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TV Review: Platinum may strike gold for UPN

Sunday, April 13, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Finally, UPN develops its own drama worth watching.


dot.gif When: Previews at 9 p.m. tomorrow; regular time slot premiere 9 p.m. Tuesday on UPN.

dot.gif Starring: Jason George, Sticky Fingaz.

After pilfering "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" from The WB and scaring up the likes of a weak "Twlight Zone" remake and now-canceled "Haunted" on its own, UPN finally strikes gold with "Platinum."

Though the storytelling isn't groundbreaking, the setting is unusual by mainstream TV standards. Furthermore, it's the first drama series with a predominantly African-American cast since CBS's uninteresting hospital series "City of Angels" in 2000. "Platinum" is a much better show.

Set in the offices of an independent hip-hop/rap record label, "Platinum" has a welcome smattering of humor amidst its drama.

At its core, "Platinum" is the story of two brothers: Immature, thuggin' Grady Rhames (Sticky Fingaz) and less hot-headed, more business-like family man Jackson Rhames (Jason George). Both are after success for their company, which is teetering on the edge of viability, but they go after it in different ways.

Tomorrow's premiere opens with Grady at a video shoot for VersIs (Vishiss), Sweetback Entertainment's Eminem-like rap star. When the video's director calls VersIs a "wannabe rapper," VersIs shoots him.

"Again?" Jackson says when he gets the news by phone.

Written by John Ridley ("Third Watch" and the movie "Three Kings"), "Platinum" is an entertaining series set in a world with cross-cultural appeal to younger viewers.

Though the setting may be a turn-off to some older TV watchers, the characters and stories are universal.

At a January UPN press conference, actress Lalanya Masters, who plays Jackson's wife, compared the show to "Dallas."

"Our lead will be like J.R.," she said. "We'll have family dramas; there will be the struggle between brothers."

It's an apt and fair comparison. Though not as soapy, the J.R.-Bobby Ewing dynamic is echoed in the relationship between Jackson and Grady. It's not a carbon copy, but it has a familiar ring.

In addition to family in-fighting, business rivalries also rise to the surface. N'Bushe Wright has an effective recurring role as head of a rival record label.

Though there's little violence shown on screen, some of the language in "Platinum" may turn off viewers, but in at least one scene it's used to devalue and mock profanity -- specifically, a derogatory word for women.

"Platinum" has a large cast, but unlike so many pilot episodes, it does a fairly good job of differentiating the major characters by letting viewers know enough about them to make each one distinct.

At UPN's press conference for the show, Ridley said the goal of "Platinum" is to appeal to a wide audience, which he thinks is possible because of the broad interest in hip-hop music.

"What's made it so huge is that kids in the suburbs will buy the records, will listen to the music, and they're not afraid, so to speak, of watching black people on MTV or being in and of that culture," he said.

Indeed, UPN may have stumbled onto a smart strategy. Their Monday night comedies with predominantly African-American casts appeal to a predominantly African-American audience, which offers a good platform for promoting "Platinum." The show's regular Tuesday time slot will follow "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," a series with youth appeal, the same target audience as hip-hop music.

"There's been such a tremendous paradigm shift," said Masters. "We're now in a society where the No. 1 golfer is African-American and the No. 1 rapper [Eminem] is Caucasian-American."

Though behind-the-scenes shows set in the entertainment business have a mixed track record when fictionalized (Fox's "Action!" flopped along with any number of newsroom-set TV series), Ridley said "Platinum" will offer juicier glimpses at its fictional characters than VH1's nonfiction "Behind the Music" series.

"The reality is, even when artists go on something like 'Behind the Music,' they're still that artist. They still have to keep a little bit of an image or a PR thing going," he said. "We want to a dig a little bit deeper. This is fiction, it's going to be a little more hyperbolic. We're going to add garnishes to make the story worth telling. But I do think the difference is going all the way home with these individuals, not just sitting in front of a camera. ... We're going to really make it about the individual."

Judging by the pilot, Ridley and the "Platinum" crew are off to a strong start.

You can reach Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 orrowen@post-gazette.com . Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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