RUNNING TIME: 393 minutes
The Showtime melodrama/asstravoganza.
Nicole Ari Parker, Rockmond Dunbar, Aaron Meeks, Darrin Henson, Jeff Woolnough, Boris Kodjoe, Terrence Howard
Based on the eponymous 1997 film, Soul Food: The Third Season follows the highs and lows of the tightly knit Joseph sisters, led by high-powered attorney Teri Joseph (Parker). The series explores the sisters’ family interrelationships as they encounter marital infidelity, workplace politics, ghosts, burglars, sports injuries, and a hearty serving platter of other challenges.
Food also offers up a host of surprise appearances, as it features Terrence Howard, Usher, Rip Torn, and Faye Dunaway in major roles.
Soul Food series creator George Tillman, Jr. must be the Russ Meyer of men’s asses.
There isn’t another reasonable explanation for the vast ocean of buttocks on display in nearly every single episode. There isn’t any female nudity, which I understand is pretty rare for a Showtime series, but there’s plenty of man ass on display; in fact, the third season opens with a lingering shot on a pair of cheeks. The nudity skews so sharply and ludicrously toward the male posterior that it’s a little jarring. If you like chiseled malebutts, though, you’ll be very pleased, because Soul Food has them out the literal wazoo.
Food begins with Teri Joseph’s new lover, Damon (Modjoe), wrestling with the ghost of his dead ex, and follows their relationship closely throughout the series. Teri earns a top spot at a prestigious law firm, and tangles with her new boss, played by Faye Dunaway. Dunaway, one of a large group of celebrity cameo appearances in the series, plays the menacing executive with a good amount of flair, although her upper row of wood-brown teeth were more than distracting. That the show’s producers didn’t insist on some kind of temporary whitening solution or CGI tooth enhancements is a huge pity for fans of both Dunaway and general dental hygiene.
Food doesn’t have a star, per se. Nicole Ari Parker’s Teri might have the most screen time, but there’s plenty of drama to go around, as sisters Maxine and Tracy share the spotlight with compelling story arcs of their own. The “husband group”, led by Kenny Chadway (Rockmond Dunbar, who might have the most manly name since Dick Army), balances out the estrogen factor and provides a cohesive counterpoint to the women in the show. Ahmed Chadway (Aaron Meeks) shines as the kid who’s perpetually caught in the middle, and does a great job lightening the series with comic, gentle moments. Rip Torn plays one of Teri’s clients, and Terrence Howard steals the show as a hot shot pro basketball player.
Fans of Soul Food’s other seasons shouldn’t be disappointed, as most of the character arcs have reasonably satisfying resolutions, although a few of them wrap up a little too quickly and easily. The show tackles plenty of “issues of the day,” such as gun control and child welfare, and handles most of them with reverent-yet-mechanical competence. What’s best about the show is its intelligent, saccharine-free look at family relationships. The conflicts tend to be realistic. There are no hero characters, and everyone has their own set of unique flaws and assets. The husbands and wives are multidimensional beings- they come from the dramatic space between dramatic space.
Speaking of bad writing, Soul Food‘s dialogue is pretty awful. There are a few bright moments, but most of the writing sounds startlingly soap operatic. While this shouldn’t be a surprise to fans of the series, if you’re looking for writing on par with other high profile pay cable dramas (e.g. Weeds, The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire, and so forth), you’re clearly ordering the wrong dish. Soul Food is first and foremost a melodrama.
The performances are generally all watchable, although Boris Modjoe always sounds like he’s reading his lines. Dunbar and Henson seem to be wearing perpetual scowls. Apparently, being married to the Joseph girls is a recipe for constant frowning, brow-furrowing, and under-the-breath swears.
The “bottom” line: If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll probably be happy with this release. If you liked the film, it stands to reason that you might enjoy the show, as it’s competently directed and acted, and is populated with believable and interesting characters. I can’t recommend this to anyone who doesn’t love the film or isn’t already a fan of the first two seasons.
Sadly, LeVar Burton, who directed several episodes of prior Soul Food seasons, remains conspicuously absent from the final series. Perhaps he was the only gatekeeper preventing the legions of buttocks from invading prior seasons.
The box art is a somewhat pleasant photo of the cast, and the DVD case is actually pretty economical with space, as it does a great job of fitting four discs into a regular-sized box. I wish all season sets were this thrifty with real estate.