‘P-Valley’ Season Two review: Uncle Clifford and the girls are back open for business in the midst of COVID [Grade: B-]
It’s been two years since Starz’s breakout summer hit P-Valley has graced the small screens for viewers. The first season premiered in the beginning of the pandemic months and found itself a captive audience to follow the goings-on at the Pynk, a strip club in the fictional town of Chucalissa in the Mississippi Delta. The wait is now over as the Pynk (and Starz) re-opens its doors and allows the audience a newer, wilder experience with the characters.
The first season ended with the events of “Murda Night,” a night Lil’ Murda was set to perform at the Pynk that devolved into chaos and gunfire, and the second season picks up a while after. The season opens by showing what the characters have been up to, as P-Valley has brought the very real pandemic into the fictional world of Chucalissa, Mississippi. The season opens by following a man at a birthday party that decides he needs some time to himself; as he’s riding around, he sees a woman holding a neon sign that points him towards “wings + titties.” He rides that way and the audience sees, for the first time, what the inhabitants of the Pynk have been up to: Pussyland. With COVID-19 restrictions handicapping the Pynk, the girls and Uncle Clifford have set up a new place (that looks like a car wash) to make money. In this “car wash,” the man rides in and is given the “Mercedes Experience;” there are women dancing everywhere with Mercedes on a platform, dancing.
It’s an interesting concept that directly explores how the pandemic impacted small businesses, especially for people in the lower-class tax bracket in the South, where it can be extremely difficult to find something else to do for income. This is something that P-Valley thoughtfully explores in its second season – whether it’s people who are overzealous in their masked protections against the virus or others who refuse to speak to people wearing masks. The series understands the struggles the virus caused, especially in the Deep South. Throughout the first five episodes that were made available to critics, COVID-19 is ever present. This creation of Pussyland shows the innovation required to make things work in the midst of a global pandemic. That is, people still need to make money and some had to come up with real-life innovations to combat poverty and not having the same means to make money. P-Valley joins the ranks of other shows (Superstore) that have successfully incorporated the pandemic into their seasons while progressing the story further.
The second season jumps right into the characters’ lives to show the audience what they’ve missed since the months since “Murda Night” and how COVID-19 has affected their lives. The first couple of episodes reveal the truth of what happened inside the Paradise Room in the first season’s finale – when Diamond was about to run in to see what was happening, three shots went off and prevented him from entering the room. When the Pynk is able to be reopened, Autumn wants to find new girls to start dancing; this is when we meet newcomers Whisper and Roulette (Psalms Salazar and Gail Bean, respectively). Whisper and Roulette add a new flavor to the Pynk, Roulette specifically being unpredictable and wild but beautiful when she pole-dances. Adding these new girls causes strife with Mercedes, who is still upset with Keyshawn for leaving them behind for her new career. Everything has changed at the Pynk and this season examines each character’s journey as they combat their own problems and COVID-19.
P-Valley’s direction (brought by an all-star team of women directors) is specific and shows off the style of the show while each director brings their own flair to each episode. The direction of the show understands that pole-dancing, first and foremost, is pure athleticism on display. The series understands that what these women do is a job that they get paid for and, while it’s sexy and beautiful, it takes a great deal of physical strength to do it. There’s another instance, similar to the first season’s pilot episode, that allows the audience to hear the dancer’s breath as she’s high up on the pole, flipping around. With women directing all episodes, pole-dancing isn’t something to just leer at, but admire as well. Without the determination of the actors and their stunt-doubles, this wouldn’t be possible.
The actors on P-Valley are the most valuable people on set, as they’re always capable of portraying the emotions and realisms of their characters. These actors know these characters and it shows. Brandee Evans is pitch-perfect as Mercedes, a stripper who wants better for herself and her daughter. Evans approaches this role with superb realism, allowing Mercedes to be a three-dimensional character that is so much more than a pole-dancer. Nicco Annan is a star, as he was in the first season, playing one of the owners of the Pynk. Annan gives Uncle Clifford the stern hand she needs to run her girls, while also playing her as a human that needs love and affection just like everyone else. Shannon Thornton returns as Keyshawn, aka Miss Mississippi, as she journeys into a new life as she goes on tour with Lil Murda. Thornton embodies Keyshawn, a domestic abuse survivor, with a strength that makes the character accessible even to those that have never been in her situation. The characters on the show feel real because of their actors, allowing the characters to be perceived as people in everyday situations.
The writing of the show’s second season leaves a little to be desired. While it allows the characters their feelings, but also oversteps in some instances. There are parts of the series that would benefit from less dialogue and more from the actors, but the writing doesn’t necessarily allow that. The first five episodes suffer from “overwriting” in some cases, where the actors are given lines of dialogue in an otherwise silent moment, making it feel exposition heavy. Specifically, there is a scene where Mercedes is alone, thinking to herself while she waits on someone – instead of utilizing Brandee Evans to portray everything going on in her head, the writing puts lines of dialogue for her that aren’t necessary. The season would benefit from allowing the actors to portray silent emotions instead of vocalizing their every thought. Less dialogue would behoove the series to allow the actors to convey these emotions. It’s not all bad, however, as there are still scenes with real humanity written into them.
P-Valley season two is full of emotional roller-coasters and character situations that the fans have come to expect and love. This season allows the direction to be more specific while allowing the characters and actors room to grow, with little writing problems here and there. The acting is full-force, just like the first season, each actor giving their all to the characters of Chucalissa. In any case, P-Valley season two is still full of hype and energy and will surely be what fans have missed for the past couple of years.
P-Valley returns to Starz on June 3.