Girls. That’s who “run the world” in the Beyoncé hit that lends a title to this glossy new comedy about four glamorous, ambitious, 30-something Black women in New York who’ve been friends forever. Whitney (The Carmichael Show alum Amber Stevens West) is a high-achieving people pleaser who’s planning a wedding, with lots of unwanted help from her fiancé Ola’s (Tosin Morohunfola of The Chi) traditional Nigerian family, despite her own private doubts about the relationship. Sondi (Corbin Reid of How to Get Away With Murder) is a PhD student several years into a secret—but otherwise healthy—romance with her mentor Matthew (Criminal Minds’ Stephen Bishop), a single father. After the failure of her first book and a crushing breakup, Ella (Andrea Bordeaux of NCIS: Los Angeles) is struggling to get her life back on track, with a job she believes is beneath her at a lifestyle site called Hot Tea Digest. Finally there’s Renee (standout Bresha Webb, recently seen stealing scenes as Mary J. Blige on Sherman’s Showcase), the flamboyant one. Now that her husband Jason (Jay Walker from Airport Security Squad) has quit a corporate job to manage a supposedly up-and-coming band, their volatile marriage is threatening to combust.
The Sex and the City parallels are so obvious, there’s a joke about Mr. Big in the premiere. The shows even share a name-brand costume designer in Patricia Field, who outfits the foursome in individualized wardrobes of bright colors, lush fabrics and door-knocker earrings. And Run the World, premiering May 16 on Starz, can certainly be steamy. But it has just as much in common with another classic ’90s sitcom about female friendship: Living Single, with which it shares a pioneering executive producer in Yvette Lee Bowser. With creator Leigh Davenport (Boomerang) and their charming cast, Bowser recreates both the aspirational thrills of a story about stylish strivers and the intimate comedy that comes out of knowing your best friends better than they know themselves. (Rosie O’Donnell guest stars as the no-nonsense therapist they accidentally share.)
Run the World is hardly the most original, high-concept project ever to air on pay TV. Slicker than Insecure, lighter than Dead to Me, less political than its Starz predecessor Vida, it harkens back to an era when viewers turned to television for entertainment and escapism more than art and cultural commentary. When you consider how many current shows’ thematic reach exceeds their grasp, that’s kind of refreshing. But Bowser and Davenport aren’t to be underestimated, either. Beyond the witty dialogue and fashionable outfits, they’ve grounded this appealing series in the specifics of identity and place. Nowhere is that better expressed than in an immersive episode that follows the women through a Saturday in their beloved neighborhood, Harlem—having a heart-to-heart over nutcrackers, dancing to an ad-hoc drum circle, sneaking cigarettes outside a tiny local nightspot. Contained in that half-hour is all the wonderful and terrible serendipity of city life, and plenty of fun besides.