Welcome to our weekly column Can’t Miss Episode of the Week! Every Saturday we’ll be spotlighting a different episode of television from that week that we thought was exceptional and a must-see. Check back to see if your favorite show got the nod — or to learn about a new one! Spoilers ahead.
You shouldn’t judge a show based on a bad pilot. A first episode can often be shaky, and not representative of the show’s actual quality. But what about when a series has a premiere that blows your mind? That can, hopefully, be a sign of great things to come. Such is the case with ABC’s newest drama Queens, which premiered on October 19, and is honestly one of the best pilots I’ve seen in quite some time.
Queens follows four women who in the 9’0s achieved brief fame as the (fictional) hip-hop group Nasty Bitches. Now it’s 20 years later, and they’re given the opportunity to regroup and make another go at success while rebranded as Queens. To set things up, the episode opens by dropping us right into an over-the-top music video in 1999 for the group’s hit “Nasty Girl,” complete with a helicopter, a mansion going up in flames, and a whole dance sequence on a yacht. It’s a stirring way to introduce the show, but it’s not just flash. The sequence is interspersed with flashforwards to current day, so that as we meet each character in the music video, we also get an idea of what their lives are like now, and just how much things have changed. Setting up an ensemble cast can get tricky, but this approach is both entertaining and efficient.
It also brings me to the main reason to fall in love with this show: the characters. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a black woman in your forties who used to be a hip-hop star, you will still relate to these women. Brianna/Professor Sex (Eve) is a mom with five kids who just found out her husband is cheating on her. Naomi/Xplicit Lyrics (Brandy) was always the talent of the group, but never managed to break out as a solo artist. Valeria/Butter Pecan (Nadine Velazquez) is too ambitious for her own good. Having now watched her career blow up in her face, she realizes how much she needs this family. Jill/Da Thrill (Naturi Naughton) is perhaps the most evocative Queen, as she tries to find the courage to come out as gay, despite being very religious and married.
They’re all struggling in some way, and reforming the group is a way to feel brave again, to have success again, to have a family. When Brianna taps into her Professor Sex alter ego and tells off her husband when he claims that his cancer was possibly the reason he cheated, the moment feels ripe for applause. Meanwhile, Naomi has a literal mic drop moment when she encounters some hecklers while she’s singing country music at a bar. Lil Muffin (Pepi Sonuga) – the hot young artist who sampled their song and gives them the opportunity to perform with her at the BET Awards – also has her demons. A celebrity with a drug problem is a cliche, but where the show goes deeper with it is when Jill, a recovering addict herself, goes to bat for Lil Muffin, insisting that she get the help she needs. It’s emotional to see the bond form between these two characters.
The episode doesn’t let the drama slow down the momentum. Even in the middle of their big BET performance, which is an absolute blast, I found myself tearing up as Jill swaps in lyrics in order to come out in the song, and proudly admits she’s in love with a woman. It’s incredibly easy to root for these women, which makes it oh so satisfying when they triumph. And this premiere is that – a triumph. We can only hope the series continues to live up to the high expectations this episode sets.
Other observations we thought made this episode stand out:
- The scene with the rap improv shows how talented these women are, and it’s also super entertaining to watch.
- The pacing of this episode is perfect. We never lack for action (the fight between Naomi and Valeria), soapy drama (Valeria poisoning her co-host to get her to say stuff she shouldn’t on air), sensitivity (it really hits when Brianna realizes she doesn’t even get to be mad at her husband for cheating because he has cancer), and excitement (seriously, that BET performance is tremendous).
Queens, Tuesdays, 10/9c, ABC