USA - More than five years after it went on the air, OWN, Oprah Winfrey’s cable channel, still seems as if it’s trying to define itself. So perhaps it’s no surprise that its latest series, Queen Sugar, feels that way too. The show, which begins on Tuesday, is definitely a drama, but it sure is a hodgepodge of tones and topics. The series, based on a novel by Natalie Baszile and using female directors for each of its first-season episodes, employs one of the most overused setups there is, the all-come-home trope, to get things started. A death in the Bordelon family brings three not-very-close adult siblings back to the old homestead — in this case, in Louisiana — where long-established tensions flare with numbing frequency. This is the type of family in which no one ever says those one or two extra sentences that would head off misunderstandings or prevent bruised feelings. The siblings are of course radically different, because that’s the rule in these stress-riddled family tableaus. There is Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner), an efficient crisismanagement sort of woman married to a professional basketball player (Timon Kyle Durrett). There is Nova (Rutina Wesley), a journalist who also dabbles in out-ofthe-mainstream spirituality. And their brother, Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe), is a brooding type with a prison record. The show’s creator, Ava DuVernay, wants the series to seem cutting-edge, so she gives it some hotbutton plotlines. Charley and her husband, Davis, seem to have the ideal marriage until he becomes caught up in a sports sex scandal in which accusations of rape fly, and suddenly Charley’s ability to be in control fails her. Ralph Angel’s young son, Blue (Ethan Hutchison), likes to play with dolls, and his father is not O.K. with this kind of identity exploration. But the show also wants to be a lush, titillating romance. When we meet Nova,she’s in bed with her white, married lover. By the end of the third episode Charley seems to be warming to a local fellow although she’s still married. And are Ralph Angel and Blue’s teacher striking a spark?
Then there’s the save-thefarm angle. The siblings find themselves in possession of the family sugar operation, which had fallen dormant. Will they be forced to sell, or can they overcome their differences and make a go of it? It’s a throwback to Dust Bowl-era stories. It also takes three episodes for that question to jell, though it presumably will be the foundational one as this series, which has already been given a second season, moves along.