Hollywood isn’t exactly breaking the mold when it comes to new ideas. Though series like P-Valley and Sex Education offer fresh voices and perspectives, many of the films and TV series coming down the pipeline are reboots, revamps, or even flat-out retellings of narratives that we’ve already seen. Therefore, when Power Universe creator Courtney Kemp announced multiple spinoffs from the titular show, it caused quite a stir on social media and in the industry.
Power followed James “Ghost” St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick), a powerful drug kingpin on a quest to become a legit businessman. However, throughout six seasons, Ghost learns that you can’t outrun the sins of your past. The original series has spawned several spinoffs, including Power Book II: Ghost, which chronicles the life of Ghost’s son, Tariq St. Patrick (Michael Rainey Jr.), in the aftermath of his father’s death.
The second spinoff, Power Book III: Raising Kanan, is set in the ’90s and centers on the coming-of-age of Kanan Stark (Mekai Curtis), the notorious character portrayed by Power Universe executive producer Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson in the original show. Next is Power Book IV: Force, which centers on Ghost’s best friend and business partner Tommy Egan (Joseph Sikora), and Power Book V: Influence, which will spotlight city councilman Rashad Tate’s (Larenz Tate) run for the New York Governor’s office.
While Power Book II: Ghost has the same tone and a similar cadence as the original series, allowing Tariq, who had become one of the most hated characters on Power, to redeem himself, Raising Kanan offers something much more complex. A magnetic addition to the Power lore, from its acting to its authenticity, the show elevates the franchise and sets the bar for what spinoffs should do.
Helmed by Sascha Penn, a producer, and writer on Power and Starz’s Survivor’s Remorse, Raising Kanan depicts the genre and era in a way that we’ve never seen previously. In the ’90s, films like New Jack City and Menace II Society were dominant. TV series like New York Undercover also added dimension at a time when the crack cocaine epidemic and the War on Drugs raged against one another.
Raising Kanan uses traditional tropes of a coming-of-age tale while paying homage to movies like Ernest Dickinson’s Juice. The series also pulls in elements from 50 Cent’s real life. Raising Kanan offers an authenticity that we haven’t seen since The Wire. Moreover, though this series spotlights 15-year-old Kanan, it’s also very much about the people who molded him into the man he became. Namely, his cousin Jukebox (Hailey Kilgore, portrayed in Power by Anika Noni Rose) and his mother, Raquel “Raq” Thomas (Tony-Award winner Patina Miller).
Typically, TV series depicting this era or focusing on criminality are male-dominated—women exist in the background or act almost solely as objects of the male gaze. Here, Kanan shares his coming-of-age story with Jukebox, who is grappling with her sexuality, a strained relationship with her father Marvin (London Brown), and a desire to determine her own path in life.
From the moment she enters the frame, it’s clear that Jukebox has a certain level of maturity and discernment that Kanan has not yet found. While her cousin runs toward the chaos of the family business, Jukebox tries to go against the grain –though she eventually becomes pulled in as well. Jukebox is refreshing. It’s so rare to see a young Black woman in a role outside of love interest in this genre. It’s is also a reminder that Black women are often wounded and forever changed by the actions of men. They are also the victims and survivors of their circumstances. However, they are erased from the narratives of their own lives.
While Jukebox is on a path of self-discovery, Raq already knows who she is. She is a literal devil in a red dress. She runs her family business with a menacing calm and viciousness, ordering about her older hot-headed brother Marvin and her younger, stoic brother Lou Lou (Malcolm Mays).
While her brothers are often seen doing her “dirty work,” Raq certainly isn’t above violence. The difference is, her plans are always thoroughly thought out. Looking beyond the corners or the work brought in for the day, Raq looks toward the future. Lacking fear but full of savageness, the first season of Raising Kanan not only showcased the 15-year-old’s indoctrination into his mother’s world but also the beginnings of a fracture between himself and the women in his life.
Though Raq’s affection for her son is apparent from the pilot episode, the rest of the season proved that she’s willing to put herself first, even at the expense of Kanan. It’s a sort of terrifying cruelty that women aren’t often able to embody on-screen — much less in real life. Moreover, Raq’s reputation means everything to her. Her name is one that both Unique (Joey Bada$$) and Detective Malcolm Howard (Omar Epps) acknowledge, despite their sexist opinions about her being in the drug game. Raq’s reputation is why she sent her only son to kill the cop that holds the secret that could shatter everything she’s been building. Raq is the person who raised Kanan to live and die by the streets no matter what the cost — even her flesh and blood.
As her character description reads, and as Miller showcased throughout the entire first season of Raising Kanan, Raq is the sun, and everyone else is merely orbiting around her. We know that Kanan will survive this journey to become the man we first met in Power Season 2. However, the consequences of embedding himself in Raq’s world are astronomical for both him and Jukebox.
Power Book III: Raising Kanan will return for season 2 in 2022.