Starting out as a music journalist, Cheo Hodari Coker has become an acclaimed television and film writer and producer. However, with Coker’s music background, its influence is evident across the show, from the songs selected to the episode titles. Fans will be pleased with the compelling second season of Luke Cage that Coker and company have put together.
At Netflix’s FYsee in Los Angeles, the series showrunner sat down with us to talk about the show, the music featured, comic book origins stories and complex characters.
Anyone who has seen Luke Cage knows how integral music is to the show. “Everything starts with the music. For me, Luke Cage is a bulletproof version of Lemonade,” Coke said.
“The first thing I do is basically pick the song titles as episode titles. This season, we picked Pete Rock and CL Smooth. Compiling the story to me is no different than putting together a record. Before I became a writer, I always wanted to be an A&R executive. The thing is assembling the show like an album. What Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, as composers, do is just as important as anything we do as writers and producers. There’s a certain even rhythm of dialogue. Music is the life’s blood of our entire show. It’s a combination of picking songs that I like, musical moments that Adrian and Ali pick as far as what they compose, and then also just the feel of the whole thing. We go deep. One of the more important elements is who we get to appear in the club. I’m so excited about the music; I can’t hold back the fact that we have artists like Rakim. It’s just amazing the people who love the show and who we got to appear on the show.”
Several Marvel comic book nuggets are all over this season. One is the introduction of Misty Knight (Simone Missick)’s prosthetic arm, which is a “bionic arm” in the comics, and another is the introduction of Tilda Johnson (Gabrielle Dennis), known as the villainous scientist Dr. Deadly Nightshade in the comics. Things like this have comic book fans wondering how these aspects will play out on the show.
Cheo Coker and Mustafa Shakir on the set of 'Luke Cage' | Photo: Marvel
“We never just do the comic book. If we just do the comic book, you could just read the comic book. We view the show as an enhancement. There are going to be those fans that are pissed that Luke isn’t wearing the tiara, a yellow shirt and a chain for a belt. But there are going to be fans that like the show and will rediscover the comic books through the show. We do things in the spirit of the comic books but are not defined by it. The Tilda that you see on our show is different than the Marvel evolution in the comic book of Nightshade, but they join up interesting places. Clearly, our version of Mariah Dillard is different than the Mariah Dillard in the comic book. Our Luke Cage is different. We try to live in the spirit but do our own thing. If Tilda just like she was in the comic, there would be no reason to watch the show.”
As Alfre Woodard told us, the people we call “villains” are multifaceted in the series. On this moral grey area, rather than sympathy, Coker says it is merely showing that there is a motive behind their machinations.
“It’s not as much sympathy, but everyone has a story why they chose one part or another. We aren’t trying to make them sympathetic, but it's just that they have more dimensions. They aren’t just bad to be bad. You really want them to have depth, you want there to be somewhere to go. That helps us with the story because when you have nuanced villains and nuanced heroes, everyone is right to a certain extent. Marvel television president Jeph Loeb says that every single villain is the hero of their story, so we always keep that in mind."
Season 2 of Luke Cage is streaming on Netflix now.
Trey Mangum is the lead editor of Shadow & Act. You can email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @TreyMangum.