american soul bet recap episode 1 season 1
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BET's 'American Soul' Is Not A Biographical Series: Premiere Recap

The new drama series is more than just a show about Soul Train.

American Soul is not a show about Soul Train. It’s a show about Don Cornelius -- and his marriage, and a group of Soul Train dancers, and their parents, and his dance coordinator, and a shady club owner. And, apparently, Gladys Knight.

The series premiere had a lot going on. At moments, it was difficult to grasp how the narratives were coming together. We showed up for the story of Cornelius’ creation and the construction of the 37-year-long Soul Train series and legacy; why were we being introduced to soldiers and toddlers and bossy big mama figures who run diners? For viewers who lived through at least some of Soul Train’s golden era and know the show’s history, it was hard to resist trying to fit the events of this episode into the bigger story as we know it.

It’s important to note the disclaimer on the opening card: that American Soul is inspired by true events; but “some characters, places, and events have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes”. Indeed. American Soul has to stand independently of actual events to be properly enjoyed.

The show opens on February 1, 2012; the day Don Cornelius committed suicide in his Encino, Calif. home. Cornelius (Sinqua Walls) watches a classic episode of the show featuring Gladys Knight (Kelly Rowland), a wistful smile on his face and tears streaming from one eye as he places a gun to his head. This suggests the series intends to, over time, bring us all the way up to his suicide, which is probably too ambitious to be possible. If that’s not the intention, this framing of the first episode might have been overkill (no pun intended). That was a prevailing issue: the story of Cornelius and Soul Train is great in itself, but the “dramatization” is heavy.

The premiere episode focused on Soul Train’s national launch and the tasks Cornelius must accomplish to make it happen, namely raising seed money for the show’s move to L.A. and securing a Top 10 act for the first show, a condition of his syndication deal. We’re presented with an eager, energetic and risk-taking Cornelius, a profile largely counter to the composed, controlled persona we know. Cornelius never revealed much of his personal self in his years as host of Soul Train. This is the most intriguing aspect of the series– getting to learn who he was outside of the show. But how much of that is the fictionalized part? Do we really believe Don was cracking jokes about blowing up the bathroom? (I’ve decided to not believe that, personally.)

By the end of the episode, Don has faced down racist cops (in a very Five Heartbeats-inspired scene), stood up to James Brown’s goons, dipped into his family’s hands-off savings, gone on a mild coke and alcohol binge, and been exposed as an impossible boss and a reformed cheater. But he’s also the man doggedly chasing his dream—a dream that will belong to all black people. His ability to sell that dream to others—first shady nightclub owner Gerald Aims (Greenleaf’s Jason Dirden, continuing his efforts to take Terrence Howard’s country-slickster-with-a-perm crown and claiming all the best lines in the show, including the title quote), then to Gladys, positioned in the show as a guide of sorts for Cornelius—gets him through this week’s set of obstacles.

We’re also introduced to three members of the Soul Train Gang: Kendall Clarke, younger sister Simone Clarke and JT Tucker, aspiring singers hoping Soul Train will give them the exposure and grant them their big break as a singing group. This is an area where American Soul has great potential. The Soul Train dancers were unsung stars of the series, and little was known even about the stars in the group. Giving them lives and backstory through these three is a great concept. The kids are facing their own challenges. Kendall is a young father who, unbeknownst to his family, is trying to get out of the military draft. JT is struggling to keep his family afloat despite his mother’s drug habit. Simone’s challenge is JT. Her mother (played by Kelly Price) doesn’t approve of the relationship, and she’s had to hide it from her father, who’s in Vietnam.

We follow these three from a very funky Grease audition, to a failed audition as the house band for Club 100 Proof (owned by Gerald), to Soul Train auditions, which Cornelius unceremoniously interrupts and cuts short.

Lastly, there’s Tessa Lorraine, the Soul Train dance coordinator. We first meet her when she appears to scout the teens at the Grease high school musical rehearsal. We see her again at the interrupted dancer auditions - auditions she was running. Tessa is frustrated and feels disrespected and undervalued by Cornelius. But, she has the complete support of her cutie husband (casting did a great job with all these black men, by the way. Shout out to them).

The show closes with a round of heavy foreshadowing for each character: Simone’s father calls and Brianne (Price) expresses surprise because it’s “so close to (him) coming home.” Kendall proposes to his son’s mother as a solution to avoid going into service, but she’s moved on.

JT’s mom is behind on the rent, and the landlord is fed up. Gerald isn’t just shady, but a full gangster, and locks people in trunks who don’t pay up his money. And at home for Don, his wife Delores doesn’t want to move to LA because of the kids (who we still haven’t seen, by the way). She doesn’t want him to move to LA either, but to instead come home to Chicago every weekend or “we’re not gonna make it.” Don responds that if he doesn’t do everything in his power to make (Soul Train) work, he’s the one that won’t make it. Then, we go back to Don’s living room in 2012, and he pulls the trigger.

We’re left with a picture of a man who has taken repeated gambles at the expense of his family and has this one opportunity to do something right or lose everything. That’s not the impression I had of Don Cornelius, but again, is this a matter of things not publicly known, or fictionalization for dramatic purposes? Aside from the moments of heavyhandedness (really? Don reads about Manifest Destiny and then the next day has a conversation about Manifest Destiny?), some character tropes (like the fussy big mama figure JT works for) and attempt to jam a whole lot of exposition into the first episode, American Soul is promising. It’s engaging and entertaining and the recreation of the era is fantastic.

Hopefully, it’s able to streamline the storytelling.

American Soul airs Tuesdays at 9 pm ET/PT on BET.

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Don Cheadle as Mo in 'Black Monday,' Episode 4 ("295")
Erin Simkin/SHOWTIME

'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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Actor Kel Mitchell and actor Kenan Thompson attend the 50th Annual Writers Guild of America Awards on February 21, 1998 at Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd/WireImage)

Kenan Thompson Says Kel Mitchell Will Appear In Revamped 'All That' Series

Pretty much everyone who was a fan of 90s Nickelodeon staple All That was thrilled to hear Kenan Thompson's role of executive producer in the revamped series. Now more great news has arrived as the comedian shared that Kel Michell will also return to the sketch comedy show.

Speaking with Page Six at the Writers Guild Awards Sunday (Feb. 16), Thompson shared his hopes to bridge the gap between the original cast and new members.

“Whoever’s down to [come to] do it, we would love to have them in my opinion,” Thompson said. “I know Kel [Mitchell’s] coming back, and I remember working close [sic] with Josh Server as well. I think all the old cast members should come support the new cast members. That’s just how it should go.”

Before their spinoff Kenan and Kel, the two were golden on All That with skits joint skits like Good Burger and solo characters Pierre Escargot and Repairman.

So far, things seemed to be going Thompson's way. Former All That alum  Danny Tamberelli also told Page Six he was thrilled to hear about the revival.

“I think it’s awesome!” Tamberelli said."All That was a show that reached out to so many kids from all different backgrounds and brought them all together through laughter.”

Tamberelli was apart of seasons four through six and was also one of the main character's on Nick's other enjoyable series, Pete and Pete.

Check out some memorable skits from All That below.

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Alberto E. Rodriguez

Jussie Smollett's Attorneys Deny Actor Paid $3,500 To Orchestrate Attack

Sources close to the Jussie Smollett investigation have spoken with several media outlets and allege new evidence shows the Empire actor may have orchestrated the attack, and even paid men $3,500 to go through with it.

The two men who are brothers were arrested Wednesday and released Friday (Feb. 15) without charges. Both men are cooperating fully with Chicago police, and authorities found records they purchased a rope at a local hardware store, which was used during the attack.

Smollett's attorneys, Todd S. Pugh, and Victor P. Henderson, quickly denied the claim made by authorities.

"As a victim of a hate crime who has cooperated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with," the statement read. "He has now been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying."

On Jan. 29, Smollett was leaving a Subway fast-food restaurant when the actor alleges to have been attacked by two men who beat him, poured bleach on him and tried to hang a rope around his neck. The 35-year-old entertainer, who identifies as gay, said one of the men shouted "This is MAGA country" as well as other racial and homophobic slurs.

Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said one of the men appeared on Empire and have past affiliation with Smollett.

During his interview with Robin Roberts on Good Morning America Thursday (Feb. 14), Smollett expressed frustration about not being believed. Sunday morning (Feb. 17) the hashtag 'JussieSmollettHoax' trended on Twitter. The Internet was split with many offering a digital "I told you so" due to the reports, while others, particularly members of the black LGBTQ community, questioning why many were quick to believe the word of law enforcement.

Us straight men waiting on the LGBT community to apologize after Jussie lied pic.twitter.com/0PDmNX4ykZ

— Flickens McCray (@Mickens__) February 17, 2019

https://twitter.com/angryblkhoemo/status/1096967004517515266

No idea what actually happened w/ Jussie Smollett. But do know that 4 years ago, Chicago PD spent 13 months justifying Laquan McDonald’s murder before releasing dashcam video showing he was walking away before being shot at 16x by an officer. Why are we just accepting their word?

— Scott Hechinger (@ScottHech) February 17, 2019

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