Season 2 feels like the end of a significant chapter in the show, and the start of a new one which could potentially revitalize the show.
|Created By||Rebecca Cutter|
|Genre(s)||Action, Comedy, Crime, Drama, Romance, LGBT|
|Ray||James Badge Dale|
|Janelle||Crystal Lee Brown|
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In season 2, Ray is doing his darndest to return to a place of prominence. Whether it is trying to work with Alan or Jackie, he tries to redeem himself for the screw-up that led to Frankie’s release. As that happens, for a little bit, Ray tries to connect with his kid, Nick, but once it is clear that would mean accountability and consistency, that storyline goes to the wayside.
Now, switching to Jackie, with joining the state police comes her not heeding Ray’s warning about her co-worker Leslie, with who she has a fling with. The kind that leads to her becoming obsessed, if not outright addicted to her, and her sobriety dependent on what Leslie says and does. Which ends up triggering a fallout with Ed and multiple relapses.
But, despite Ray and Jackie’s struggles, lucky for them, between Charmaine, Osito, and Frankie, enough mistakes are made to get the wins they so desperately need – but at a cost.
Course Correcting When Necessary
One of the things we’ve always admired about Hightown is that it isn’t the kind of show which sticks to its guns when it comes to storylines or characters who don’t have long-term value or potential. In our opinion, a lot of the things which don’t work or were a bit of a crapshoot do get discarded, and in many ways, you can see this as bringing a sense of realism to the show.
Now, we won’t pretend this doesn’t upset us sometimes. For whether it is how Ray’s kid is handled, Daisy, and Jorge, there are storylines we wish got delved into more or characters that got to stick around longer. But that’s the give and take here. Some of the experiments they keep around and see where they go, and other situations or characters, like Donna, slowly get phased out until you almost forget they are part of the show.
On Hightown, there are very few Black women on the show. There is Alan’s wife, Henrietta, who is barely seen and lives firmly in Alan’s shadow, and then there is Charmaine. She holds it down and like Osito, and Alan to a point, presents us with a character who deserves all the screentime she gets. As a drug dealer/ gangster, watching Charmaine go toe to toe with Alan, Frankie, and Jorge is the highlight of that episode. And in the rare moments when Charmaine is vulnerable, we’re reminded she is barely 18. Thus leading to getting to see the softer side to her that helps you realize she is simply a young woman who had to grow up quickly, was exposed to a toxic environment, but is making it work for her.
After all, as you’ll hear from many a character in the drug game – what’s the alternative? To go from making a thousand, if not thousands in a day, to working for minimum wage? To get a job that barely pays $1,000 in a month due to a load of taxes and fees taken from your check?
I mean, it isn’t a rock and a hard place type of decision, but it is the kind which helps you understand why, even though certain parts of the game Charmaine doesn’t like, she sticks with it. After all, there is nothing attractive about the alternative.
Yeah, there is less of a chance of jail time or death, but working for someone else, for the legal minimum they can pay you? That feels like jail. Then doing that until you can hopefully impress someone to make more, and just trading in a barely maintained prison for a white-collar crime one, maybe? That probably would trigger her to feel like she is dying inside, so better to be a drug dealer with money and opportunity than a 9 to 5 person looking forward to the weekend under some false sense that those two days are freedom.
When it comes to Osito, like Charmaine, just the physical alone makes you take note of him. He is a heavyset dude with Black features and yet is made to stand out not just on the show but in terms of how gangster characters are written in general. I mean, put it to you this way, Osito is in prison for most of the season, with very few interactions with notable characters, yet still stands out and is one of the best performers!
And I’d contribute that to, like Charmaine, there being a balance between who they have to be to stay in the drug game and who they are as a person. As shown through Osito’s relationship with Vernon, and as he explains to his boo thang Janelle, where Osito comes from, he is about community. So while he has no problem catching a body, he’d just as much would want to invest in someone, love on someone, and not just pick them up and encourage them when they fall, but see them reach new heights, especially if he can help.
Thus giving you a character who, like with Ray with Jackie, might not be in the most prominent position on the hero/villain side but is shown to be more than capable of taking that role.
It’s a rare thing to see, at least on American soil, a character like Daisy. She is Asian American, one or two generations separated from her family immigrating to the US, and she doesn’t fit the model minority stereotype. Daisy has struggles, the kind which makes you think of Renee, but with her not getting with a Frankie type who makes it big, but rather some bum who left her with a rap sheet.
And like so many people of color on this show, you are given this vibe that there is just a wealth of storylines here. I mean, there is her relationship with her parents and meeting them, us getting to see her fight for custody of her daughter, the struggles of her dating a man like Jorge, and even being coerced into being a snitch for Jackie.
All of this and more gave us a character who could have brought so many new things to the program – if they didn’t get shot in the face.
Ray is what holds this show together. While there is a need to praise Charmaine and Osito and what they bring to the show, I would submit Ray is the only character who knows how to be the star of his own story and the supporting role in someone else’s. When it comes to Jackie, Alan, Renee, and others, Ray is the kind of character who gives and takes, makes it so everyone can look good in the situation, and fans get entertained. This is compared to Osito and Charmaine, who are written and performed to challenge and punk other characters, and often do just that.
However, I’d even add when it comes to Ray, he can have a whole separate storyline where no other series regular gets involved, in terms of his kid and ex, and it does not create a liability on the show. Now, would I call meeting his family an asset? No. But it was appreciated, especially as we see him prepare to start a new family with Renee.
Jorge Made A Nice Guest Star
While Frankie is a gangster and lead villain, Jorge brought the kind of personality which makes you wish he got out of jail in season 1. For just the jokes Jorge cracks on Renee alone make you think this man deserves all he was paid and more. Add on him giving Frankie’s organization a much-needed boost with him no longer having Osito in his roster? You may feel that Jorge was one of the best reoccurring characters this season.
The Length Of Time Between Jackie’s Relapses
It’s acknowledged that Jackie is an addict. She inherited this from her father, Rafael, and when she isn’t drinking, doing drugs, or having sex to make herself feel better, she obsesses over Leslie to get her fix. And by default, when Jackie goes through hardship, the potential of a relapse is there. My problem is, it isn’t every other setback that leads to Jackie going on a binge, but damn near each one. So, almost every 3 or 4 episodes, Jackie relapses.
This helps you build a tolerance to her relapses, and considering the show isn’t built for you to root for Jackie’s sobriety either, it just makes her a broken record. The type of character who, even if she falls for a different reason, you become so used to it that it utterly lacks any impact. If anything, it is just something to roll your eyes about and, at this point, fast forward through till you get to the next scene.
On The Fence
There is a need to praise Alan for certain things, like him being a dark-skinned Black man who is a clean cop, has a lovely family, and honors his vows. But the problem is, for all the good he is on paper, he is utterly dull in action. Alan doesn’t have any real kind of personality, and because of this, no matter who he is paired with, he gets swallowed up by them. And even when there is some attempt to make him be more or seen in a different way, like when he tries to get tough with Osito, you just roll your eyes. Hell, you may even laugh, even though I don’t believe that is meant to be your intended reaction.
Our Rating: Positive (Watch This)
While one of its lead characters are stuck in an asinine loop, and the other can barely stand toe to toe with any character in front of them, there is far more good when it comes to Hightown than there is bad. Plus, when you consider the continual effort to experiment and improve, even when it comes to Jackie and Alan, there is no guarantee they’ll remain blights in this series. Take note, Jackie and Leslie as a couple did put Jackie in a good place, and seeing her with her dad did help flesh out her backstory. Then with Alan, how things end with him, this season sets up the possibility of him going head to head with Ray, and that could cause a direly needed rebound for the character.
Hence why we are saying to watch this. Yes, there are flaws, but Hightown isn’t the kind of show that has a “take it or leave it” attitude. It wants to be better, keep you entertained, and when it has something that works, it usually sticks to it, or in the case of Jorge and Daisy, use characters like that to test what to potentially give fans down the road.