TV Review: 'P-Valley' | Prairie Public Broadcasting

TV Review: 'P-Valley'

Jul 12, 2020
Originally published on July 21, 2020 2:08 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today, we want to tell you about a new drama, "P-Valley." It debuts tonight on Starz. It's a TV show based on a stage play centered on a strip club in the Mississippi Delta - a club that's become a home base for a collection of outcasts and outlaws. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says beyond the sex and stripping, there's a story about the hard work of surviving on society's margins.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: In anyone else's hands, this could have been an exploitive, insulting mess of a series. But instead, creator Katori Hall has built a wonderfully compelling, authentic community of characters centered on the Pynk, a strip club so popular on Saturdays there's a line of eager customers outside waiting to enter, just like the grand, old days of Studio 54.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "P-VALLEY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Right off exit 29 in the dirty building (unintelligible) is the line.

DEGGANS: As the story begins on "P-Valley" - and I can't really say on radio what the show's name actually stands for - The Pynk has a problem. Its marquee performer, Mercedes, played with a ferocious spirit by Brandee Evans, has decided to retire.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "P-VALLEY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Mercedes' last dance. After seven years, huh? It took you long enough.

BRANDEE EVANS: (As Mercedes) Well, my 401(k) needed spending. Besides, 25 - retirement age for a stripper nowadays, so...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Whatcha gonna (ph) do when you leave?

EVANS: (As Mercedes) What all G do - count our money.

DEGGANS: Spend her counting her money? Something tells me her retirement's not going to go quite so smoothly. Hall's characters are gritty, plainspoken and steeped in the South, with way too much cussing to get into a public radio review. There's Autumn Night, a light-skinned aspiring stripper who takes a lots of abuse from other dancers for her skin tone. There's Mercedes, who hopes to get out of the game and buy a building to run a dance program for young girls. And there's club owner Uncle Clifford, played by Nicco Annan. He's a Black gender-fluid hustler with an impeccable blonde wig and gleaming crystal nails who is both mentor and demanding taskmaster to the women who dance at The Pynk. His secret - lenders are close to foreclosing on his building, and the bank won't take any more of his bad checks, even when he begs them to.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "P-VALLEY")

NICCO ANNAN: (As Uncle Clifford) Look. Just hold onto this till next week. Post date it.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Ain't that fine establishment of yours in need of some toilet paper?

ANNAN: (As Uncle Clifford) Who told you that, your husband?

DEGGANS: At times it feels a bit like a nighttime soap opera but set in a deep South strip club. Still, between the storylines about domestic abuse and a secret casino project, we see takes on colorism, closeted gay men and the struggle to survive when you're poor, Black and outside polite society in the South. All the directors in this first season are female, which may explain why so many shots of the dancers feel constructed from their point of view, a departure from the leering male gaze found in many other films and TV shows about strippers. There's even a bit of a cameo as former "Grey's Anatomy" co-star Isaiah Washington pops up to chew the scenery is the town's first Black mayor. He explains to his son, an aspiring real estate developer, why he needs to bribe members of the town's city council to get a secret casino project approved.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "P-VALLEY")

ISAIAH WASHINGTON: (As Mayor Tydell Ruffin) That's just how things work in the delta, have always worked around here.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Guess they don't call it the Dirty South for nothing.

WASHINGTON: (As Mayor Tydell Ruffin) You know, we got the (unintelligible) discounts, so we won't have to have no city-wide vote. Because if those Bible thumpers find out about this casino, they gon' (ph) send it straight to hell.

DEGGANS: "P-Valley" is a drama that uses sex and titillation to spice a deeper story, presenting the kinds of characters rarely seen in an hourlong high-quality drama on subscription cable. I'm Eric Deggans.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, we incorrectly refer to Uncle Clifford with the pronoun "he." The character uses "she" as a pronoun.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.