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'Black Monday' Is More Than The Black Wolf of Wall Street: Episode 1 Recap

It’d be natural to think, “Oh, that’s Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort, just with Jheri curl activator spray.”

Describing Showtime’s dramedy Black Monday as the black Wolf of Wall Street is lazy, yet inevitable. The show, set in the year leading up to the global stock market crash on October 19th, 1987, centers on Maurice “Mo” Monroe (Don Cheadle) and his investment firm the Jammer Group featuring star trader Dawn Darcy (Regina Hall). The show is as much of an unflinching look into the institutionalized debauchery of Wall Street as Martin Scorsese’s 2013 masterpiece. Especially if the first 34 minutes of the series is any indication.

In the first episode ("365"), a body falls through the hood of a Lamborghini Limousine (aka “Lambo Limo”), Mo is gifted cocaine for his birthday, and a coworker flops an uncircumcised penis on Wall Street newcomer Blair Pfaff’s (Andrew Rannells) shoulder while he’s working. Once you see how the show’s comedic appeal is powered by Mo, an abhorrent, predatorial capitalist who will gladly starve a child to fatten his pocket, it’d be natural to think, “Oh, that’s Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort, just with Jheri curl activator spray.”

You’d be terribly wrong.

The Misdirection of Black Monday

The most appealing part of Black Monday’s premiere episode is undoubtedly its use of misdirection. The Wolf Of Wall Street is fundamentally based on one character, Jordan Belfort. Black Monday starts off as if it’s going to hone in on the singular character who caused the Wall Street crash, but eventually reveals that the crash itself is the main character of the show. Each episode is named after a number between 1 - 365, with the premiere titled “365,” the first day, and the first puzzle piece, leading to the collapse. If you blink at the wrong time you could miss out on a clue as to who and/or what caused the collapse; an enthralling mystery element that Wolf of Wall Street never had.

Mo also tricks viewers into thinking he’s blinded by his arrogance, when in fact he’s highly cerebral and sensitive. There’s an almost catatonic gaze that washes over his face when he sees his former love interest, Dawn, with her husband Spencer (Kadeem Hardison) and when he recollects the moments before he put his plan to snag Blair in motion without knowing it’ll work. Those brief moments of believable vulnerability are expertly acted by Cheadle and makes him a much more nuanced and relatable character than DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort.

The Partners in Crime

The cast of characters in the series' premiere helps distinguish the show from being simply a Black Wolf of Wall Street as there is an almost intentional avoidance of any concentration on race. Mo may jokingly say he’s going to put the “brother” in Lehman Brothers and get his Jheri curls moistened in the middle of the office by his chauffeur, but that’s as deep as the premiere episode delves into race. The closest the episode came to addressing Mo being one of the few black faces in a sea of white men on Wall Street is when Mo’s hilariously enraged by a newspaper calling him “the Billy Ocean of Wall Street,” referencing the legendary Trinidadian-British R&B singer.

Dawn’s blackness is never addressed in the premiere, but her performance is one of the episode’s best. She’s the best trader in the Jammer Group, and while she is the most level headed of the group, she isn’t the moral compass keeping the frat house on course to always do the right thing. She’s mounting male coworkers to thrust into their imaginary breasts and squeezing her imaginary set of balls to intimidate. She smokes while she does cardio, likes to order “regular cocaine” during lunch, and has enough intriguing, and as of yet untapped, facets of her character to potentially carry entire episodes by herself. Which is more than we can say for the rest of the characters.

On paper, the episode and series are well cast with former nominees and winners of Screen Actor Guild Awards, Tony Awards, Golden Globes Awards. However, we don’t watch TV shows on paper. Jammer Group trader Keith (Paul Scheer), and all of his unfunny, crude one-liners and insecurities with balding is basically Scheer’s Andre Nowzick character from FX’s The League, just on Wall Street in the 1980s. Blair is built as not only the hotshot new kid on Wall Street with a game-changing algorithm but also as the most important character to possibly cause the eventual Black Monday crash. Yet, he is one of the most boring characters in the premiere due to how forgetful his parts are in comparison to powerhouses like Hall and Cheadle.

Black Monday is more than a black Wolf of Wall Street. It’s a thrilling coke binge we’ll all be strung out on weekly.

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Daniel Kaluuya And Lakeith Stanfield To Star In Fred Hampton Movie

Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield are reportedly being considered for roles in the upcoming film, Jesus Was My Homeboy, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The movie, which will be produced by Ryan Coogler and distributed by Warner Bros., will depict the assassination of Black Panther activist Fred Hampton.

If the ink dries on the deal, Kaluuya will play Hampton. Stanfield will play William O’Neal, the FBI informant who went undercover and infiltrated the Black Panthers in order to obtain information that assisted in Hampton's assassination. Jesus Was My Homeboy will look at the rise and death of Hampton through the perspective of FBI informant O'Neal.

As previously noted, Fred Hampton was an activist and organizer of the Black Panther Party who quickly climbed the ranks to become its chairman of the Illinois chapter and deputy chairman. He was murdered in 1969 at the age of 21, by a tactical unit with orders from the FBI and Chicago Police Department.

Shaka King will reportedly direct the film and and produce from a script he wrote with Will Berson. Jesus Was My Homeboy does not have a release date at this time.

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HBO Releases 'Leaving Neverland' Trailer And March Premiere Date

Since the reveal of a contentious documentary on Michael Jackson was announced, the conversation surrounding HBO's upcoming project has continued to increase. Now, the powerhouse cable network unveiled the Leaving Neverland trailer which depicts the recollections of two men who were reportedly sexually abused when they were boys by Jackson.

Within the trailer, James Safechuck and Wade Robson discuss certain moments that they held as secrets for decades. "He told me if they ever found out what we were doing, he and I would go to jail for the rest of our lives," Wade says in the visual. The Dan Reed-directed film also features interviews with the two men's families and significant others.

In response to the doc's Sundance premiere, Jackson's family issued a statement calling out the reel's developers. "The creators of this film were not interested in the truth," the family's statement reads. "They never interviewed a single solitary soul who knew Michael except the two perjurers and their families. That is not journalism, and it's not fair, yet the media are perpetuating these stories."

Watch the trailer below ahead of its two-night premiere on March 3-4.

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Don Cheadle as Mo in 'Black Monday,' Episode 4 ("295")
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'Black Monday' Recap: Mo Feels The Weight Of Playing God

Another week, another dive into Black Monday. In this week's episode, “295,” Mo tries to salvage his plan to get the Georgina company’s shares after Blair and Tiffany Georgina’s surprise breakup in the previous episode threw a wrench in that plan. By the end of this week’s episode, Mo gets what he wants but it doesn’t go as planned. Don Cheadle told VIBE that Black Monday was “insane...in a good way,” and this episode shows just that, starting with Mo’s God complex.

Stop Trying To Be God

You need a certain cocktail of self-aggrandization and delusions of grandeur to walk around with a God complex. Mo has that cocktail coursing through his veins. The entire episode revolves around Mo’s attempt to control the actions of humans by placing them in certain situations he is sure will yield his desired results. Only someone blinded by their obsession with being right wouldn’t see having to fix a “foolproof” plan makes him a fool.

The writing expertly showed that when you play God your creation is your reflection, especially in the tense scene at Mo’s dining room table with Blair and Dawn. He turned Blair into a cocaine-addicted party animal to show him how empty life is without having someone you love. Then, in one scene, Dawn exposed how all Mo did was build Blair in his image without realizing that part of his plan was to inadvertently show Blair just how miserable Mo really lives.

Even ostensibly innocuous details carry a huge emotional weight thanks to Black Monday’s writing and Cheadle’s consistently engaging performance. The writers literally had Mo on the outside looking in at forces out of his control at the end of the episode when he’s looking into the bar. It’s at this climactic moment of the show that Mo realizes his own mortality by getting what he wants but missing out on what he knows he needs.

It’s also at this moment that the show’s most boring lead character grew into someone worth watching.

Blair Is Here

For the first three episodes, Blair was as interesting as paint on the wall; always in front of your face but in the back of your mind. Before a single character utters a word in this episode, Blair is chain-smoking cigarettes, snorting coke and dressed like a Saturday Night Fever extra. He died “for a song and a half” and was electroshocked back to life, all in the first minute of the new episode. Blair has finally joined the Black Monday party and the show is better for it.

Mo molding Blair into his image allowed Blair to tap into a new level of confidence.  Blair’s exchange with Dawn about the implicit racism and sexism in 1980s films like Teen Wolf was rewind-worthy hilarious and ends with Blair remarking, “My favorite line from the movie is, ‘I’m not a f*g, I’m a werewolf. Oh, Michael J,” easily one of the funniest 1980s critiques on a show full of them.

The episode also entangled Blair in the show’s first love triangle, ensuring that Blair’s character growth is probably not done. With Blair now being compelling, following Dawn and Keith’s character-defining performances in the previous episode, Black Monday has set up its four most accomplished actors to be able to carry entire story arcs without relying on each other. But, the Black Monday world got bigger than those four in this week’s episode.

The Wall Street Mythology

There’s not enough time in a 30-minute episode to flesh out every character’s backstory and fully formed personality. The most surprisingly funny part of episode “295” was the story arc of Jammer Group traders Keith and Yassir (Yassir Lester) trying to stop Wayne (Horatio Sanz) from completing a “The LaGuardia Spread”. The arc showed that Black Monday has an ingenious way of speeding up character development: mythologize Wall Street.

On Black Monday, “The LaGuardia Spread” is when a trader takes a huge position on a stock, goes to LaGuardia Airport and waits to see if they made a huge profit or debilitating loss. If you guess right, you come home. If you guess wrong, “you don’t come home ever. You get on a plane and you f**king disappear,” according to a frantic Keith. Wayne was nothing more than a bumbling joke punchline of a trader before this episode. In only a few minutes of screentime we find out Wayne slept with his wife’s sister, has some weird dislike for The Howard Stern Show’s weekly guest Jackie Martling, and is so money hungry that he’d be giddy at the news of a mad cows disease epidemic and it’s positive effect on his “LaGuardia Spread” trade.

A similar result happened before on Black Monday. In the series premiere, the Lehman twins (Ken Marino) laid out the Georgina Play, the foundation of Mo’s plans to get all the shares from the Georgina company from Blair after he marries Tiffany. That Wall Street myth led to their grandfather setting himself on fire. That myth also showed that at any moment any person you see on screen become valuable because of what they about know how this fictionalized world works. As long as Black Monday continues to use the inherent absurdity of Wall Street as a machine for character development, this show could begin entering the conversation for one of the best ensemble casts on television.

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