An urban crime drama that outdoes Empire in class and maturity
Seemingly each premium cable network wants their own prestige drama. The latest attempt at that game from Starz is Power. The crime drama is set in two different worlds: the brutal drug trade and the glamorous NYC club scene. Heavily advertising its street cred by name-dropping executive producer Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, the similarities to Fox’s broadcast smash Empire are unmistakable. Show creator Courtney Kemp Agboh (from CBS’s Emmy-winning The Good Wife) has crafted a taut, intriguing urban crime drama about the conflicted James “Ghost” St. Patrick. The antihero dreams of going legitimate with his club business and leaving the drug trade behind in this entertaining first season.
Ghost (Omari Hardwick) has two faces as Power’s central character. He’s a legitimate businessman as he gets Truth off the ground, the ritzy night club he hopes will permanently get him out of the drug game. His slick business suits and the expensive lifestyle he’s built for his family can’t hide his true nature. Ghost sees no future in the drug game despite running the main distribution network for a ruthless Mexican drug lord, Felipe Lobos.
Ghost’s right-hand man is Tommy Egan (Joseph Sikora), a childhood friend that has no qualms about the drug business they are in together. Tommy feels more comfortable doing the dirty work and running the business from the streets. Tasha (Naturi Naughton) is Ghost’s loving wife, a woman with no illusions about who he is or what made him. In fact, Tasha thinks Ghost is foolish for wanting to go legitimate with his business. The loyal Ghost’s eyes begin to wander when an old flame from high school shows up in his life after many years, Angela Valdes (Lela Loren). Angela broke Ghost’s heart and has grown up to be an attorney. She thinks Ghost has become rich merely as a successful club owner.
Tommy and Ghost begin to feel the heat when their drug network starts getting hit by an unknown party, killing off their couriers and stealing their cash. Lobos begins to think he could take his business elsewhere, cutting Ghost out of the chain. The gritty drama heats up and becomes complicated when Lobos becomes the target of a Federal task force. The task force is looking for the man in control of Lobos’s drug network. Unbeknownst to either Ghost or Angela, the former lovers are on opposing sides in this conflict. That Shakespearean twist adds fuels to the gripping street drama.
The comparisons to Empire are unavoidable.
The comparisons to Empire are unavoidable.
As a Starz series expect frequent nudity and graphic violence. Power has a glossy appeal to its drama, wrapped in the seedy underworld of drugs and guns. The eight-episode season unfolds in an orderly manner, laid out with rich characterization and engrossing melodrama. The comparisons to Empire are unavoidable. Both shows feature an urban mix of characters focused on a strong male lead.
Omari Hardwick does a great job as Ghost, adding a layer of humanity and complexity to the tough drug lord. It is a riveting performance that goes beyond the standard stereotypes. Some of the other characters could have more depth to them. Tommy is a generic thug we’ve seen before in a million other urban crime shows. Even his wooing of a club hostess feels cliched and predictable as the inevitable happens. Angela’s secret relationship with an FBI agent feels doomed from the start.
Premium cable shows tend to have tighter storytelling and better production values than network television. It looks like Starz has done a great job with getting Power off the ground. The first season of Power is not going to change your world. Its heady mix of the drug trade and glossy club scene is more sophisticated than it should be by all rights. Power takes the predictable tale of a gangster going straight after a life of crime and layers it with a fine dose of human frailty, turning Ghost into a very memorable character. The urban drama is a polished production, including a nice soundtrack and well-rounded cast.
Starz/Anchor Bay releases Power in a very nice Blu-ray presentation, befitting the premium cable series’ excellent production values. The eight episodes are evenly spread over two BD-50s, nearing over 460 minutes. The 1080P video has impressive clarity with strong definition, filmed on the ARRI Alexa Plus digital camera. Finished on a 2K digital intermediate, the AVC video encode represents a transparent experience capturing every inch of fine detail.
The aspect ratio has the conventional 1.78:1 dimensions, standard for most television productions these days. Power has a glossier feel than most urban crime shows. It has a neutral color timing that avoids skewing flesh-tones. The color palette is saturated and has impressive black levels, revealing solid shadow delineation. The cinematography isn’t overly flashy, retaining a clean appearance that favors medium depth and wide shots.
The all-digital Blu-ray transfer from 2K resolution has been finished in perfect fashion at its 1080P resolution. It has been left unmolested by video processing, resulting in superb clarity. The pristine video is nearly untouched by compression artifacts. Power’s darker contrast and richer black levels probably prevent it from being considered reference material. A hint of noise can occasionally creep into the darkest shots.
Power has a potent, active 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack that will test your home theater. The impressive surround mix makes an aggressive push in the club scenes with thumping music. Power’s mid-bass impact is great, expect a vigorous work-out from your subwoofer. The active sound design has a copious amount of action, from bullets to various ambient sounds in its urban setting. Everything a soundtrack can throw at the listener is heard: localized cues, directional effects, and strong panning. This is a stellar surround mix that beautifully incorporates a wide variety of urban music, from Rap to classic hits.
Two subtitle options are included, English SDH and Spanish. Both display in a white font. When characters speak in Spanish, automatic English subtitles are used.
For such a rich drama, Starz includes only four brief featurettes for the entire set. They include clips from the series and a wide range of interviews from cast and crew. Starz does provide a spectacular lenticular slipcover. This set of special features should have been beefed up with a commentary or two. It’s disappointing on some level. The most cogent answers come from series creator Courtney Kemp Agboh.
The New Series (02:02 in HD) – 50 Cent and other cast members talk about Power.
The Style of Power (01:47 in HD) – The fashion of the show is discussed, especially Ghost’s differing wardrobes for his different lives.
NYC: The City of Power (02:02 in HD) – The importance of filming in NYC adds another dimension to the show.
The Music of Power (02:02 in HD) – Series creator Courtney Kemp Agboh discusses how 50 Cent influenced Power’s soundtrack and his opening theme song.
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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.