#FreeRayShawn review – gritty and wickedly paced #QuibiMayMatter

4

Summary

#FreeRayShawn combines its heavy themes and some wicked pacing that may not spark a massive hit for the new entertainment platform, but could give them some legitimacy.

After a couple of weeks of nothing but furloughed, quarantined marital bliss, my better half (some would say my only half) told me to go away, obviously not accustomed to me being home so much. I had an opportunity to stream almost all of Quibi’s web series’. Of all the “shows” that are mostly closeted feature films broken into a couple of six-packs, #FreeRayShawn has the look and feel of an honest-to-god, actual episodic television show.

The latest web series is executive-produced by Antoine Fuqua, and tells a fictional story inspired by thousands of real ones; African-American Iraq War veteran Rayshawn (Homecoming’s Stephan James) is being chased by the police, for what he claims is a set-up for a drug deal and running over a police officer. As he runs away from the cops, he grabs his wife Tyisha (Blindspotting’s Jasmine Cephas Jones) and son to flee their apartment when he runs into Lt. Steven Poincy (Laurence Fishburne) at the elevator, who freezes and lets the door close with him inside without arresting Rayshawn or pulling the trigger.

I streamed the first 9 episodes of the show, and each one has its own agenda and point of view. Where other series’ on the platform feel like a chopped-salad without a care of how the story really ends with each snippet, here the script has the appropriate amount of time to let the brief scenes play out. All of the episodes end in a different time with various lengths, where a show like Most Dangerous Game each ends after 10 minutes. That’s a credit to wicked pacing of the production’s script by Marc Maurino (Netflix’s Amateur) and director Seith Mann. Mann brings his tough, gritty mentality from acclaimed shows like The Wire, Brotherhood, and Detroit-187.

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One of the more interesting aspects of #FreeRayShawn is combining the themes of issues within the African-American’s mistrust in the police, the social justice campaigns within the community, and using social media to their own advantage. There is an impressive trio of performances; Fishburne, in one of his best roles in years, is phenomenal here as an officer caught between his badge and the community he is sympathetic toward. Skeet Ulrich is almost recognizable as an overreaching police officer, full of subtle south twang, that exudes a feeling of mistrust and deep-seated racism.

Then there is the caveat with star Stephan James, who has been a rising star since his turn in Barry Jenkin’s If Beale Street Could Talk. While he is good here, this is the second role in a row that shows him running from the police without much complexity — I hope the remaining episodes start to peel back a few more layers that may give his character a well-rounded development and a greater backstory.

I have high hopes for #FreeRayShawn and the direction the series is headed. The combination of weighty themes and a mainstream standoff thriller is perfect television escapism that may not ignite a massive hit for Quibi but could give them some legitimacy.


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M.N. Miller

M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.

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