Famed playwright Katori Hall takes her excellence from the stage to the small-screen in Starz’s new drama series, P-Valley. As an adaptation of her play, Pussy Valley, the series tell the story of a “a little-strip-club-that-could and the big characters who come through its doors—the hopeful, the lost, the broken, the ballers, the beautiful, and the damned. Trap music meets film noir in this lyrical and atmospheric series that dares to ask what happens when small-town folk dream beyond the boundaries of the Piggly Wiggly and the pawnshop.” The end result is not only one of the year’s best series, but perhaps one of the best new series to hit television in years.
The series begins with Autumn (Elarica Johnson), a quiet and mysterious woman who is running away from her past and floodwaters, landing in a fictional town located in the Mississippi Delta. We don’t quite know what’s going on with her, but we can tell that she’s been through a lot. She arrives at The Pynk, the local strip club, for amateur night. She’s tapped by Uncle Clifford (Nicco Annan), the head honcho and gender-bending boss of the establishment. He then sets the club’s resident “O.G.” herself, Mercedes (Brandee Evans), to take her under her wing and show her the ropes. The timing couldn’t be more perfect for Mercedes, as she’s looking to retire anyway as she leaves The Pynk behind to open a gym to coach the local high school’s dance squad and more. However, she’s not as enthused to have an off-kilter newcomer like Autumn under her tutelage.
But the series isn’t just about the club, it’s the ins and outs of the dancers’ lives and the community that surrounds them. As a matter of fact, The Pynk itself is in a lot of trouble. The club is having financial troubles and it doesn’t seem like it’s an easy situation to wrangle out of. As we learn more and more about the residents of Chucalissa, Mississippi, you can’t help but root for everyone in this Southern-fried town. Gentrification is looming in the background and seems like it could include the property that The Pynk sits on as well. Several more characters get intertwined with our main players. Clifford dives into a romantic tryst with aspiring SoundCloud rapper Lil’ Murda (J. Alphonse Nicholson). Miss Mississippi (Shannon Thornton), a dancer with growing confidence (and the antithesis of Mercedes), is a young mother in an abusive relationship who catches the eye Diamond (Tyler Lepley), no-nonsense yet kind war veteran who is The Pynk’s bouncer. Speaking of catching eyes, Autumn ends up in a push-and-pull with Andre (Parker Sawyers), a businessman who arrives in town with motives that don’t seem to have the club’s best interests in mind.
The series is shiny, sparkly and is as aesthetically pleasing as they come. The directors make excellent use of the setting, dripping with rural, Black Southern decadence. But don’t get confused — the series has a lot to say about race, class, sexism, sexuality and a lot more, and probably executes it better than some of your favorite TV dramas. Much like the film Hustlers did last fall, P-Valley takes it a step further, showcasing the multi-faceted nature of dancing and the sheer power it takes to get on the pole. I’m confident any of The Pynk’s ladies can go head-to-head with Olympic gymnasts.
The casting is impeccable from top to bottom, led by an outstanding lead performance by Brandee Evans. Annan is equally as fantastic and the writing for his character is some of the best on television. With just the right amount of warmth, camp, and strictness, this is a character like nothing we’ve seen on television. It is refreshing that while his non-conformity and sexuality is a key part of his story, it isn’t written as a crutch or eccentricity. He is developed with the nuance and gravitas of any other character. And though Evans, Annan and Johnson pretty much run the show, it has really great performances all around from Thornton, to Nicholson to Sawyers. The writing also allows the series to be just as promising as it is tragic and as funny and hopeful as it is weary. These aren’t the typical Black stories that we see on television. Also, famed Drake music director Karena Evans proves to be a dynamic director in her own right outside of music videos. The pilot episode plays out like an extended music video itself, in the absolute best way possible, with a cinephile like myself yearning for her feature directorial debut. The following directors, and all-women team, keep up the same quality for week after week, showing that this particular lens is incredibly important, especially for this series.
It would be a shame if the show doesn’t get the accolades and attention it is deserving of. In 2020, not many projects are touching P-Valley.