Don being announced as the host of Soul Train.
Announcer: Now here's your host: Don Cornelius.

As Don tries to court big names in advertising, a lawyer and southern affiliate threaten his progress. Meanwhile, the kids are dealing with their own obstacles.

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As Don tries to court big names in advertising, a lawyer and southern affiliate threaten his progress. Meanwhile, the kids are dealing with their own obstacles.

Director(s) Peter O’Fallon
Writer(s) Jonathan Prince, Devon Greggory
Air Date 2/5/2019
Introduced This Episode
Ilsa Shannon Kane
Mr. Willard Keith Arthur Bolden
Andrea Ashani Roberts
Leland Ron Clinton Smith
Brooks James Devoti
Brianne Kelly Price
Joseph Joseph Lee Anderson

You Gotta Take The Good With The Bad: Simone, Kendall, Brianne, Joseph

With Kendall having the draft and being kicked out of school looming over his head, getting on Soul Train could be the best thing to happen to him. Granted, it wouldn’t keep him from going to Vietnam, but with a son and family to take care of, even a little bit of money could help. Especially since Simone is only 16 and isn’t working yet and their mom takes care of older white folk. A job which pays but certainly weighs on her dignity sometimes.

But, despite money worries and the reluctant acceptance of going to war, there was the silver lining of Joseph, the patriarch, coming home. However, the only thing which enters Brianne’s door are two men with their condolences. Making it seem either Joseph was dead when we saw him waving goodbye to his men, like a guardian angel going home, or his helicopter was shot down.

Joseph (Joseph Lee Anderson) talking to his family from Vietnam.
Joseph (Joseph Lee Anderson)

I Need Real Money: JT, Mr. Willard, Andrea

Things are hard in JT’s life. His momma, Andrea, is a fiend, his little sister is screaming all the time, and no matter how many shifts he picks up, it isn’t enough to keep Mr. Willard away. Well, not only away from the apartment door but using JT’s momma’s (pick your euphemism) as a means of shaving some of the rent money off the top.

So, with driving around a local Crip making JT some good cash, he does it again but ends up part of a jewelry heist turned murder. Not by killing anyone, but being the getaway driver. Then, to make things worse, the person who was killed was a cop.

If It Ain’t One thing, It’s The Other: Don, Gladys, Ilsa,  Leland, Brooks, Tessa, Gerald

Being that Don doesn’t have a partner in this venture, even if you count the eccentric gangster Gerald, things are tough for him. After all, he is a former cop with limited experience in entertainment. So while he may have won Gladys Knight over, then her label’s lawyer Ilsa slips in and seems ready to shut everything down. Following that, the man who owns 6 of the 14 markets Soul Train is supposed to be in talks about pulling out. Lastly, there is this unfortunate need to admit that, if Don really wants a go, he is going to have to get a white boy, like Brooks, working for him. Which, considering his sell to Gladys was everything being Black-owned, ran, and starring, it puts a blemish on him.

Brooks (James Devoti) making a case for himself.
Brooks (James Devoti): Everything except a white boy.

Especially since, when it comes to Leland, Don fixes that problem with some sex workers. However, with Leland attracting Coca-Cola, he shows his worth. Thus leaving only two issues for Don to tackle: First is winning over Ilsa, which is easy once Gladys and Don decide to play by the rules. The next problem is Tessa.

At this point, Tessa may believe in Don’s dream but doesn’t like the role he keeps pushing her to play in it. She is a trained dancer treated like a secretary sometimes. So, it comes to the point she wants to quit. However, with getting to actually do her job, see Don execute his plan, control his set and all, she snatches that letter of resignation off Don’s desk and goes about her merry way.


The Business Side To Running A Show/ Don Is A Bad Motherf***er

While a work of historical fiction, there is a sense of realness that makes you feel the need to take note of how Don got everything together. Granted, we don’t see him go to a bank, talk about hiring people and everything, but there is enough shown to give you an idea of the challenges he faced. Be it the Tessa situation and dealing with employees who don’t see their place in your vision. Then there is Ilsa who, being that you are up and coming, is challenging you. Not because she necessarily wants to be an ass, but remind you that there is a system in place and you can’t necessarily change it.

But it also goes as far as Don having to be the HNIC. After all, while his name isn’t on the show, his reputation is on the line, and with Brooks bringing in white advertisers, like Coca-Cola, there is a whole other issue. One which shows the difficulty of trying to be pro-Black but recognize you need white money to finance such an expedition.

Though, let’s not discount we also have the issue of there not being much in the way of opportunity. So while Simone is dealing with a girl trying to steal her shine, the way Don handled things was both firm but also pushed the idea you aren’t going to get away with the same BS twice. Also, one last thing I think is worth noting is, after everything was done, he thanked Tessa for her work. Yes, he pissed her off multiple times to the point of typing up a resignation letter, but him saying thanks, letting her do what she was hired for, went a long way and led to her rescinding her resignation.

Playboy Don

I don’t know if Walls just has a certain charm to him or it was just how Don was, but between Gladys and Ilsa, sometimes I forget Don is married. Which is a shame too since Delores seems like a good woman but when you have Kelly Rowland playing Gladys as she does, and the way Kane gives Ilsa this oomph, while the actresses aren’t competing, Rowland and Kane give you something sugary and addictive while Delores’ actress gives you something whole grain.

Low Point

JT’s Storyline

The problem with JT is that his story feels so separated from what is going on with Soul Train and Don Cornelius that it is like he has his own show. One dealing with how the Crips were in the 70s and possibly how they evolved or devolved depending on how you see it, to an organization which isn’t so much a street fraternity, as Killer Mike would call it, but instead the negative connotations associated with gang culture. Now, don’t get me wrong, BET producing an urban drama about the rise and changes of the Black Panthers, Bloods, Crips, and more could be of interest, but that is not this show.

On The Fence

Clarke Family Blues

Brianne (Kelly Price) looking worried.
Brianne (Kelly Price)

In comparison to JT’s situation, you can find some appreciation in the Clarke family and what they go through. For one of the things which is probably of interest to many is the lives of the dancers, especially since there were a handful which went on to big things, like Rosie Perez in later years. But, I must admit, as much as I loved hearing Simone, JT and Kendall sing together, there remains that feeling that things which don’t deal with Don and Soul Train don’t belong.

Which isn’t to say, like with JT, on a separate show this couldn’t be an interesting story. But it is like watching the Bobby Brown or New Edition miniseries and there being a noticeable piece featuring the security guard who was around what happened. Yes, that person likely has some wild stories, but that isn’t the selling point here. If anything, it feels like filler.

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