WHAT TO WATCH ON TV
Stream On: Different paths taken on Snowfall and Wu-Tang: An American Saga

By on July 23, 2020

Franklin Saint was an honor student with an admirable work ethic in high school. Now he’s working to market cocaine to his south central L.A. neighborhood. (IMDb.com)

The final project of the late, great director John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood), FX’s Snowfall, is ongoing. Filming of the fourth season was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is expected to air next year. It’s a fictionalization of the facts surrounding the crack epidemic in southern California in the 1980’s. Hulu’s Wu-Tang: An American Saga recalls the establishment of one of America’s most influential hip-hop bands in the midst of that crack storm in New York.

SNOWFALL (Amazon.com and PrimeVideo; Hulu; elsewhere) 2017- [TVMA]

The time is 1983; the setting is Los Angeles. 19-year-old Franklin Saint (Damson Idris, Black Mirror)  watches his favorite wrestler, Gustavo ‘”El Oso” Zapata (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), lose a high-stakes match. Afterwards, Oso, who works as a cartel enforcer on the side, is given a new job by his contact. Franklin also has a side job selling marijuana on his uncle’s behalf, without his mother’s knowledge. After CIA officer Logan Miller overdoses on cocaine, fellow operative Teddy McDonald (Carter Hudson) learns that he was running a secret drug ring out of his mansion in order to fund foreign insurgents in Central America. (Wikipedia).

Snowfall follows these three characters, their associates and families, through the history of the original crack epidemic in the United States. Franklin sells marijuana to his white friends that he met in high school. He lives with his mother in a tidy mostly black neighborhood in South Central L.A. and when his wealthier customers begin asking for cocaine, he finds that, due to the cost, he would need to move large quantites, an expensive proposition. A problem solver, he begins to set up an operation.

El Oso is tasked by his employer’s son and niece to burgle a house, and kills a security man during the act. He finds out that the house was that of his employer, and that the niece intended to use the money to begin her own cocaine operation with his son, replacing it once they were up and running. El Oso joins the pair as they set about damage control.

Teddy McDonald, a CIA desk jockey under the cloud of a failed field operation, takes the initiative and continues his predecessor’s drug operation to turn the profits into arms for the Central American insurgency, presenting it to the Agency as a fait accompli.

The game changer comes when, on a visit to Oakland with his cousin and friend, Franklin discovers crack, a free base form of cocaine that can be sold in small and inexpensive amounts. Here’s a trailer to this sprawling saga.


Bobby Diggs has a vision of a way forward from his crack-afflicted Staten Island neighborhood for himself and his friends. (IMDb.com)

WU-TANG: AN AMERICAN SAGA (Hulu) 2019-  [TVMA]

Here’s a game changer in musical biopics—I can’t think of any musical autobiographies offhand, but here one is. Fittingly enough, it’s about a game-changing band—Staten Island’s Wu-Tang Clan, envisioned and assembled by Robert Diggs, aka The RZA, in the early 1990’s.

During the height of the crack cocaine epidemic in the early 1990s, Bobby Diggs (Ashton Sanders, Straight Outta Compton) seeks his way out of “the life,” which has imprisoned his brother and taken the lives of several friends. Talented musically, he turns to rap in order to carve a path to fame, going against his imprisoned brother Divine (Julian Martinez, Madame Secretary), who favored the drug trade as the means to giving their family a better life. However, in a rap contest, Diggs does poorly on his own, as do several of his friends, and he has an idea, which will propel him and his friends into hip-hop history.

It’s a good, fictionalized, tale, in sort of a hip-hop presentation, with occasional animations, graphics, opening titles with spaceships and whatnot, but good direction, scripts and music. It’s not a musical, but there is music, including hip hop and R&B. The drama is intense, and the fun is playful or startling or both. Of note is the beginning of episode four, where Bobby’s sister (Zolee Griggs, Bride Wars) is expertly drawn in one scene on a bus: it tells us who she is and what she values…and doesn’t value.

Inspired by Diggs’ books The Tao of Wu and The Wu-Tang Manual, the series was created by him and Alex Tse (Watchmen). Producers include Wu-Tang members Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa, Method Man, and GZA.

Season Two has been ordered. Here’s a trailer for the series.


Next time, Bob Newhart had two successful series in the 1970’s and ’80’s…or did he?

(Pete Hummers is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to earn fees by linking Amazon.com and affiliate sites. This adds nothing to Amazon’s prices.)

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