SERIES "Our Kind of People"
WHEN|WHERE Premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m on Fox/5.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Single mom Angela Vaughn (Yaya DaCosta) has arrived in Oak Bluffs — an exclusive century-old enclave of Black wealth and privilege on Martha's Vineyard — to start a hair care business. But first, she needs a story which she also happens to believe is true: That her own mother, now deceased, was a member of the upper crust here, which has earned her a pass go card into the Vineyard's high society circles. Those who control those circles, however, have other ideas. They're the power elite, including corporate titan Teddy Franklin (Joe Morton) and Raymond Dupont (Morris Chestnut), and they don't like interlopers. Fortunately, Angela has an important ally and resource — her shrewd aunt ("All My Children's Debbi Morgan).
From Karin Gist ("Star") and Lee Daniels ("Empire"), this is loosely adapted from the 1999 nonfiction book, "Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class" by Lawrence Otis Graham, which explored the Black aristocracy of Sag Harbor and Oak Bluffs.
MY SAY When promoting his bestseller about Black socialites back in the early aughts, Graham was attending a cocktail party out in Los Angeles when he was verbally accosted by a partygoer, described only as a young Black woman and "attractive Yale graduate."
"You better not show your face in Martha's Vineyard this summer,'' he recalled her saying, and apparently she meant it. Briefly taken aback, Graham was not surprised. As he explained in the forward of a later edition, he'd gotten lots of blowback over the book because "for many people, [it's] a political or social hot potato in the sense that even though most Blacks talk about the issues of elitism, racial passing, class structure and skin color within the Black community, they don't want to see it broadcast in a book."
And now, oh dear, they're about to see it broadcast in prime-time. What will the upper crust of Martha's Vineyard think now?
Fortunately, Daniels has made it easy for them: They won't have to think at all. No one will. "Our Kind of People'' is that kind of show. It's a prime-time soap full of so many prime-time soap tropes that some don't even have names yet. But they will. Indeed they will — they're that silly, or irresistible
A little bit of "Dallas," a little bit of "Empire," "Our Kind of People'' is a whole lot of what you expect it to be. Some of what (or who) Graham explored in the book is here, but the names have been changed to protect the innocent and guilty. The throughline, meanwhile, remains the same — no matter race or creed, the One Percent can always be expected to behave appallingly.
Showrunners Gist and Daniels have assembled a cast of solid pros who know what they've gotten themselves into and know exactly how to earn their paycheck. They start earning it fast. Morton's Teddy Franklin, the scheming oligarch who effectively runs Oak Bluffs, has a rousing speech in the middle of Tuesday's opener where he schools his preening offspring in the ABCs of his own particular brand of corporate malfeasance: "We do these things to show that we have arrived, so that we can keep our heads up high and the last of us never has to bend his back in a cotton field ever again."
Yes, the writing is that broad but Morton, a master salesperson, knows exactly how to sell the speech and does. Over that brief span, the potential for a watchable series really emerges. It's all about class divisions, social hierarchies, power structures and (of course) food chains. It's about how the past is used to justify the means — however sordid — of the present. It's about rich people behaving badly.
Mostly, it's about hair. There's a lot of hair in "Our Kind of People."
Maybe the Oak Bluffs croquet set will be scandalized after all.
BOTTOM LINE Silly, fun, frothy, watchable.