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TV TATTLE

ABC's Queens works because of the magic of stars Eve, Brandy, Nadine Velazquez and Naturi Naughton

  • Queens, the Zahir McGhee-created dramedy about a 1990s all-female hip-hop group that has reunited in their 40s, may have a similar to plot to Peacock's Girls5Eva. "But Queens takes a much different tack to the premise — more serious and searching but also much soapier, albeit with plenty of room left over for hugs and jokes," says Angie Han. "The premiere episode crams an impressive amount of backstory into its 44 minutes, starting with a music video that serves as an efficient encapsulation of exactly who these women used to be. The lavish production checks all the boxes of an MTV hit from the era: a yacht, a mansion, a long line of shirtless hunks, an obviously CG explosion and the Nasty Girls winking and sneering at the camera in front of all of it. But the video is intercut with scenes that show who these women are now...Queens‘ early promise lies in the magic of its leads. All four feel fully formed from the jump, whether it’s in the rigidness with which Jill carries herself, or the heavy regret that seems to be weighing on Naomi’s shoulders. Each has her own struggle, and each combination of characters their own dynamic — some warm, some bitter, some in between. Collectively, they share an easy chemistry bolstered by strong, specific dialogue. Queens doesn’t just ask you to take its word that these women were BFFs in their youth — it shows us one woman opening up over mimosas about her problems with an unfaithful man, and the others responding with goofy jokes about his penis."

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    • Queens' pilot is efficient, dramatic and intriguing without feeling overstuffed: That is "a feat given its many intersecting plotlines," says Caroline Framke. "In that respect, too, the core acting foursome of Queens bring crucial skill and personality to a series that, given the pilot’s alternately sincere and soap-adjacent tones, will inevitably ask them to contribute something different to every scene. (Naturi) Naughton, tasked with embodying both the bombastic woman formerly known as Da Thrill and her meeker present-day incarnation, is an immediate standout. Brandy and (Nadine) Velazquez ground their inherently more dramatic characters, while Eve finds pockets of humor no matter how rough things might be going for hers. And while Velazquez and Naughton hold their own through the actual musical numbers, it’s genuinely special to watch musicians like Brandy and Eve let loose in the way only they can."
    • Queens is especially appealing because it doesn't take itself too seriously: "Eve’s one-liners as Brianna are the stuff of television quotes of the week," says LaToya Ferguson. "And for all the real-world issues the former Nasty Bitches have to contend with when they reunite — even though that also brings forth some issues of years past — the familiarity of close friends who’ve lost touch is immediately on display. Because the quartet crack jokes and tell it like it is to each other, Queens works almost instantly despite some of the predictable genre story beats or one-to-one comparisons with the Peacock series. (Naughton’s Jill and Velazquez’s Valeria are eerily similar to Girl5eva’s Gloria and Wickie in certain aspects.) But the ABC series instantly captures the friendship chemistry (and also the baggage) among these four characters. The other reason the show works as well as it does is the music. Swizz Beatz serves as the executive music producer on the series, and produced (with Avery 'Avenue Beatz' Chambliss) the first single from the show: 'Nasty Girl,' which has a music video directed by Tim Story, who also directed the pilot). It’s so refreshing to hear Eve back in her hip-hop element again — but Queens also incorporates the talents and rap proficiency of the rest of the cast in an impressively seamless way."
    • Just having Eve and Brandy in this cast is enough to sit up and pay attention, but every performer shows up to play: "After seeing (Nadine) Velazquez as a supporting player in My Name Is Earl and The League, where she was always sharp with a quip but character-wise largely reduced to 'the hot girl,' it's deeply satisfying to see her play a character here whose storyline has nothing to do with her relationship to men," says Liz Shannon Miller. "Also, believe it or not, but these women are fantastic rappers and performers — okay, that's hardly a surprise, as the only one who wasn't an established musical artist is Velazquez, and she holds her own against the other living legends. There's not a lot of original music featured in the first episode, but the key track, 'Nasty Girl,' is (as the kids say today) fire, and I'm genuinely excited for the additional original music to come from series music producer Swizz Beatz."
    • Queens creator Zahir McGhee conceived the series with the specific goal of mining ’90s hip-hop nostalgia -- but he also had an eye on Brandy:  "I became obsessed with Brandy the human as a character and saw all of these things that were analogous to Naomi in the show,” said McGhee, who read a 2020 Washington Post profile on Brandy on her struggles away from the public as he was developing his series. Brandy finally signed on in March. She said that McGhee’s pilot script spoke to her more than any other she has read, given her personal experience with navigating single motherhood and rediscovering her voice after a time away from the spotlight. “Music is my first love, so to be a part of a show where I can actually sing, dance, rap, act — it’s like a dream role,” says Brandy. She adds: "What I love is that no matter what, no matter how old, no matter how young, your dreams are important. If you still have your desire, if you still have a passion for what you do, there are always second and third chances. That’s how the universe works, especially if you’re putting in the work."

    TOPICS: Queens (ABC Series), ABC, Brandy Norwood, Eve, Nadine Velazquez, Naturi Naughton, Zahir McGhee




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