Summer is the perfect time for OWN’s drama Queen Sugar, now in its second season. Not that the show has the empty-calorie vapidity of a summer movie–far from it. The saga of the three Bordelon siblings reuniting at the family-owned sugarcane farm after their father’s death is rich in its examination of how families support one another. The show’s Louisiana setting is suffused with such a strong sense of place that you’ll feel the heat of the low-hanging bayou sun even while sitting in air-conditioning.
The Bordelons’ hometown pride varies by sibling. In the first season, Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) flees back to the South after her pro-athlete husband is caught up in a scandal. Nova (Rutina Wesley) is a journalist and activist trying to improve her community. Their brother Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe) does his best to raise a young son with his recovering-addict ex (Bianca Lawson), simply because he has no other options.
Whether they’re at the farm by desperation, choice or lack of opportunity, each Bordelon comes into his or her own once they’re reunited. Together, they’re a unit–and Queen Sugar is matter-of-fact about what a necessary thing that is for individuals in the face of systemic inequality. (The white agribusinessmen who oppose the Bordelons are blandly, unimaginatively evil; they want to dominate because they always have.)
In one particularly powerful sequence in the Season 2 premiere, Charley’s son Micah (Nicholas L. Ashe), sheltered for his first 16 years, is arrested at gunpoint for driving without a license. The error, which could have cost Micah his life, is that of a child, and so too is his reaction. Seeing Micah’s soiled trousers, Nova quietly hands him a shawl to tie around his waist.
That moment isn’t dwelled on a beat longer than necessary. Queen Sugar does not occupy a soap opera’s heightened reality, nor does it trade in clichés. Each detail–from Nova’s impassioned, elegantly constructed arguments against mass incarceration to Ralph Angel’s lack of concern that his son prefers Barbies to Transformers–feels carefully chosen to represent nothing more, or less, than people stumbling toward their best selves. They’re already partway there. As this show makes clear, the process begins once one makes one’s way home.
QUEEN SUGAR airs on OWN on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. E.T.
This appears in the July 03, 2017 issue of TIME.
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