HOLLYWOOD—Oprah Winfrey just continues to crank out new shows on her network to keep viewers tuned in. The latest drama to hit the network is courtesy of “Selma” director Ava DuVernay. The series “Queen Sugar” follows three siblings who are forced to take over their father’s sugarcane farm after he dies.
The episode opened with Nova Bordelon (Rutina Wesley) awaking from bed with her secret lover Calvin (Greg Vaughn) who happens to be a white cop. We are later introduced to Ralph Bordelon (Kofi Siriboe) who oversees his son playing in the park. Looks like times are hard for Ralph as he ventures into a convenience store and steals a few items before robbing the place. What’s worse, he watched his son patiently wait in the park for his return. Ok, this is a character worth watching people, because all is not as it seems.
We are then introduced to the highly successful sister of the bunch, Charley Bordelon West (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) who seems pressed to teach her teenage son the importance of hard work in life and not just getting things because he wants them. The dynamic between Charley and Nova is night a day. One a burgeoning journalist and activist, and the other a social butterfly whose privileged lifestyle she refuses to acknowledge.
What definitely works for “Queen Sugar” is DuVernay’s ability to find a way to deliver poignant slices of the lives of the Bordelon family without tossing too much drama at once. We get one piece, then we get another piece, then another piece, and one piece connects to another piece and things begin to make sense. We have a family that is so fractured that it’s haunting the siblings only speak with each other when it’s a situation of dire proportions.
Nova is no angel; she has a thing for a bit of herb that has become profitable in the Louisiana region, and she also happens to be a mistress to her cop boyfriend who goes home to night to his family and not her. Looks like a scandal in the basketball league involving Charley’s hubby Davis (Timon Kyle Durrett) has become the talk of town. We finally get to meet the patriarch of the Bordelon clan as we meet Ernest (Glynn Turman) working as a janitor at night, but caring to his sugarcane farm during the day.
The precocious energy from the youngest lad of the clan Blue (Ethan Hutchinson) provides an examination of the many crossroads that exist with this family and how hope is something that each of them employ, even at the youngest level. Davis was flustered with the prospect of having to start fresh in the midst of this basketball scandal.
It’s amazing to see the relationship between Ralph and Blue unfold; this is a guy who has a troubled past, but is fighting to do everything in his power to do right by his son, by giving his son the birthday party he’ll never forget. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes when Ernest suffers a stroke while sitting in a chair. Charley does not seem to do well when pressure is thrown in her direction. I’m living for the fact that OWN found a way to deliver this first episode without a single commercial; I mean it allows the audience to really stay invested in these characters, the narrative and creative force of this unique series.
Things only got worse for Charley as a bevy of texts surfaced, and Charley discovered that her husband Davis was involved in the scandal as well. It was indeed a sad day, because her son learned of the betrayal at the same time as his mother. She reacted in a way that most women in America would applaud for as she viciously attacked him in the middle of a basketball game, with the press and the entire world watching.
Ralph Angel reached out to his ex-Darla (Bianca Lawson), who I assume to be Blue’s mother. Looks like Ralph’s burgeoning relationship with Blue’s teacher could be something of a major narrative development not just for Ralph, but his surrounding family.
Micah (Nicholas L. Ashe) was forced to become the man of the house, as his mother, Charley slept her life away. Ernest wanted to see his grandson Blue, while he foreshadowed his final moments in a hospital bed. Nova looked torn watching her sister’s world fall apart on national TV. Yep, Darla is indeed Blue’s mother, which only unleashed a fury when Ralph came face-to-face with her. She’s an addict who is fighting to put her life back together in hopes of regaining visitation rights to her son. That was a harsh moment watching Ralph pick apart Darla as if he’s perfect; the guy has a few skeletons in his closet as well.
It was a bombshell, when the family discovered that Ernest hasn’t been working the sugarcane farm for quite some time, he’s been working that janitorial job that no one had a clue about. Hmm, that tells you how disconnected this family truly is. The final moments of the episode witnessed the Bordelon family come to grips with the fact that the patriarch has passed on, and Charley breaking into a million pieces.
As for Nova, the happily ever after with Calvin, isn’t so happy. He’s sleeping with her, while going home each night to his family. That is indeed a very tough pill to swallow people. “Queen Sugar” proves that a fractured family unit can always return to its core in the midst of tragedy, but what I think is so pivotal for this drama is that it’s not over the top; it seems pure, relatable and invigorating to watch. “Queen Sugar” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on OWN.