Nearly four months have passed since Starz’ sprawling “Power” universe last aired, following the April season finale of “Force,” centered on Tommy Egan. That’s not a lot of time, and certainly not the longest time between installments in “Power” creator Courtney Kemp’s ever-expanding array of cocaine entrepreneurs. But he feels long-standing proof that Kemp has managed to turn “Power” into a Marvel-esque narrative ecosystem, for better and for worse.
The “for worse” part comes when an extended amount of time passes, when the richness and depth of a long, hyperconnected story triggers audience anxiety about their ability to keep up with all of its machinations. For example, “Force” reintroduced the OG character Liliana (Audrey Esparza), who hadn’t been seen in over seven years since her first three-episode arc in “Power.” The move ultimately paid off, but it also signaled to the fanbase that, much like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, loving this show means accepting periodic homework and pop quizzes about its gnarly mythology.
That’s not the case with “Power Book III: Raising Kanan,” which returns for its second season on August 14 and wields the same double-edged sword in its non-dominant hand. “Kanan” is the only prequel to the “Power” verse, an origin story tracing the titular character’s journey from a sentient high schooler (played by newcomer Mekai Curtis) to the monstrous adult version (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson ) who still reigns supreme. as the franchise’s most loathsome Big Bad. Kanan Stark is long dead, and the prequel is set too far in the past to impact the current storyline.
The self-contained nature of “Kanan” was once the show’s greatest weakness. But in its second season, with room to breathe and room to add more layers, the benefit of starting from scratch becomes clearer. “Kanan” feels like a reboot of “Power” at times, an early ’90s piece far enough removed from the original that creator Sascha Penn can tell familiar stories as if they were brand new. Perhaps that’s why it manages to feel more like watching the original “Power” than either of its supercharged sequels, “Ghost” and “Force.”
The action picks up about three months after the events of the season finale as Kanan and his queen mother Raquel (Spooky and Beautiful Patina Miller) wrap up their summer vacation in Virginia Beach. The couple hastily fled their stomping grounds in southern Jamaica, Queens, after Kanan shot Detective Howard (Omar Epps) on his mother’s instructions. The stunt was Raquel’s sleek solution to two thorny problems: competition from rival street druggist Unique (Joey Bada$$), who was chosen as a scapegoat, and encroachment from Howard, who insists that he is Kanan’s biological father and wants a place in his son’s. life.
Naturally, Howard survives the attack, while Unique is still charged with the attempted murder, Howard is back on the streets with more reason than ever to interfere in Raq and Kanan’s affairs. Meanwhile, Raq’s underbosses, his brothers Marvin (London Brown) and Lou-Lou (Malcolm Mays), create as many problems as they solve. That’s especially the case with Lou-Lou, whose hip hop label, reminiscent of a fledgling Bad Boy Records, demands the attention Raq squarely wants on his rapidly expanding crack business.
Raq remains overambitious, and the costs of her move-and-break business ethos will be front and center this season judging by the four episodes screened for critics. In the season premiere, she announces that she has moved away from the local boy model and moved to a housing project in the city, where residents have been paid to keep quiet about everything. floor that has been converted into an all-in-one production. installation and point of sale. If this innovation sounds familiar, it might be because it’s the same pattern at the entrance to “New Jack City,” the classic hip hop gangster flick starring Wesley Snipes at the peak of his game.
“Kanan” is the closest thing to a remake of “New Jack City,” with a deep devotion to the environment that bore the brunt of the crack epidemic and inspired some of the best hip hop music and R&B never recorded. (“City” star and director Mario Van Peebles also helms the season premiere, adding an extra layer of authenticity.) Such amusing period details abound in the series, whether it’s the penchant for ‘a character for the defunct soft drink Tahitian Treat or to have Quincy Brown, who plays Lou-Lou’s musical partner, walk into a house party where his father’s hit song (“Nite and Day” from ‘Al B. Sure).
But the show works just as well as an adrenalized family drama as it does an exercise in ’90s nostalgia. The toxic parental bonds have long been the biggest staple of the “Power” verse, but the mother-son dynamic between Raq and Kanan is particularly twisted. Season 2 finds their relationship increasingly perverse as Kanan grapples with the emotional fallout of his attack on Howard. He’s actually shaken by it, which will surprise those who’ve met Kanan as a mustache-twirling antagonist who revels in torture and gunplay. All the more reason to see how he evolves into a monster that only an equally monstrous mother could love.
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