I hope you’re not offended by the “b” word because you’re going to hear it a lot in the premiere of ABC’s new drama Queens. The show focuses on four hip hop artists who formed the group Nasty B*tches (NB going forward) and were the queens of the genre in the late 90s and early aughts, but have been living very different lives since they broke up. They haven’t shared the stage in 20 years, and their former manager E-Roc (Taylor Selé) has plans to get the group back together to perform at the BET awards. It’s a big ask, but it might be exactly what each girl needs.
So how do you introduce your audience to the former queens of hip hop? Through flashbacks of course! Similar to the fantastic Beneath the Hits promo released last week, we meet our leading ladies via their music video “Nasty Girl.” We’re introduced to their edgy hip hop personas, then immediately jump to where they are today. Brianna aka Professor Sex (Eve) is married and a mother of 5, Jill aka Da Thrill (Naturi Naughton) is very Catholic, married and having an affair, Valeria aka Butter Pecan (Nadine Velazquez) is a daytime TV host in LA, and Naomi aka XPlicit Lyrics (Brandy) is performing at local bars in Nashville and is estranged from her teenage daughter. There’s a lot going on in the first episode and we’re only to the title card!
If that’s not enough, as we venture further into the story, there’s plenty of juicy drama to keep you intrigued. This first chapter explores some incredible lies, cheating spouses, drug use, a cancer diagnosis and someone finally opening up about their sexuality. Considering the parameters of network television, everything is tastefully presented while still trying to push the envelope a little bit. That might be Queens’ biggest success: finding a way to work through the messiness of the characters’ arcs without having to be raunchy or explicit. I certainly didn’t miss the series of expletives one would hear were this on cable.
With varied backgrounds that branch out in interesting directions, the characters themselves are fascinating. Brianna refers to the group in their current lives as “a mom, a church lady, a washed up musician, and a disgraced daytime TV host” and while she’s not wrong, they all know there’s so much more to them separately and on the whole. The ensemble is fun to watch and everyone brings their own spark to create the group’s magic, but if I’m being completely honest, it’s Brandy’s Naomi who had my attention the whole way through. She’s mesmerizing with her alto tone and raw emotion, not to mention a ridiculously awesome side eye.
In addition to the NBs, E-Roc is the magic piece that reunites them, but he could potentially drive a wedge between Naomi and Valeria as both did and still do have feelings for him. E-Roc brings with him successful rapper Lauren aka Lil Muffin (Pepi Sonuga) who has her own set of problems but finds true friendship and support from the girls, taking sage advice from Jill about fame to heart.
As someone who knows next to nothing about rap and hip hop, I felt that Queens was likely not made for me. Despite my lack of knowledge of the genre, I tuned in. Like any good show on television it’s the story that makes the case for return viewings and Queens is accessible, not to mention interesting on so many levels. Yes, it’s about music and rekindling the fire you once had, but it’s also, sex, relationships, motherhood and careers. However, first and foremost it’s about women. Powerful, scared, hurting — all are welcome and represented.
Queens premieres Tuesday, October 19th on ABC at 10:01 pm ET and streams the next day on Hulu.