Fox's 'Our Kind of People' Review: Yaya DaCosta Takes on Old-Money Black Snobs

Fox's 'Our Kind of People' Review: Yaya DaCosta Takes on Old-Money Black Snobs

Karin Gist and Lee Daniels’ new series packs in a lot of soapy plot, but misses an opportunity to really explore class issues

Fox

It’s been three years since “Scandal,” when the allure of live tweeting series on a weekly basis was at its peak for Black Twitter. Since then, many other soapy, watch-after-you’ve-put-the-kids-to-sleep dramas, like Netflix’s “Firefly Lane” and “Sex/Life,” have popped up on streaming platforms, threatening to dismantle the online group viewing experience in favor of binge watching. But Fox’s new melodrama, “Our Kind of People,” from Karen Gist and Lee Daniels, seems to be trying very hard to rekindle appointment TV for Black audiences with a saga about class wars in the uppity Martha’s Vineyard town of Oak Bluffs.

And it’s not especially worth the effort. In fact, after the first episode, you might consider jumping ship altogether. That’s because the premiere sets up a familiar template that you could probably predict through the end. It’s a shame, because the show boasts wonderful talent like Debbi Morgan, Joe Morton and Morris Chestnut, who is mostly phoning in his performance in the first two episodes made available to press. Even he seems bewildered by the paint-by-numbers plot.

“Our Kind of People” begins with a family in mourning over the death of Evelyn Vaughn, a single mother and Black natural-hair entrepreneur who instilled a sense of pride in her daughter, Angela (the underrated Yaya DaCosta), herself a single mother who is determined to continue her mother’s business legacy. Angela, along with her own daughter, Nikki (Alana Bright), and aunt, Patricia aka Piggy (Morgan), arrive in Oak Bluffs from Boston with plans to settle into the house that was left behind in Evelyn’s name and transform it into a Black hair mecca.

Gist, Daniels and the rest of the writing team make a pointed attempt to contrast the old school/old money setting with the experience of Angela, a social-media-savvy young Black woman from “Eastside” Boston. (Note: I was born and raised in Boston proper and have never heard of such a place, and neither has my mother, despite DaCosta’s Angela proudly stating this as if it has the same connotation as, say, Southside Chicago. And there’s really no need to create fictional Black neighborhoods in Boston when such areas already exist there. This is a minor but pesky detail that undermines the class conflict at the center of the plot.)

Angela is often posting uplifting hair-care videos on Instagram and TikTok to promote her brand, Eve’s Crown, and finagles her way — with Nikki and Aunt Piggy in tow — into the country club-like parties and women’s boards around Oak Bluffs to network and gain donors. She also wins over the handsome Tyrique (Lance Gross) while other upper-crust locals look on in disgust and try to come up with ways to sabotage her — led by fellow businesswoman Leah Franklin-Dumont (Nadine Ellis) her husband, Raymond (Chestnut), and father, Teddy (Morton). And this all occurs just in the first episode.

From there, you can more or less see where the narrative will eventually go, though the second episode tries to throw in some twists that still wind up being predictable.

“Our Kind of People” is most interesting as an exploration of how the American Dream can differ for Black families, a topic too often explored one-dimensionally (if at all). It’s a dynamic that may be better explored in Lawrence Otis Graham’s book, “Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class,” which inspired this series. But in the show’s early episodes, both Angela and her family as well as Leah and hers look to secure legacy in a space that has historically granted Black people opulence — an important record that isn’t so much as footnoted.

The series attempts to explore how Oak Bluffs, once a land of wealth opportunities for all Black people, became one exclusively for Black people who’ve managed to stay there throughout generations — and not Black folks trying to carve new opportunities for themselves today.

As interesting as that is, Gist and Daniels more often rely on low-hanging-fruit storylines — from secret, inter-class family members to teenage attempted murder plots to drug busts. While that might appeal to some audiences, the show misses a huge opportunity to examine class structure (including how that seeps into Black hair politics that are glossed over here), Oak Bluffs history and the dream of getting that proverbial slice of American pie.

“Our Kind of People” so far also spends far too much time having Angela and Leah one-up each other without really humanizing either of them. Perhaps future episodes will unpack some of the more fascinating underlying themes, but the first two episodes are really not a great sign — especially not when audiences have myriad small-screen fare to choose from that both compels and entertains them right away.  

“Our Kind of People” premieres on Fox on Sept. 21.

For the record: A previous version of this review misidentified the actor playing Leah.

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