'Power': a hip-hop Gatsby

Who are you?: Omari Hardwick and Lela Loren play lovers keeping secrets in the Starz series "Power."
Who are you?: Omari Hardwick and Lela Loren play lovers keeping secrets in the Starz series "Power." (NIKO TAVERNISE)
Posted: June 06, 2014

Despite all its pomp and circumstance, Baz Luhrmann's 2013 movie The Great Gatsby was hardly the most innovative iteration of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 masterpiece.

Unlikely as it seems, that honor may well belong to Power (9 p.m. Saturday on Starz), a contemporary crime drama that counts Curtis Jackson, a.k.a. rapper 50 Cent, as one of its executive producers.

Created by Courtney Kemp Agboh, the Emmy-nominated writer/producer of The Good Wife, and fueled by a powerful yet understated performance by Omari Hardwick, the series captures the spirit of Fitzgerald's novel while telling a story that's very much of our time.

Hardwick ( Being Mary Jane, Dark Blue) stars as James "Ghost" St. Patrick, a thirtysomething millionaire who pulled himself up from the streets of South Jamaica, Queens, with nothing but his wits.

The pilot is set on the opening night of Ghost's hipster nightclub Truth, which caters to Manhattan's beautiful set. Dressed to the nines in an exquisitely tailored suit, Ghost exudes confidence and calm as chaos surrounds him on all sides.

But the day's work isn't over.

Ghost disappears for a few minutes to take care of a bit of business in the building's grimy loading dock - interrogating and murdering one of the employees in his other business, drug trafficking.

He's Jay Gatsby for the hip-hop generation - an enigmatic, supremely charismatic man and party host, inviting everyone into his mansion so they can see he has achieved the American Dream.

He's also a shady criminal who works hard to erase aspects of his identity and of his past, because, like Gatsby, Ghost's success is predicated on the criminal, the violent, the murderous.

Ghost runs his drug empire with the help of his wife Tasha (Naturi Naughton) and childhood friend Tommy Egab (Joseph Sikora). He succeeds with a unique business plan that reminds one more of a Fortune 500 company than a street gang.

"Ghost has this incredible intellect that [other dealers] didn't have. He's a chess player" Hardwick, 40, said during a recent visit to Philadelphia with Power costar Lela Loren.

Kemp Agboh said she was inspired to write a show about striving for success after the sudden death of her father in 2011. "My dad was an advertising guy who really had accomplished the American Dream," she said in a phone interview. "He came from nothing and worked his way up and became an executive."

Around the same time, the writer was drawn into ongoing conversations between 50 Cent and film producer Mark Canton about creating a hip-hop-inflected series inspired by the rapper's early life in the drug world.

United by Kemp Agboh, the two ideas yielded Power.

Like Gatsby, Ghost has a talent for wearing masks, presenting himself as a gentleman while hiding his darker aspect - he's a great at self-marketing.

"My dad had a very strong theory of advertising," said Kemp Agboh, "[that] perception is reality - that what people think you are, you really are. And so, if you can create a powerful image, then people would give you access to power."

The Great Gatsby, of course also is a tragic love story. Gatsby lived for Daisy, a woman he'd not seen for years. Ghost also has a lost love, his high school sweetheart Angela Valdes (Loren).

His comfortable life begins to unravel when he runs into her for the first time in two decades. The pair pick up their romance as if the preceding two decades had never happened. She doesn't know Ghost has grown up to be a killer and drug-dealer, while he has no idea she's a federal prosecutor assigned to a top-secret task force on drug-trafficking.

Angela is no longer the shy, quiet girl Ghost knew as a teen. She's a driven, ambitious prosecutor obsessed with winning above all else.

"She'll fight dirty to get a win," Loren said. "There is something a little repugnant about Angela, which I adore."

While Kemp Agboh's conceit seems a little hard to believe - two former lovers who end up so perfectly placed on opposite sides of the war on drugs - it allows her to explore how people who rely so much on hiding behind masks are in danger of losing their core self.

"Split yourself this way and you begin to have less and less of a core self," she said.

Hardwick agreed.

"What is ironic is that that we play these characters for an entire season without really knowing the other person," he said.

Loren chimed in, "This great love they think they have is based on misinformation and fantasy," she said. "The reason they can have this fairy-tale love story is that they know [nothing] about each other."


TV REVIEW

Power

9 p.m. Saturday on Starz.


tirdad@phillynews.com

215-854-2736

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