There’s no reason why it should necessarily be surprising that TV’s most interesting and layered treatment of the chaotic, COVID-fueled summer and fall didn’t come from a medical procedure or from one of the myriad shows that attempted Zoom-based episodes, but rather from Starz’ second season P-Valley.
Sure, Katori Hall’s acclaimed drama is built around a strip club in a fictional Mississippi Delta town and features the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer’s signature theatrical dialogue, but it took eight episodes to complete. P-Valley to establish itself as solely founded.
Cleverly tackles recent events with his own unique and piquant voice.
P-Valley is a relentless sensory experience, from the neon-soaked visuals dominated by muscular, gyrating bodies to the pounding bass of its soundtrack, to the dank miasma of the overcrowded central juke joint and the hypothetically tantalizing weed wings of The Pynk. . The show is piquant and firmly rooted in the economic realities shared by its characters and by the city of Chucalissa. During the first half of the 10-episode second season, in addition to its various storytelling pleasures, P-Valley proves a more than capable vehicle for dealing with a complicated moment in history.
The new season picks up several months after the high-stakes events of “Murda Night” at the Pynk, a finale in which guns were drawn, lives ended, and truths were revealed. Not much time has passed, but it’s long enough for there to be major changes afoot.
After paying cash to buy The Pynk in the finale, Hailey (Elarica Johnson) and Uncle Clifford (Nicco Annan) had to pivot their business into a drive-through acceptable for lockdown in which the lure of bumping and grinding, car-washing and free-wings have helped keep some dancers and other employees on the payroll. Mercedes (Brandee Evans), who can’t escape The Pynk no matter how hard she tries, remains the main draw of the new venture, waiting to be able to open her gym in what has become a ghost town of a center commercial.
Some characters grapple with the new reality, including business investor Andre (Parker Sawyers), who looked like the big loser when Hailey outbid the casino for The Pynk, but returns to Chucalissa after a local tragedy.
Some characters are actually on the rise, including Mercedes’ mother, Patrice (the dynamite Harriet D. Foy), whose makeshift church has become a community center, handing out boxes of food and inspirational CDs.
Somewhere in between are Keyshawn (Shannon Thornton), who has built a product brand and online following but remains attached to her abusive boyfriend Derrick (Jordan M. Cox); and Lil Murda (J. Alphonse Nicholson), whose rap career explodes even as he laments about blowing things up with Uncle Clifford.
Everything on P-Valley expands into its second season. There are more episodes (10, up from eight), more characters, and more locations. At the same time, Chucalissa’s borders are also stretching apart, as Hall and the show’s makers build this city to the brink of economic ruin, accentuating both the cost of the pandemic and the opportunity for salvation, too. illusory as it is, that a casino could offer.
The world-building, continuing to position Chucalissa as a more modern and inclusive answer to William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, is effective cover for a season that has perhaps less of a singular drama line than the first.
It hasn’t always been easy to keep track of what’s been going on with Hailey, her wire fraud and her traumatic ties to a devastating hurricane, but mystery swept away the first season. There’s a lot going on this time around, some as down-to-earth as an upcoming election with several key ballot initiatives and some just as oddly intriguing – any show with such an adorably more larger than life that Uncle Clifford is entitled to some extravagance—like a detour into the pure supernatural that emphasizes P-Valleythe embrace of the profane and the sacred.
The show’s heightened sense of reality is also underscored in the groundbreaking fifth episode, delving into Keyshawn’s backstory and bringing out the show’s normal fairy tale subtext as a laudable experiment, if not a complete success. .
There are clearly benefits to come in escalating tensions with Uncle Clifford and Hailey over control of The Pynk. There are obviously some shady things to come with new dancers Whisper (Psalms Salazar), Roulette (Gail Bean) and Big Bone (Miracle Watts). Moreover, you have Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist veteran John Clarence Stewart offering a very anti-Zoey threat as a former inmate named Big Teak. Perhaps some of these stories will become more propulsive as the season draws to a close.
It’s the real world that offers the most drama and a lot of what’s interesting about the season so far comes from watching these colorfully defined characters respond to COVID in their own way. Of course, Uncle Clifford is going to find a way to incorporate fabulous masks into his ensemble, much to the chagrin of his skeptical grandmother (Loretta Devine, as always providing maximum value regardless of screen time).
It’s remarkable to see the roles literal masks play in an environment where every character was previously introduced in metaphorical masks, adding layers to the basic vanity of people hiding their identities and secrets in a business where exposing everything is work. Hall is able to find tragedy and comedy in the darkest times of the pandemic, shifting to the exclusively dark when it comes to the summer of protests against racial injustice and police brutality.
If the news doesn’t appeal to you, P-Valley continues to boast a soundtrack of wall-to-wall bangers and a sweltering saturation atmosphere so pervasive that the show could premiere in December and make air conditioning necessary.
The dancing continues to be surprisingly much more athletic than exploitative, using real sensuality as a spice rather than a main course. The whole thing is so deep and so well served by Hall’s profane verbal combat that it didn’t even particularly bother me that most episodes sent to reviewers couldn’t be contained by a standard one-hour length. Hall’s characters always have things to say, and these episodes find the writer with a lot to say and a lot to talk about – the show continues to say those things in a deft, pungent, heavily accented voice all its own.