‘Power Book IV: Force’ Is More of the Same, Which Should Satisfy Fans but Won’t Win New Ones
“Power” has become one of cable television’s most-buzzy series. Its universe continues to expand. Last Sunday’s premiere of the fourth installment, “Power Book IV: Force,” with Joseph Sikora reprising his role as Tommy Egan, shifted the action from New York to Chicago.
But is it getting better? The show is a guilty pleasure, and being a guilty pleasure is perfectly OK. But if it’s going to compete for Emmys, showrunner Courtney Kemp and company will need to give the franchise a makeover to become more than just screen candy. For now, sadly, “Power Book IV: Force” is strictly for loyalists. But if anything, they are consistent.
It’s been a while since Egan was last on our TV screens. But he’s back as the franchise’s same sort of brooding, morally compromised protagonist. Set after Ghost’s death (or is he still alive?) in the first series, the show follows Egan in the aftermath as he rebuilds the drug trade from the bottom up, with the usual sex and violence that helped make the franchise, which all unfolds like the average gangster flick without any innovation or originality, so popular. It’s executive producer Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s partly autobiographical “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” in serialized form.
“Power Book IV: Force” begins after Tommy left Tariq St. Patrick (Ghost’s son who killed him) at the graveyard and fled New York in “Power Book II: Ghost.” While he planned to move to California, he makes a stop in Chicago to right some wrongs. But the trip becomes a maze of secrets and lies he thought were long buried. Remember, he left New York with nothing on his person. Egan uses his odd-man-out status to break all the local rules and rewrite them on his pursuit to become the most infamous drug dealer in Chicago.
When the first series premiered in 2014, it was largely dismissed by critics. Yet, despite early detractors, it developed a cult following that made it the cabler’s most-watched series ever. It reaches for low-hanging fruit: good ol’ gratuitous sex scenes and graphic violence. This makes it an easy watch, frequently trending on Twitter. The curiosity that social attention drew possibly turned a few non-believers into viewers who clamored to watch an overly familiar story about a villain who wants to go legit but keeps getting pulled back into the game.
James “Ghost” St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick), is the owner of a New York City club called Truth. Of course it’s called Truth because Ghost is anything but truthful. He’s also a drug kingpin. Truth also serves as a drug money laundering operation. But he’s charismatic and hides underneath that. It’s a popular character archetype if only because of that dual dynamic, which might be another reason for the show’s popularity. But the writing failed to deliver, and the performances mediocre. But it was candy to many who were not looking for narrative complexity or great acting.
To be fair, there are some Shakespearian elements, borrowing from Richard III, for example, in the first series. Ghost is just as ruthless in getting what he wants, and, in later seasons, ghosts of the people he destroyed start coming back to haunt him.
Enter his partner in crime Tommy Egan who is clearly supposed to be one of those white guys who grew up in a Black ‘hood. And now he’s starring in his own series. As much as I like Sikora in his other work, he’s just not convincing enough, and maybe that’s a question of casting.
Casting throughout makes these installments show sink or soar: In the first follow-up, “Book II,” Michael Rainey Jr. is missing his dad’s charisma. He doesn’t have the presence of Hardwick and isn’t a good actor in this role. That means he’s ultimately unbelievable as the smooth-talking devil he’s supposed to be. Additionally, building a series around one of television’s most hated characters was always going to be an issue.
In the third installment, “Power Book III: Raising Kanaan” Tony award-winner Patina Miller is the star. She elevates the material alongside Mekai Curtis, who plays her son, making that version the best of the bunch, alongside a more compelling story about a drug queenpin who will do anything to keep her teenage son out of the game.
So back to “Power Book IV.” The one episode of the current series Starz made available to the press is fine. A highlight is the addition of a cold, steely Tommy Flanagan as Walter Flynn, head of the Irish crime family, as a man out of time. He rules the streets of Chicago with an iron fist, supported by an army of loyal enforcers keeping the family business in order. Flynn seems untouchable as king of Chicago’s crime hierarchy. However, as the series unfolds, it only seems logical that the bullheaded Tommy will become a big problem for him.
All well and good. The problem for me remains Sikora, especially as the star. Yes, the character is a nutty punk but his performance feels forced and therefore unnatural. Do guys like him exist in real life? Sure. But I think a more subdued, calculating take, especially in the loud, chaotic world in which he exists, might be more lethal and will provide some balance. One gets the feeling that there’s a better-suited actor for the part, but fans who’ve stuck with the franchise since it started are obviously convinced otherwise. Its premiere on Sunday racked up 3.3 million multiplatform views.
Created by Robert Munic (“Tales,” “Ice,” “Empire”), so far, it’s everything you’d expect from a “Power” universe series, meaning more of the same superficiality and violence. But if it’s your kind of entertainment, this version will probably still work for you.
“Power Book Iv: Force” airs across Starz platforms on Sundays.
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