Starz’s ‘Blindspotting’ Series Cedes the Spotlight to Jasmine Cephas Jones with Style: TV Review

·3-min read

Blindspotting” moves like a song: from opening verse to swelling chorus, emotional bridge and back again. Sometimes, this manifests quite literally, as the characters turn to the camera and burst into emphatic spoken word, turn on their heels and break into a staccato dance, or dream up an entire music video starring themselves. Other times, scenes just rock back and forth between banter and mood swings as everyone grapples with a new twist in their ever-complicating lives. It’s a lyrical series with so much to say that it sometimes stumbles over its words, but always with style.

The new Starz show acts less as an adaptation of Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal’s 2018 film of the same name than a continuation of it. Set six months later, the show picks up with Diggs’ character Collin building a new life somewhere offscreen in Montana as his best friend Miles (Casal) gets arrested for possession of drugs with intent to sell, leaving his longtime girlfriend Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones) scrambling in his wake. With little other choice, Ashley takes their young son Sean (Atticus Woodward) to live with Miles’ short-tempered half-sister Trish (Jaylen Barron) and crunchy mother Rainey (Helen Hunt). Ashley insists it’s a temporary situation, but when Miles’ surprisingly intense sentence comes down, she quickly has to rethink everything without completely losing her mind.

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Jones was a bright presence in the “Blindspotting” film, but it’s obvious after watching her anchor a series how much more she had to offer. Ashley alternates between exhausted resignation, devastation, and pent-up rage. When she does allow herself a release, it’s almost always just within her own rhythmic internal monologues, delivered straight to the camera just as Diggs did in the film. Jones steps into the main spotlight with a straightforward confidence that’s evident even when Ashley can’t find her own. Her spoken word can be on the nose, but that’s its purpose: to clearly say what Ashley won’t.

Surrounding Jones is a cast that quickly proves why Diggs and Casal were convinced to revisit this story outside their own characters — and, more specifically, the women surrounding them. (Casal does appear throughout the series, but only in the margins as Ashley sporadically imagines what Miles might have to say if he were there.) Candace Nicholas-Lippman as Ashley’s best childhood friend Janelle has an easygoing vibe that makes for a striking counterbalance to Barron’s Trish, an aspiring sex worker entrepreneur who approaches most every situation with protective fists swinging. As Janelle’s shy, recently incarcerated tenant Earl, Benjamin Earl Turner is immediately engaging and subtly heartbreaking. And while it should be jarring to see Hunt in this role, she disappears into it without much trouble, giving Rainey a simultaneously wounded affect and intriguing blunt edge.

What really sets “Blindspotting” apart is also what could have doomed “Blindspotting.” In clumsier hands, the surreal interstitials, constant fourth-wall breaking and spontaneous dancing could have overwhelmed the narrative itself. But with characters sharpened to a fine point, Dictor of Photography Tarin Anderson’s vivid camerawork, and organic choreography from Jon Boogz and Lil Buck, “Blindspotting” sets the stage for its experimentation to transcend gimmickry into a vital part of the storytelling at hand.

“Blindspotting” premieres Sunday, June 13 at 9 p.m. on Starz.

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