Why are there so many cop, lawyer and doctor shows? The thinking is, their settings are inherently dramatic. Cops shoot and get shot. Lawyers battle over deals. Doctors fight for people's lives in the hospital.
If Platinum (UPN, Tuesdays, 9 p.m. E.T.; previews Monday, April 14, 9 p.m. E.T.) accomplishes nothing else, it shows that the hip-hop record business has all these milieus beat: people shoot, get shot, squabble over contracts and end up in the hospital! Straight-arrow Jackson Rhames (Jason George) and his streetwise brother Grady (Sticky Fingaz) have a dream job--running the independent record label Sweetback--but they also have a few problems. Their top act, an Eminem-like white rapper, is a thug, and his last record tanked. If they poach a rival label's star, it could start a literal blood feud. Oh, and neither they nor anybody else in the record business knows how to make money anymore. The series is called Platinum, but for these mini-moguls, the business is looking more like tin.
Except for cable series like Showtime's Soul Food, TV is averse to dramas that star African Americans. Even UPN, with its stable of "urban" comedies, mostly populates its dramas with white folk and the occasional Vulcan. Platinum would be notable simply for its casting, but its blackness goes deeper. Writer and co-creator John Ridley (Three Kings) has produced a story about the ascendancy of black pop culture in America, not only among black people, and the ironies that result when the art of the dispossessed goes mainstream. Ridley, who is black, is fascinated by the world of hip-hop but has proper bourgeois qualms about the violence and nasty language toward women. (Grady calls his girlfriend "bitch" while they make out, and she takes offense. "I don't mean like 'bitch' bitch," he explains. "I mean like sexy bitch.") There is dialogue--alternately inspired, funny and contrived--about how black men use whites' fear of them and whether it "uplifts the race" for a black man to hook up with a white woman. Even the label's name borrows from Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, the seminal blaxploitation movie. Platinum asks, Who's blaxploiting whom?
These are good ideas--often better than their execution. Fingaz, of rap group Onyx, is authentic and intense as the bad boy, but the brothers' Goofus-and-Gallant dichotomy needs to be less, well, black-and-white, and the supporting players are bland. Platinum is influenced by rap video (lots of slo-mo and bling bling), maybe too much--it trusts our attention spans so little that it repeats flashes of scenes that ran minutes before. But in the first episode, the show is adventurous and provocative enough to deserve a chance. In an easy-listening TV season, Platinum has got a beat, and you can think to it. --By James Poniewozik