StorySoul Food, the richly emotional ongoing tale of three African American sisters and the men in their lives, has no obvious hook as far as the setting or the characters' jobs; it's just well-written, well-acted, and willing to let its characters be difficult, troubled, and pushy, as well as sexy, passionate, and caring--in other words, vividly real. Teri (Nicole Ari Parker), a divorced lawyer and demanding control freak, begins a relationship with Damon (Boris Kodjoe), a much younger delivery guy who's deliberately avoided the kind of high-pressure career path that Teri values. Maxine (Vanessa Williams) has three kids by Kenny (Rockmond Dunbar), including 12-year-old Ahmad (Aaron Meeks), who narrates portions of the show, and whose growing independence often leads to clashes with his strong-minded mother. Bird (Malinda Williams), a beautician, struggles to find trust with her ex-con husband Lem (Darrin Dewitt Henson), whose drive to support his family leads him down some dangerous paths.
The opening episode centers around the birth of Bird's first child, placing family ties at the core of the series--but Soul Food explores a broad spectrum of storylines, delving into class, crime, religion, sex, and more, rarely making race a central concern, yet never ignoring the role race plays in these people's lives. The creators of Soul Food have a keen eye for contrasting innocence (such as Ahmad trying to figure out how to use a condom) and danger (Lem slipping back into the criminal life). Though the show can be melodramatic (one episode features a hostage crisis in Bird's salon), more often it's just concerned with everyday events, made compelling by the charisma of the cast and the propulsive, well-observed writing and directing. The first season of Soul Food is simply a feast, 20 episodes of juicy, enjoyable television. --Bret Fetzer
|Nicole Ari Parker|