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Fox's Our Kind of People is hindered by choices that make it clunky and forgettable

  • The Yaya DaCosta-led drama series about a single mom who's trying to build her hair-care business in the wealthy Black community of Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard features solid performances that can't overcome lackluster scripts. "Fox’s Our Kind of People is easy to want to like, and occasionally it’s actually easy to like," says Angie Han. "Billed as a juicy family saga à la Empire (with whom it shares executive producer Lee Daniels), the hourlong drama promises dramatic twists, luxe-life wish fulfillment and fabulously attired actors ripping into each other at fancy parties — all with an undercurrent of social commentary, based as it is on Lawrence Otis Graham’s critically acclaimed 1999 book of the same name about the Black upper class in America. Alas, though the show delivers to some degree on all the above, it’s also seriously hindered by a script that prioritizes breakneck pacing over common sense or characterization, and that rarely lets a theme simmer on the level of subtext when it can just come out and have a character spell out the metaphors for you. It’s not just clunky, it’s forgettable — the last thing a show that seems designed for virtual watercooler chat should be." Han adds: "What Our Kind of People does do rather well is capture the class anxiety of the wealthy, which for the summer residents of Oak Bluffs is further compounded by their experience of Blackness; families like the Duponts and Franklins are all too aware that money can go only so far in insulating them from a racist world. Characters spend great lengths of time fretting about the legacy they’ve inherited from their forebears and the status they’ll pass on to their descendants, and the extreme pressure to keep even a single crack from showing. There’s a sense that the upper crust of Oak Bluffs can never quite relax, which casts a dimension of tragedy on even the meanest among them. As with almost everything else about Our Kind of People, however, its observations about race and class tend to be buried under the relentlessness of the plot."


    • Our Kind of People makes its characters speak more encyclopedias than fully formed characters: "Our Kind of People depends so heavily on exposition and constant plot machinations that it barely gives itself room to breathe," says Caroline Framke. "Case in point: the very first line of the series from Nikki Vaughn (Alana Bright), a teenager moving to the Vineyard with her mother Angela (Yaya DaCosta) and aunt Patricia (Debbi Morgan). As they leave Boston in a convertible and whirlwind of giddy anticipation, wind whipping through their hair like, in Patricia’s words, 'a white woman’s shampoo commercial,' Nikki leans into the front seat and says, 'did you know that the Black elite have been coming here since the late 1800’s?' Yes, of course they know that defining characteristic of the place they’re moving to, where Angela’s recently deceased mother spent every summer working as a maid for those very Black elite. Nikki would know that, too. But in its haste to get the Fox audience on board, or at least its white audience that wouldn’t necessarily know the history of the Bluffs, Our Kind of People immediately makes its actors speak like encyclopedias rather than fully formed characters. Just about every scene follows in this line’s footsteps, dropping exposition and moving the plot forward with relentless speed."
    • Our Kind of People seems to be trying very hard to rekindle appointment TV for Black audiences: "it’s not especially worth the effort," says Candice Frederick. "In fact, after the first episode, you might consider jumping ship altogether. That’s because the premiere sets up a familiar template that you could probably predict through the end. It’s a shame, because the show boasts wonderful talent like Debbi Morgan, Joe Morton and Morris Chestnut, who is mostly phoning in his performance in the first two episodes made available to press. Even he seems bewildered by the paint-by-numbers plot."
    • Morris Chestnut hopes viewers will be drawn to Our Kind of People as if it were Empire, Scandal or Dynasty: “I wanted to hop into this world so people can grab their popcorn and hot tea and see what happens,” he says with a chuckle. “I was a huge fan of Empire and I thought it was culturally iconic. It introduced a whole new audience to a glamourous and musical family and culture.”
    • Creator Karin Gist got the blessing of Our Kind of People author Lawrence Otis Graham before his death in February: Gist received Graham's blessing to create a fictionalized world that was informed by the interviews he conducted. Once Gist assembled her creative team, they quickly realized that Yaya DaCosta “embodies so many of the qualities that I saw for Angela," the lead character. “Her essence is empowered; she celebrates Black beauty and hair,” Gist said. “She’s very centered and grounded, but she can also give a little spice and a little attitude.” Asked to describe what sets Our Kind of People apart from Empire, DaCosta responded: "My understanding is that a show like Empire was chronicling the life of a family that was self-made. You see their journey from the 'hood' to success. The difference here is that families that vacation in Martha’s Vineyard generally come from multigenerational wealth, so there’s a different energy, there’s a different ease. They’re not entertainers, they’re not athletes, and that’s the part that is new...It’s not new to see Black people with money. It’s new to see communities that were able to defy the odds of the atrocities of history — the burning down of Black Wall Street, the decimation of entire communities that were self-sufficient. When enslaved people freed themselves and were building their cities and having full infrastructures, those places were literally burned down."
    • Yaya DaCosta breaks down the season premiere twist

    TOPICS: Our Kind of People, FOX, Karin Gist, Lawrence Otis Graham, Lee Daniels, Morris Chestnut, Yaya DaCosta