Review by Brian Lowry, CNN
“Queens” is an extremely familiar idea, elevated not quite to the level of royalty by being slickly cast, packaged and produced. Like Peacock’s “Girls5eva,” the concept hinges on an all-girl group reunited and again pursuing stardom 20 years later, rediscovering the spotlight and its perils after years spent braiding hair and burning breakfast.
Those last mundane activities are how we meet Brianna (Eve), once known as Professor Sex, who is now raising five kids. Methodically, the show goes about introducing the rest of the quartet once known as the Nasty Bitches (a name itself rooted in the past), who, as Jill a.k.a. Da Thrill (Naturi Naughton), notes, “stood on top of the world for a hot minute.”
The other members of the group, Naomi/Xplicit Lyrics (Brandy) and Valeria/Butter Pecan (Nadine Velazquez), had a sour falling out, with the former toiling away as a solo act — “still chasing the fame that you found 20 years ago,” as she’s told — and the latter having successfully transitioned into morning TV, where her unbridled ambition is on full display.
It’s their manager (Taylor Sele) who suggests getting the band back together as part of a televised event, and the lure of a quick payout is enough to erode the resistance on several fronts. But this is a series, after all, so the reunion won’t end there, with the challenge of mounting a formal comeback and all the soapy doings that go with it.
As noted, the idea of one-time stars nursing old grudges and grasping for another few minutes of fame is hardly a new one (Tom Hanks’ “That Thing You Do” is an ode to one-hit wonders), but the hip-hop backdrop and casting gives “Queens” a relatively fresh feel. The disclaimer would be that once you get past the premise, the series becomes another soap set against the backdrop of the music world, a la “Empire,” meaning it will only be as good as the situations that the writers can continue to conjure.
Produced by “Scandal” alum Zahir McGhee (who wrote the pilot) and directed by Tim Story, “Queens” appears to be in pretty good hands on that score, even if the content and actually-not-that-explicit lyrics can only be as nasty as ABC’s standards will allow. The show also figures to get a boost, in old-fashioned TV scheduling terms, from having “The Bachelorette” as its opening act.
For now, “Queens” has done an admirable job assembling the pieces. Keeping them from flaming out the way that the show’s fictional group did could be another matter.
“Queens” premieres Oct. 19 at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.
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