Queen Sugar: “First Things First” (Season 1, Episode 1)

The most surprising show—and arguably the reason I review television—I have ever had the pleasure to review, Being Mary Jane, was not for me. Being Mary Jane was made about a black woman, by a black woman for black women, and aired on a station entitled Black Entertainment Television. And I fell in love. That series has become my most suggested, often with the disclaimer “It’s not for you, but you could benefit from some diversity in your empathy.”

Being Mary Jane brought compelling arguments and counter-arguments on heated racial and gender-based topics with a certain grace and intelligence that I found easy to digest and entertaining as all hell. The scope of social issues ranged from personal to global, all while presenting two sides to most arguments. The show was beautiful. For some reason, I expected Queen Sugar to bring about an equal amount of my praise. That may have been unfair, but I’m not sure lesser expectations could have saved Queen Sugar from my scorn.

The Characters

The last review I wrote, One Mississippi, opened up with a daughter reuniting with her family to witness her mother’s death via plug-pulling. The Bordelon siblings have a slightly less controlled tragedy calling them all home to the family sugar plantation: Ernest, head of the family, falls into a coma and dies.

Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe) is the first to receive the news because he’s the first to find his father unconcious at Blue’s, Ralph Angel’s son, birthday. Ralph struggles with raising Blue by himself; Blue’s mother was a drug addict who abandoned her family. He’s also an ex-con who’s still actively robbing people while living at home.

Nova (Rutina Wesley), appears to be more of a free spirit. Because she still lives in the state, she was able to make it to the hospital before her father died. Nova is still a bit of mystery at this point, causing me to make assumptions rather than draw conclusions: she refuses to commit to a man who loves her, she is a very talented artist, and she meant to be there more for her father than she was.

This brings us to what is arguably the main character of the whole shebang, Charley Bordelon-West (Dawn-Lyen Gardner). Charley escaped Louisiana to become a succesful business woman by managing a star basketball player (and husband), Davis West. Before discovering her father is dying, she finds out her husband raped a drunk woman while on the road. We would call that a rough week.

The Conflict

Everybody has their own problems. Each of the siblings must tackle their own dilemmas, but they all have one common goal: to save the plantation. The plantation that hasn’t produced a usable sugar cane in three seasons. The plantation that’s several thousand dollars in debt. The plantation without a single knowledgeable person working it.

Also, if you’ve ever had a sibling or two, you will understand the conflict that bursting from the seams that are holding this family together.

The Criticism

The original question I raised for this show was “Is this Being Mary Jane?”  The answer, of course, is no. But Queen Sugar doesn’t have to be.

Now, there are some similarities I could draw between the two shows, but that isn’t doing anyone any favors. This show struck me as retaining the quality that you would expect from Oprah’s network. I might be going back to see more of Charley’s story; the wife of a basketball star/rapist very much interests me. I have not seen that story before.

The Conjecture

Queen Sugar is more than a title, it’s a direction. Of course Charley will be a sugar magnate by the end of the season.

Queen Sugar will end in the style of Breaking Bad in that everyone is dead because Nova needed to be the Heisenberg of sugar cane.

The Conclusion

Being Mary Jane and Queen Sugar are two different shows I expect will cover similar themes. I vacillated between boredom and outrage (for Charley), so it did manage to suck me in emotionally, even if it was for a minute. There isn’t a ton in the way of narratives for people of color this season—meaning, you should give it a watch if that’s what you’re looking for. I’ll be watching the next few episodes, at least.

If you’re interested in the series, Queen Sugar airs Wednesdays on OWN. If you’d like to see what else Cody is watching, you can check his Trakt page to keep up-to-date with all of his shows.

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