THE SERIES “Tales”
WHEN | WHERE Premieres Tuesday at 8 p.m. on BET
WHAT IT’S ABOUT The new series from Irv “Gotti” Lorenzo — the music mogul behind Murder Inc., the hit-making label that launched the careers of Ja Rule and Glen Cove’s Ashanti — takes its inspiration from hip-hop classics. For each episode, Gotti uses a song as a jumping off point for a fictional story. Future shows in the series will be sparked by Jay Z’s “99 Problems,” Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen” and the Notorious B.I.G.’s “I Got a Story to Tell.” The debut episode uses N.W.A.’s “[Expletive] tha Police” as its inspiration, imagining a world where black people hold all the power and white people are an oppressed minority.
MY SAY The first “Tales” is like a hip-hop “Twilight Zone,” with Gotti even appearing in a cameo as the judge presiding over the murder trial of two black police officers who shot and killed a defenseless white teen. The trial sets the framework for the episode, which centers on police brutality in this fantasy, black-majority world. Hardworking Brody (Matthew Noszka) witnesses the police harassment of his friend Jaden (Parker Sack) that escalates into a scuffle. Before he is shot multiple times, Jaden tells one of the officers, “I could be your son” only to be called “white trash” and shot by both officers. Between an audio recording from Jaden’s phone and Brody’s eyewitness testimony, young district attorney Ray Vance (Boris Kodjoe) believes he has enough evidence to take the case to trial. That’s when things start to go off the rails.
With the N.W.A. classic as the inspiration, it’s clear where Gotti will be coming from. And this story would be compelling enough without all the additional atrocities Gotti piles up over the course of two hours. There’s another unarmed white man harassed by police as he leaves a bar and is then beaten to death. That beating is caught on video by one of Brody’s friends and sparks protests throughout the city.
To compound the problems, Brody begins an affair with Jenny (Nafessa Williams), the attractive young wife of influential TV anchor Bob Davis (Clifton Powell), who employs Brody as a servant. Brody and Jenny’s unlikely affair seems built only on their mutual hotness, since they don’t have anything else in common. Jenny is pushing Brody to testify, while his brother Troy — intensely played by a tatted-up Chet Hanks, son of Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson — is begging him not to testify for his own safety.
Gotti’s subject matter is important and his approach is interesting, especially when he replaces some black victims of police brutality, like Rodney King, with white actors. However, real life unfortunately provides way too many examples that need no embellishment to be poignant. Gotti would have made his point far more clearly if he just kept things simple and focused on the individual injustice rather than tackling all injustice. One thing “Tales” does show, though, is how inspirational a single hip-hop classic can be.
BOTTOM LINE A clever idea weighed down by heavy-handed storyline.