Debuting ad-free on September 6, OWN’s family drama Queen Sugar is a potent and loving meditation on mourning and reconciliation. The 13-episode first season executive produced by Ava DuVernay, Oprah Winfrey and Melissa Carter thankfully stays away from the saccharine and goes solidly for the sensual and the emotionally stark as a trio of estranged siblings deal with death and the entangling ties of blood and land.
The result, as I say in my video review above, is that the all-female-directed Queen Sugar is a vibrant and evolving living thing that rises above the noise in the era of Too Much TV. With Selma director DuVernay helming multiple episodes, as well as writing and showrunning, the series based on Natalie Baszile’s 2014 novel also finds a powerful filmmaker becoming even stronger in this return to the small screen.
With a firm ensemble that includes Parenthood and Scandal alum Tina Lifford, the core performances of the often-brooding Bordelon siblings of Saint Josephine, LA are forceful themselves in this multi-tiered tale. Not giving anything away that trailers and teasers haven’t made known, Dawn-Lyen Gardner plays NBA wife and manager Charley, who sees her seemingly perfect and about to-be-on-reality-TV life in L.A. now soaked in scandal. True Blood’s Rutina Wesley is her sister, New Orleans-based journalist Nova, who has secrets of her own brewing, and Kofi Siriboe portrays single-dad brother Ralph Angel who’s just out of jail.
It was a good move to go with relative unknowns in the leading roles as it prevents Queen Sugar from being overwhelmed by on-screen name brands when talent and execution are the required ingredients. If the June 21-premiering Greenleaf was OWN’s move away from a near-total reliance on Tyler Perry for successful scripted series, the already renewed Queen Sugar is about growing the fruit from the root — for the channel, its creator and the series.
In the meantime, check out my video review of Queen Sugar and tell us if you’ll be sweet on the DuVernay series too.
Editors Note: This review originally ran August 18.