strength. She goes on quite a journey throughout these two hours. Because of Truitt, all of it is believable.

And finally, Truitt gets some admirable support from a cast with veteran actors and standout performers. Breaking Bad's Giancarlo Esposito plays Rebel's police lieutenant, who does his best to protect her but is also frustrated by how reckless she is on the job. Justified's Mykelti Williamson plays Rebel's father, a broken man following the death of his wife who is bound to spiral even further into alcoholism due to his son's tragic death. Brandon Quinn is Rebel's partner who fired the first shot at Malik and who harbors an intense crush on Rebel. Method Man shows up as a former lover of Rebel's which gives the premiere a sex scene for some random reason following a funeral. It's very weird. He's the one cast addition I'm not so sure on. But overall, this is a solid cast that is doing interesting work while still offering strong commentary on a very topical story.